Imagine Christmas day coming every single month — except without all the hassle of going out dealing with crowds, carolers, fruitcake, eggnog and extended family staying over at your house for just a few days longer than your sanity can muster. Just the goodies. Sounds too good to be true, right?
Well, if you are into the latest and greatest mobile phones — and you are tired of being bound by your wireless carrier’s contract determining when you can upgrade or swap out phones, then the service from Rentobile seems to come pretty close to becoming your very own monthly Christmas treat.
You see, Rentobile allows you to rent out the latest mobile phones for as long as you want, without the hassle of a contract restricting you to a single carrier or specific phone for one or two years. That’s right, Rentobile is essentially a “Netflix” for mobile phones. The concept really does sounds like gadget-lover’s dream. Try out the very latest smartphone, and when you’re done just send it back for another. Sounds pretty good right? Well, I’ve now been a Rentobile member for six months. After six months, has Rentobile met my expectations?
The idea behind the Rentobile service is that you can rent a mobile phone for as long as you want for a monthly fee. That fee will typically be in the range of $40-$90 depending on the specific phone (the more popular smartphone handsets will be closer to the $90 range for a monthly fee — in other words, not cheap).
You can rent as a “Guest” or “Member.” Becoming a “Member” requires an additional fee of either $77.70 for six months of membership, or $120 for a full year. Members get lower pricing and . Again, not cheap.
The fact that Rentobile sends you the phone fully activated and ready to go helps quite a bit. You’re not running into a carrier’s wireless store and signing contracts and paying $30 activation fees — or $175 contract cancellation fees every time you decide to swap out devices. You get the phone from Rentobile, and you’re ready to go. Looking at the service this way, it is still appealing if you want to try devices from various carriers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint) and a wide range of platforms (BlackBerry, iPhone, Symbian, Android, and Windows Mobile).
Once you select a device from the Rentobile website, you will receive an email confirmation and then you get the device mailed directly to you. Again, the phone is yours for as long as you want to use it (for the monthly fee — and that includes voice & data on that carrier network).
If you use Google Voice, then this service is additionally appealing since you can just use your Google Voice number on any device (simply set up your Google Voice account to forward to the number on your rented Rentobile phone). If you are a Google Voice user — and you use it as your primary number (like I do) – then you won’t have to worry about giving your family, friends, and all other contacts a new number each month. If you aren’t using Google Voice, then you’re stuck using the phone number provided by Rentobile. Another minus would be the added hassle of having a different number every time you change devices.
My main reason for trying Rentobile was to try out a wide selection of the newest devices as possible — not a bad idea when you’re thinking of writing up reviews for a site like Gear Diary . And, this is where Rentobile has ultimately fallen short. Take a look at Rentobile’s device selection. Notice anything? There are quite a few devices missing.
Want to try out a Palm Pre? Not available. How about an HTC Hero? Nope. What about a Blackberry Tour, G2 or iPhone 3GS? Not gonna happen. Think about that for a bit. If the business is set up to lure folks who want to use the latest technical smartphones — it is worthwhile to have, in stock, the most current selection of smartphones.
I have to say, Rentobile’s customer service has been easy to work with. There was a billing error early on that Rentobile quickly resolved. When I had questions about the possibility of renting out more than one handset a month — or when a specific mobile phone would be available — Rentobile always provided an email response. Sadly, if you look below, you can see that my inquiries about when a new smartphone would be available is where things start to fall apart. Here are the communications between myself and Rentobile between May and August of this year:
I have to say, after the last email from Rentobile’s customer service department I had already made up my mind to no longer continue using Rentobile. Their website still does not show any G2, Palm Pre, HTC Hero, iPhone 3GS or BlackBerry Tour. While my main reason back in May was to rent out a BlackBerry Storm to test out some software specific for that device (versus my Bold), it wasn’t a particularly “exciting” device to rent. Waiting months on end for a G2 — especially when I could just go to the wireless carrier’s store and trial one for a 30 day period — was not a good sign for Rentobile. Sure, I would lose out on an activation fee; but I would not have to wait…and wait….and wait….after paying a pretty hefty membership fee.
While Rentobile appealed to me from an ongoing device review standpoint; it would have appealed to anyone who was interested in using smartphones without a longterm contract. Sadly, the negatives just far outweigh any positive Rentobile can bring to the table.
So, for me, Rentobile did not turn out to be a “Christmas-Every-Day” service. Sadly, I can’t recommend Rentobile. The high cost and, especially, the lack of available devices to choose from makes it a service I believe will be fading away fast.
I’ve learned that if I get the itch to really — and I mean really — want to try a device hands-on, I’m still going to have to continue hoof it down to the wireless carrier’s local store and pay the activation fee to use it for 30 days. Then I can review the device or the applications for the device without being stuck waiting for Rentobile to even stock the phone.
MSRP: Membership Price is $77.70 for 6-Months or $120 for 12-months. Monthly rental fee varies by device (typically between $40-$90).
What I Liked: Great idea. You don’t have to be tied down to a specific carrier. You are not restricted to a 1 or 2-year contract. No hefty service activation or cancellation fees to pay each time you rent a device. The monthly data/voice service is included with the monthly rental price.
What Needs Improvement: Device Selection is very disappointing. Too many smartphones available now are missing from Rentobile’s selection. Unless you have Google Voice — and use it as your primary number — a new mobile phone number each month will be frustrating for your contacts. High cost — unless you are really against a wireless contract, and do not want to pay for your own unlocked phone to not be held down to a contract — the Rentobile membership fees plus monthly charges just aren’t worth it.
[Rentobile -- Service ]