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Consumer Reports: The truth about Angie’s List, Yelp, and more

Online ratings services promise unbiased reviews of local businesses. Do they deliver?

Published: September 2013

Need to find a good plumber, hairdresser, or auto mechanic? If you’re like a lot of people, you’re happy to turn to online ratings services to get a recommendation.

More than 100 million consumers checked ratings for companies in 97 U.S. and international markets in just the first three months of this year, according to Yelp. Some 2 million households subscribe to Angie’s List for its version of the skinny on local service providers in 244 markets in the U.S. And Google now gives you local business ratings, whether you want them or not, by serving them up while you’re busy navigating Google Maps.

Sure, it can be convenient to find out what others think of a handyman’s skills before you hire him to retile your kitchen. But how trustworthy are the opinions? Quality controls are necessary to ensure accuracy and reliability, because the scores can be manipulated by self-interested parties. So we decided to learn the methods of five leading rating providers serving the San Francisco Bay area: Angie's List, Consumer's Checkbook, Google+ Local, Porch, and Yelp, as well as the Better Business Bureau. (None of these services offers ratings everywhere.) Unsettling surprises came fast and frequently. Here’s what you should know about the companies we examined, listed in alphabetical (not ranked) order.

Angie's List

  • Years in business: 18
  • Structure: Publicly traded company
  • Cost for consumers: Varies; $46 a year in San Francisco
  • How it works: Companies set up free online profiles or involuntarily get one when a member rates them. When they get two reviews and a B average or better, and there are no alerts about them, they can pay to advertise and must offer discount coupons that “position your business to rotate on page 1 of search results,” Angie’s List says.
    Consumers subscribe to gain access to highly rated service providers. After they hire a business, they’re asked to rate it based on nine measures. They also have to affirm that the information they provide is true and accurate and that they’re not an employee, competitor, or in any way related to the service provider.
  • Caveats: We think that the ability of A- and B-rated companies to buy their way to the top of the default search results skews the results. Cheryl Reed, a spokeswoman for the company, disagrees. “We don’t believe that,” she says. But Angie’s List marketing materials intended for businesses say that companies that advertise get “an advantage of increased exposure” that “can propel you ahead of your competition.” They get 12 times more profile views than companies that don’t buy ads.
    Angie’s List encourages businesses to solicit reviews by giving customers free, postage-paid forms, stickers on thank you notes, and Web links embedded in e-mail invoices. But experts who study survey techniques say that can create a bias for positive reviews.
    Angie’s List misleads consumers by prominently promising that “businesses don’t pay” and that it’s a consumer-driven service supported by membership fees. But almost 70 percent of the company’s revenues come from advertising purchased by the service providers being rated. Angie’s List tells consumers that it provides “reviews you can trust,” and takes steps to detect and remove fraudulent positive and negative reviews. But company investment disclosures say that “we cannot guarantee the accuracy of our reviews.”

Consumers' Checkbook

  • Years in business: 37
  • Structure: Nonprofit
  • Cost for consumers: $34 for two years
  • How it works: Local companies are involuntarily rated by the Center for the Study of Services, based on surveys of Consumers’ Checkbook’s own subscribers, Consumer Reports subscribers, and CSS’ own research. (Consumer Reports gave CSS $25,000 in matching funds to get started in the mid-1970s and has allowed Checkbook to survey its subscribers in the seven metro areas it covers.)
    CSS’ own research includes conducting undercover price shopping and gathering complaint data from regulators (such as the state attorney general’s office) and the Better Business Bureau. Subscribers access detailed ratings online and in a biannual print magazine covering their metropolitan area.
  • Caveats: We found little to fault here, except that in some cases a business rating may be based on as few as 10 users. But Checkbook provides complete transparency and guidance about how to assess those ratings compared with companies with more users. And since those numbers come from known subscribers objectively surveyed, they don’t carry the same tarnish as reviews from people who voluntarily review for some unknown motive.

Google+ Local

  • Years in business: 1
  • Structure: Publicly traded company
  • Cost for consumers: Free
  • How it works: Anyone can search Google+ Local by city, state, and business type to find reviews, which are simple one- to five-star ratings and commentary. Google is mum about how an overall rating is calculated beyond saying that it’s based on user ratings—no details on how users are verified—“and a variety of other signals to ensure that the overall score best reflects the quality of the establishment,” according to the Google+ Local website.
    To write a review, you must create your own personal Google+ profile, typically using your real name. That does provide something of a reality check, because you can click on the reviewer and see how many reviews she has written, and click further to her Google+ profile and scan or read all her reviews to assess whether she tends to be effusive or disgruntled. Businesses create their own pages to connect with their customers and listen in.
  • Caveats: Google encourages businesses to reward their fans with coupons and to try to resolve customer-service problems. We can’t argue with that. But from a ratings reliability standpoint, this can skew the ratings positively, because assuaged customers can always delete their previously negative reviews. Google didn’t respond to two requests for an interview.


  • Years in business; structure: 1.5 years in beta, launched September 17, 2013
  • Structure: Privately financed startup
  • Cost for consumers: Free
  • How it works: CEO Matt Ehrlichman describes the site as a “home improvement network” that lets visitors see photos and details about remodeling and repair projects that have been done in their neighborhood (drawn from 90 million around the U.S.), how much they cost, and which of some 1.5 million service providers did the work. The project’s home address is not shown, to preserve privacy.
    The 100,000 homeowners who have signed up to date can find a map showing projects in their area that service providers have listed, whether it’s a $5,000 roof repair or $50,000 kitchen remodel. Or they can browse photos for inspiration and build a scrapbook.They can also search for professionals for their specific project or repair. We haven’t been able to try out the site ourselves—Porch did not grant us early access—so we’ll provide an update when we get a look after launch.
  • Caveats: Ehrlichman says Porch is like a LinkedIn resume for service providers, which means the service providers control their profiles and are the source of all the key information. By design this is a “positive endorsement model,” says Ehrlichman. Unfortunately, then, what makes one professional seem better than another will be driven by how many endorsements he or she solicits and gets from customers. If you’re looking to learn about possible problems, you won’t find them here.
    This also means you must rely on the contractors themselves to tell you how good they are, in an industry that has historically not fostered much trust. For example, last year, 8.6 million consumers found it wise to inquire at the Better Business Bureau to check the reputations of roofing contractors, general contractors, plumbers, and construction/remodelers, who wound up in the top 10 for all BBB inquiries and rated 16th through 42nd, respectively, for complaints out of some 5,000 business categories tracked.
    Another problem: While Yelp and Angie’s List learned early on that bogus user reviews were an Internet reality that could undercut their credibility and can’t be ignored, Porch has no systems in place to guard against them. There are also no sanctions for service providers who get caught gaming the system, nothing to prevent contractors from buying endorsements with discounts or freebies, no background checks, and no mechanism that enables its 27 employees to verify the details of 1.5 million contractors and their 90 million projects in the system.
    “We don’t need it at this point. I absolutely imagine that we’ll have people that are actually working on this as we go on,” says Ehrlichman. 


  • Years in business: 9
  • Structure: Publicly traded company
  • Cost for consumers: Free
  • How it works: Anyone can look up a company on Yelp to see its overall rating and individual reviewers’ ratings and comments. If you want to write a review, you need only set up a user name and provide your e-mail address and ZIP code. That creates a profile where your reviews are gathered. The more prolific you are, the more trusted and “known” you become in Yelp circles.
    Yelp uses software that aims to filter out bogus reviews and keep legitimate ones, but it hasn’t been objectively tested, says Kristen Whisenand, a company spokeswoman. About 70 percent of Yelp’s 36 million reviews have been posted unfiltered; 22.5 percent have been filtered and separated from the overall average rating for each company but can still be read if you want; and 7.5 percent have been deleted.
    Companies appear on Yelp involuntarily, but they can claim their page and gain access to tools that let them contact reviewers publicly or privately through the site to work out problems.
  • Caveats: A company’s ability to make amends with a negative reviewer—while good from a customer’s perspective—undercuts the integrity and accuracy of the ratings, because placated gripers can change their review at any time. “We see plenty of people go back and delete reviews or update them,” Whisenand says. Yelp can also remove reviews that businesses and individuals flag as violating content rules.
    Some data reveal that user reviews skew toward the positive. Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas and California State University, Long Beach, found that people who rented movies online were five times more likely to post a positive review than a negative one. And 66 percent of Yelp’s reviews for the first quarter of 2013 were four or five stars. Services like Yelp could adjust their ratings to eliminate such measurable bias, but Yelp says it simply averages the raw unfiltered ratings to calculate a company’s overall score.
    Rated service providers can buy sponsored search results and put them at the top of the list for someone searching for, say, a restaurant in Los Angeles. That’s not unusual among search engines, and Yelp identifies the listing as sponsored, but that still gives one paid advertiser per search an advantage over the natural results that Yelp otherwise promises.

What about the Better Business Bureau?

The Better Business Bureau is not a review site, per se. Ratings result from the dispute-resolution process, and staffers verify that complainants are real customers. It also offers user reviews now, but they don’t factor into a company’s rating. Consumers can check BBB company ratings online, find details of individual complaints, and get help in mediating disputes that can’t be worked out directly with a company; they looked up businesses at almost 125 million times last year.

  • Years in business: 101
  • Status: nonprofit
  • Cost for consumers: Free
  • How it works: Companies get a profile when a consumer files a complaint; 985,000 were logged last year. Ratings are calculated using a mathematical formula based on how the company responds to each complaint, how promptly, and how well it’s resolved. Complaint volume and patterns factor in, too. Businesses can also apply for BBB accreditation after they maintain a grade of B or higher, and if they pledge to adhere to BBB standards. Accreditation itself doesn’t influence the company’s grade but allows it to use the BBB logo in its marketing.
  • Caveats: Local companies aren’t the only ones subject to BBB scrutiny. Last March the BBB of Los Angeles was itself expelled from the national organization for failing to adhere to standards on handling complaints, accreditation, and reporting on businesses after a two-year investigation following a report by ABC’s “20/20” program. A new local BBB chapter has taken its place to repair the damage.

1 plumber, 5 ratings

Here’s how one plumbing business serving the San Francisco Bay area was rated by these services as of late July. (Porch launched after we looked at this plumbing service.)

Angie’s List: Overall grade of F on the strength of just one unhappy customer, who also gave the company the same failing grade for responsiveness and punctuality.
Better Business Bureau:
A+ rated; two complaints resolved; accredited BBB business since 2003.
Consumers’ Checkbook (Center for the Study of Services):
Of 63 consumers surveyed, 40 percent said it was “superior” for overall performance, 27 percent said it was “adequate,” and 33 percent rated it “inferior.”
Google+ Local:
No user reviews or ratings.
2.5 stars out of a maximum of 5 based on 20 reviews.

Editor's Note: This article appeared in the October 2013 issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser.


Wikipedia's Date View

Wikipedia's Date View Keeps You Caught Up on Current Events

We've all had those busy weeks or months where we fall a little behind in keeping up with news. If you'd like to catch up on what's going on, Wikipedia has a fantastic "date view" that will summarize news in a specific time period.

Redditor blueridgemountain shares this handy tip: All you need to do is head to Wikipedia and search for a month and a year, such as "August 2013." You'll get a quick summary of major events on each day which are pretty easy to breeze through and click on if you want more detail. If you haven't been able to keep up with news, it's a nice way to quickly catch up on what's been going on.

Wikipedia's Date View Keeps You Caught Up on Current Events


Five Best Surge Protectors

Five Best Surge Protectors

A good surge protector is one of those things everyone needs, but we often don't give much thought to—until we need one or something happens to the power. If you have a good, flexible one, you can connect all of your gear to it safely, organize your plugs, and still have room for more. This week, we're looking at five of the best, based on your nominations.

Belkin Conserve Smart AV

Five Best Surge Protectors

The Belkin Conserve series is one we've mentioned a few times before, mostly because of their focus on energy efficiency. Almost every surge protector or outlet in the Conserve line makes it really easy to save energy and turn off your devices or stop the flow of power as soon as your device is charged, or, in the case of the Conserve Smart AV, when the primary device on your surge protector is turned off. The Conserve Smart AV has come a long way since we last saw it, but the basics are the same—it's designed for home entertainment centers, and for use where your TV is the primary device, with other devices connected to it. Unfortunately, those other devices, like game consoles, receivers, and so on, may prefer to go to standby than shut off entirely, so if you plug your TV into the primary socket and all the others into the secondary sockets, the Conserve Smart will turn off everything in the secondary sockets when you turn off your TV. When your fire up the TV, it'll power the others back on (or at least allow them to be powered on) so you can use them, without your game console, for example, sitting in standby sucking down power for no reason.


The Conserve Smart AV sports 8 outlets, all in a single row, and while it's not designed for big blocky power strips, it does have a few outlets on the end that aren't part of the device's smart power management, so you can plug them in there. It's rated for 1080 Joules, features a 1 year limited warranty, and will set you back $25 at Amazon.

Belkin Conserve Socket with Energy Saving Outlet $26.84

Tripp Lite HT10DBS Home Theater Isobar

Five Best Surge Protectors

The Tripp Lite HD10DBZ Home Theater Isobar is a heavy duty, all-metal surge protector that sports 10 outlets and is designed for demanding equipment like your home entertainment system or computer workstation. It features isolated filter banks to keep your electronics safe from line noise, and packs three coaxial inputs and outputs as well as one RJ-45 Ethernet inputs and outputs and one telephone input and output to keep devices along those cables safe from surges as well. The outlets on the top are well spaced, arranged so five are pointed in either direction on the top (so long power bricks can hang off of the sides), and two sets or two outlets spaced away from others to accommodate wide plugs and bricks as well. They're even color-coded and labeled. Plus, the HD10DBZ packs an 8-foot cord, and comes with telephone, coax, and ethernet cables to help you get started connecting your gear to it.

When I worked in IT and spent at least some of my day hanging around a datacenter, Tripp Lite was the company that made the surge protectors and shop power strips we used to keep our racks powered without taking up a ton of space, and their home/business line is no different. The HD10DBZ is rated for 3840 joules, features a lifetime warranty, and carries $500,000 worth of "Ultimate Lifetime Coverage," which is their way of phrasing their protection policy for your connected devices.

Belkin 12 Outlet Pivot Plug Surge Protector

Five Best Surge Protectors

The Belkin Pivot Plug Surge Protector sports 12 ports, with four on the left and right side, and four in a strip down the center. What makes the Pivot Plug so unique is the fact that the four on the left and four one the right are in individually adjustable plugs that can swivel out 90 degrees to the side of the surge protector, giving you the freedom to connect large bricks, tall power supplies, and other devices with large plugs without obstructing the other outlets available. Each of the four on either side can be set at their own angle, so you have complete freedom to move them as you see fit. The four stationary plugs in the center are well spaced as well.

All told, you get 12 outlets on a relatively small surge protector that features an 8-foot cord, so it can go anywhere in the room. Plus, it's wall-mountable if you prefer. It also supports coaxial cable in and out, RJ-45 Ethernet in and out, and even has a cable management slot at the bottom to corral your cords. It also sports Belkin's lifetime warranty (so if it's defective or something happens to it, Belkin will replace it), is rated for 4320 Joules, and comes with a $300,000 connected equipment warranty. You could buy it direct from Belkin, but it's much cheaper (only $29) over at Amazon.

Belkin 12 Outlet Pivot Plug Surge Protector with 8 Foot Cord $30.07

APC Performance SurgeArrest 11 Outlet

Five Best Surge Protectors

Packing 11 outlets and a 180-degree adjustable 6-foot power cable, the APC Performance SurgeArrest 11 is a low, slim power strip with three outlets on either side of its body, angled down as to not obstruct the five center outlets along the top, and well spaced to accommodate bulky power bricks. It also supports coaxial input/output, as well as ethernet and telephone line protection along the top of the surge protector. It features power-saving outlets that will cut power to specific devices to conserve electricity without turning off power to everything else on the unit, so you can plug in "always on" devices in some outlets, and devices that are safe to cut the power to any time into the power-saving ones. You can even slide unused outlets closed when they're not in use.

The SurgeArrest 11 is rated for 3400 Joules, sports a lifetime warranty, and is protected by a $150,000 equipment protection policy in case it fails or your gear is damaged because of a defect. It'll set you back $36 at Amazon. Note: The SurgeArrest 11 is not one of the older APC SurgeArrest surge protector lines currently being recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. If you do have an older SurgeArrest series 7 or 8, stop using it and get in touch for a free replacement unit.

APC Power-Saving Performance SurgeArrest, 11 Outlets with Phone and Video Prote... $36.31

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Fellowes 99090, Mighty 8 Surge Protector

Five Best Surge Protectors

The Fellowes Mighty 8 may only have eight outlets on board, but you'll definitely be able to use all of them. They're arranged in a really creative layout around the body of the surge protector, with three on the "face," three on the "bottom," and two others almost on "wings" along the sides of the surge protector's body. In general, they're all well spaced enough that you can use even bulky power strips without too much hassle, and without totally obstructing the others at the same time. The Mighty 8 features a 6-foot power cord and solid noise filtering, although it doesn't pack coaxial or data/telephone protection. It's also tiny, less than four inches across, meaning you could toss it in a backpack or carry-on bag if you need extra outlets on the go.

The Mighty 8 is rated for 1300 Joules, sports a 1 year limited warranty, and a $50,000 connected equipment warranty. It's also the most affordable in our lineup—it'll set you back a mere $15 at Amazon.

Fellowes Mighty 8 Surge Protector (99090) $14.99


The honorable mention this week goes out to the Monoprice 3 Outlet Power Surge Protector Wall Tap w/ 2 Built-In USB Charger (#7991), a super-portable surge protector that can fit in any bag, is rated for 1050 joules, and packs three ports you can use to connect your laptop, smartphone charger, or anything else while you're sharing an outlet with others or just need a few more ports in a hotel room, a conference room, or just on the go. Plus, it has two high-powered USB ports capable of charging power-hungry devices like tablets as well as smartphones. It's like a slimmer, trimmer version of our old favorite Belkin 3-in-1 mini surge protector.

Five Best Surge Protectors


A Detailed Guide To Phone Insurance In The US

A Detailed Guide To Phone Insurance In The US: Who Has The Best Coverage, And Is It Even Worth It?

Posted by David Ruddock

Phone insurance isn't an exciting topic. But it is a topic a lot of people have questions about, particularly when it comes to two things: who's the best, and is phone insurance actually a good investment? As you'll see, those questions don't really have an easy answer. But I'm going to break down a few of the US's most popular insurers, alternatives (like your homeowners policy), and explore whether phone insurance is even actually a good idea given your individual needs.



Asurion is an extremely popular phone insurer, but most Asurion policyholders may not even know they're with the company, which does not actually sell insurance directly to consumers. Rather, Asurion works with three of the big four US carriers (and numerous others) as their officially endorsed subscriber phone insurance provider. As such, cost, deductibles, and coverage vary by which carrier you're with to a significant degree, though most of the terms are generally consistent. You also have to be a subscriber of a carrier in order to take advantage of that carrier's insurance plans. Here's what you need to know.

Asurion covers loss, theft, accidental damage, and malfunction - the big ones most people file claims for.

Once your insurance claim is approved, you'll be told if Asurion is electing to repair or replace the device, if it's the latter, they'll ship it out to you overnight. It may be new, or it may be refurbished. A phone charger, battery, and a SIM card will be included. But let's get to the fine print, because that's where things get interesting.

Other more obvious reasons for denial of claims include problems that are covered under the existing manufacturer's warranty, damage caused attempting to repair or modify a device, or vermin. Yes, if insects, rodents, or "other vermin" damage your phone, that's not covered. I don't even want to know.

If you submit a claim for a lost or stolen phone, Asurion may require (TOS varies per carrier) that you file a police report, obtain a copy or case number, the police station's phone number, and the name and badge number of the officer who took the report. Asurion may not ever request you to submit the report or this information to them, but make no mistake: you may be required to do it under the terms of the policy.

Additionally, if you're filing a claim and Asurion is unable to approve it over the web or phone because agents are not reasonably able to verify the loss you're claiming, you may be required to take your phone to a "specified location" or mail it to a service center before receiving a replacement. Only when the claim is approved will a replacement phone be shipped. Asurion also reserves the right to require documentation proving your ownership of the device (bill of sale, receipt, proof of purchase or warranty exchange), a signed statement swearing to the veracity of your claim (they can even request you have it notorized, on your own dime), a copy of a government-issued ID, or "other records and documents that may be reasonably requested."

Finally, as with most contracts you'll agree to as a consumer, Asurion requires you to agree to an arbitration clause, which essentially means you can't sue them outside of a limited number of circumstances, only pursue an arbitration hearing. This only applies in some states, however, so check the fine print at the very bottom of this document if you're interested in which ones are excluded.


AT&T Mobile Insurance is $6.99 per month with the "insurance only" option, and covers the same loss incidents as every other Asurion plan (accidental damage, loss, theft, and post-warranty mechanical breakdown). AT&T has three deductible tiers (1, 2, 3), with any high-end smartphone landing in the tier 3 $199 deductible. A few less common mid-range phones will get you down to the $125 tier 2 level, and low-end devices like the Galaxy S III Mini even manage to make it down to tier 1 at $50.


Like Verizon, you're limited to two claims per 12 months of enrollment. Unlike Verizon or Sprint, AT&T's policy includes, if you mention it in the claim filing as part of your loss, a replacement for one of the following: carrying case, automobile cigarette lighter adapter, or standard wired earpiece. I guess that's kind of nice of them. This is in addition to the battery, charger, and SIM card, if you're claiming them.

AT&T's policy on claims requiring you to return your damage device states that you have 10 days to send it back from the date you received the prepaid shipping label.


Sprint's Total Equipment Protection plan is currently offered at either $8 or $11 a month, depending on what deductible tier your device is in. Most mid-range to high-end phones are in tier 3, meaning a deductible of $150, and a monthly premium of $11. The Note phones are among the few that land the big $200 deductible, though the iPhone 5 / 5S / 5C may also end up there, as well.


Unlike Verizon and AT&T, though, Sprint's TEP plan covers up to three claims per year, with the same $1500 per claim limit. This is a significant advantage over the Verizon / AT&T plans if you're particularly likely to break or lose your phone, though you're obviously paying for it - the monthly premium is nearly double that of AT&T's.

Otherwise, this plan is just like AT&T and Verizon's, and offers the same level of coverage for the same loss situations.


Verizon's Total Mobile Protection comes in at $10 a month with a maximum of two claims per 12 months at $1500 apiece. However, Verizon does have one apparent advantage over pretty much every other plan here: deductible rates are substantially lower. Most high-end Android phones have a $99 deductible, even devices like the Galaxy Note II, LG G2, or Galaxy S4. While Verizon does have deductible tiers at $149, $169, and $199, the only devices I've seen at those deductibles are Apple products or tablets. This plan covers the same sort of thing we've seen already - loss, theft, damage, and malfunction.


Verizon also offers cheaper plans, though. For $8 a month, you can get the Total Equipment Coverage (TEC) plan, which is like the TMP plan above, minus the lost phone / "tech coach" support line features you don't need. I'm pretty sure you have to sign up for this plan in-store or over the phone, and that it has to be within a certain time frame of your device purchase.

Then there's Wireless Phone Protection (WPP), it starts at about $5 a month. It has all the benefits of the TEC plan, except that it does not include phone malfunctions (post warranty expiration). So if your display goes kaput a month after your warranty expires, that's not covered. If you mysteriously lose your phone after the display goes kaput, though... (I am not endorsing insurance fraud.)

Finally, there's the simple extended warranty plan. For $3 a month, you can extend your phone's warranty for malfunctions and defects that would otherwise be covered past the first year you have the phone.

Again, all these plans aside from TMP probably have to be bought at a store or over the phone, as I can't find a signup page on Verizon's site.

T-Mobile (Assurant)

Asurion Assurant (formerly T-Mobile used Asurion, this has changed) covers phones under the T-Mobile Premium Handset Protection plan (thanks, to those who pointed this out). Your deductible and monthly insurance cost vary by your phone plan and device.

If you're on one of T-Mobile's new monthly handset repayment plans (JUMP!), PHP is included at no extra cost beyond the $10 JUMP fee you're already paying. Your deductible depends on just what phone you have, with there being five deductible tiers. Most modern high-end smartphones fall into the two highest tiers, meaning a deductible of $150-175 in the event of a claim. There is also a $5 warranty processing fee every time you make a mechanical breakdown claim, and you're limited to two claims for every 12 months you're enrolled in the plan.

Assurant sends you a refurbished replacement handset within 1-2 business days (though customer accounts of turnarounds seem to vary), and if a refurbished phone isn't available, a new one will be sent. Additionally, each refurb comes with a 6-month warranty.

If you're not on JUMP, premium handset protection is an $8 / month add-on to your T-Mobile account, and includes the same coverage and deductibles as the JUMP version.


SquareTrade is probably the most popular non-carrier phone insurer in the US. They have low deductibles ($99 for pretty much any non-iPhone), simple coverage terms, and they'll even give you a big discount if you buy a 2-year policy ($125) up front instead of going month to month ($7.99). What SquareTrade doesn't do is loss or theft coverage - your phone has to be in your possession in order to make a claim under your policy. As such, the warranty only covers accidental damage and malfunction, and you generally have to purchase the policy within 30 days of buying the phone.

What sort of damage is covered? SquareTrade says drops, spills (including full immersion), and wear and tear resulting from typical use of the phone. Wear and tear even includes the battery if it drops below 50% of the original capacity, though if you have a sealed phone this would mean sending it in to SquareTrade.


SquareTrade also has a major advantage over competitors in the event your phone is deemed beyond repair: they'll just pay you the cost of replacing it (by their estimate - meaning the cost of a refurbished device, usually) once you submit your deductible payment. They'll even send they money directly to your PayPal account. SquareTrade, unlike many phone insurers, doesn't deal in refurbished smartphones, and would prefer just to pay out if they can't fix your device.

Reviews of SquareTrade on the web are generally very positive, though like any service you'll find sour grapes here and there if you go looking.

The practical drawbacks? Shipping is generally 2-day, and because SquareTrade only repairs your phone or reimburses you via PayPal / mailed check, that means you'll probably be without a phone for a week or more.

Now, what isn't covered under a SquareTrade plan, aside from the aforementioned loss / theft? Exposure to weather conditions, failure to properly clean, operator negligence, misuse, abuse, improper electrical / power supply, improper equipment modifications, attachments or installation or assembly, vandalism, animal or insect infestation, battery leakage, or "act[s] of nature" or any other "peril" originating outside the product. So if your phone is struck by lightning or short-circuited by fire ants, you're probably out of luck. But as far as the damage scenarios that are likely to occur to a smartphone, you're pretty well-covered.

A couple things to note under the 2-year plans: you get as many repair claims as you want, but your policy maxes out on that particular phone once those repairs cumulatively exceed the value of the device, which can happen pretty fast (eg, 1-2 repairs). And you get one replacement payment. Once a claim has been processed resulting in a replacement payment, your policy is terminated, and you have to buy a new one if you want continued coverage. This, obviously, is how they can sell the 2-year plans more cheaply than month-to-month.

Overall, SquareTrade provides good protection against accidental phone damage, and at a pretty good value if you choose to enroll in a 2-year plan (it roughly comes out to $5 a month).

Wait, what about [semi-obscure insurance provider X]?

Protect your bubble? Worth Ave Group? ProtectCell? What about all these other guys out there selling phone insurance that sounds both awesome and affordable? Put the brakes on your expectations. Not only is it difficult to research the reliability of many of these companies, they hide a lot in the fine print.

If anyone is promising you "no deductible" on your phone insurance claims, they're probably stretching the truth. A lot. Most such services actually hide behind the term "administrative fee" (for example, ProtectCell). Yes, there's no deductible as part of your plan as far as the wording of the policy is concerned, but oh wait, there is a $150 "administrative fee" you're going to have to pay if you make a claim. And it goes up to $200 if you make a second or third claim. You know, for all those expenses incurred administering your policy. Right.

Next, look for reviews. And not reviews about the value of the coverage provided, or the type of damage / loss compared to other providers. Look for claims experiences. Companies like Worth Ave Group have pretty mixed reviews of the claims process from policyholders out there, and numerous reports of abnormally long turnaround times on claims. Protect your bubble has some real customer service horror stories on the web.

That said, here are a few other providers that have at least a semblance of reputability, and their rates and coverage based on insuring a Galaxy S4 (in Worth's case, a $599 policy).

  • ProtectCell Complete: $129 / year or $199 / 2 years. Covers drops, water damage, theft, and loss. Deductible: $150 first time, $200 thereafter. Replaced with a refurbished or new handset of same or like model.
  • Worth Ave. Group: $59 / year. Covers drops, water damage, and theft (not loss). Deductible: $50. Pays out amount insured - no replacement devices or repairs offered.
  • Protect your bubble: $7.99 / month or $143.99 / 2 years. Covers drops, water damage, theft, and loss. Deductible: $100. Replaces with refurbished or new handset of same or like model.
  • Best Buy Geek Squad Protection: $9.99 / month or $199.98 / 2 years. Covers drops, water damage, and other malfunctions. Deductible: $150. Repairs existing handset if possible, if not, replaces with refurbished or new handset of same or like model. (Note: the deductibles were added and pricing changed as of Sept. 1st, 2013 - non-deductible coverage for new customers is no longer available).
  • esurance (provided by eSecuritel): $10.99 / month. Covers drops, damage, theft, and loss. Deductible: $175. Replaces with refurbished or new handset of same or like model.
  • Ensquared: $58.99 / year or $99.99 for 2 years. Covers drops, water damage, theft, and loss. Deductible: $100. Repairs existing handset if possible, if not, replaces with refurbished or new handset of same or like model.

I can't cover every plan here. With smaller providers like some of the examples I listed above, you're really taking something of a gamble on your policy. Adjusters may be more shrewd, customer service poorer, and the likelihood you'll be denied a claim based on a technicality higher. The insurance business is about pooling risk - the bigger the pool, the lower the risk to the insurer. The smaller the pool, the more vigilant the insurer has to be about enforcing fine print and keeping costs down. Just remember that.

Insuring on your homeowners / renters insurance policy

Most modern smartphones have a retail MSRP over $500 these days, and as such, qualify pretty easily under most homeowners and renters insurance as a valuable possession that can be covered under your policy. This is a very case-by-case solution to insuring your phone - so specifics on cost here are hard to measure - but the general consensus I've found in terms of estimates are anywhere between $10 and $50 a year on top of your existing policy, depending on your insurer and the value of your phone. Note that this is different from merely claiming your phone as personal property on your homeowners in the event of a covered loss - you're adding specific coverage for this possession as a valuable personal article.

How do you go about insuring your phone this way? You'll have to call your insurer or the agent who handles your policy and request that they add a rider (aka floater) provision to your existing policy specifically for your smartphone(s). You may need to provide a receipt or other proof of your phone's value, but once you do, it's covered. The best part? Most rider provisions have no deductible, and you'll be reimbursed the full insured value of the item in the event of a loss. Exactly what situations your phone is covered under will vary, but generally personal article riders cover a very broad number of scenarios. That means you will not be limited to only the loss situations covered under your larger policy, which are substantially fewer. You'll only be limited to the specific exclusions of the rider, which you should of course ask for.

In the event of a loss, though, you do have to weigh the value of making a claim on your homeowners or renters insurance for a single item (if your phone is all that is claimed), as your rates will likely go up substantially when you renew the policy. You could also potentially be dropped by your insurer, an increasingly common practice. And every time you get a new phone, you'll have to call your insurer to get rid of the old rider and add a new one.

Is this more complicated than just buying a phone insurance plan? Yes. Is it probably worth doing if you already have a homeowners / renters policy anyway? Even at the high end of $50 a year (around $4 a month), it's hard to argue with the value. It's a little extra peace of mind, if nothing else. While you're at it, you can also insure other expensive gizmos this way - high-end photo gear and laptops, for example. You may not want to claim any of these things alone on your homeowners, but in the event something happens that results in the loss of numerous valuables (eg, your car is broken into while you're at a hotel and your laptop, phone, and camera are all stolen), it may just be worth it.

Be sure to ask about international loss coverage as well - many insurers restrict these policies to domestic claims.

Your Credit Card

Did you buy your phone with a credit card? Many credit card processors like Discover offer extended warranties on products purchased using your card. Oftentimes, this warranty extends 1 year past the date of the expiration of the manufacturer's warranty. Obviously this won't cover things like accidental damage or loss, but it may get you a complete refund of what you paid for a device if it fails due to a mechanical defect.

The process of actually doing this and the level of protection will vary by the credit card you used. Some credit cards don't offer this kind of protection at all. Discover is well-known for its warranty, which extends a full year beyond the manufacturer's (given the manufacturer's warranty was less than 36 months) and under the same terms of the original warranty.

Is any of this actually worth it?

That's actually a very legitimate question. Even assuming a relatively cheap plan, like AT&T's at $7 a month, if you make a claim one year into your plan with a high-end phone that requires a replacement, you're looking at a total insurance cost of $284, and a pretty high likelihood you'll be getting a refurbished handset.

If your handset is merely broken (shattered screen), you could actually be better off if you'd avoided insurance altogether, unless you plan on taking your chances with someone like Worth Ave Group. Phones with cosmetic or display damage - even a dead main board - can fetch a perfectly healthy sum on the open market, especially if it's a popular device like a Galaxy S4. Replacement parts aren't terribly expensive, and plenty of repair businesses will take these broken phones in, fix them, and flip them again on eBay or elsewhere for a substantial profit. Even if you get only $250 out of that shattered husk, you're not down $250+ in insurance (let's pretend you saved it instead), and for a little extra money ($100-200) you can get a brand-new phone of your choice instead of taking a chance on an insurance-supplied refurb or repair job (unless your insurer only pays out).

But if your phone is stolen or lost, that's a different story. Sure, the deductible is steep, but you will get a phone, and it will almost definitely still be less out of pocket than if you didn't have insurance at all.

Like any kind of insurance, it's a matter of weighing your perceived risk against the costs of coverage. If you really do fear that your phone will be stolen, or that you'll lose it, insurance that protects you in such situations is probably worth the peace of mind for you. If you can work this kind of protection into a homeowners / renters policy, you'll probably get a deal, too. If your concern is more about damaging your phone, buying a protective case and building up a 'rainy day' fund may actually be the better idea. After all, if your phone never breaks, you're not in the hole for 2 years of premiums.

All in all, if you or a loved one are particularly accident-prone with your smartphone, phone insurance can be an option worth exploring in some cases. Just remember this: like any private insurance, phone insurance is a profitable business for the insurer for a reason. Companies like Asurion or SquareTrade wouldn't be around if they weren't taking in more in premiums than they paid out in claims, and that means a lot of policies don't end up ever actually being utilized. Consider the economics, the risks, and your personal situation - because it's definitely going to vary from person to person.

So, who's the best?

If you go by level of coverage offered versus premium and deductible costs, the title probably goes to Worth Ave Group. They pay out directly, which means no dealing with sketchy refurbished phones. Choosing them really is a matter of your trust in the company to be honest and expedient in resolving your claim, though.

If you want an insurer with a good reputation for service and a quick claims process, your choices really do dry up rapidly - there's a reason Asurion and SquareTrade are the only names most people know in the phone insurance business. Asurion is easily the most all-inclusive insurer on this list, since they cover not only damage, but theft and loss. And they'll ship you a replacement phone the next business day after your claim is approved (or you can go to a store and pick one up in some cases). That's convenient.

SquareTrade is able to offer a pretty cheap plan (roughly $5 a month if you buy 2-year coverage) that covers the most common phone insurance claims: cracked displays and water damage. They have moderately quick turnaround and, in the event your phone is beyond fixing, they'll just cut you a check - no dealing with lemon refurbs.

I know, the conclusions aren't exactly exciting - there's no magic way to get super cheap, fast, and all-inclusive phone insurance. But it's just kind of a reality of the very concept of phone insurance: a lot of people drop, submerge, or lose their $600+ phones. It takes a big insurer to make a profit out of that kind of business while still keeping customers who do file claims happy.

A Detailed Guide To Phone Insurance In The US: Who Has The Best Coverage, And Is It Even Worth It?


10 Household Items Your Smartphone Can Replace

10 Household Items Your Smartphone Can Replace

Convergence in electronics has escalated to new heights in recent years because of the smartphone. Dedicated devices will always have something to offer, but squeezing every last bit of functionality out of an item that you already own can be a great way to save money. Plus, a smartphone and the accompanying data plan aren't exactly cheap, so users might as well save in other areas if they can.

While we're aware that smartphones can do double duty as a camera, portable gaming system, and MP3 player, their potential actually runs much deeper than that. With the right apps or accessories, your phone can accomplish a variety of nifty tasks you might not be aware of. Here are 10 unexpected smartphone features to start, but we're sure there are more. After reading over our list, make sure to let us know in the comments how you use your phone in an unexpected way.


Save space and money scanning documents by using your smartphone instead of using a flatbed scanner. The CamScanner app (for Android and iOS) allows you to use your smartphone camera to scan documents, invoices, receipts, or whatever else you want to digitize. The built-in tools enable you to crop the dead space and enhance the quality, and you can save and share the results as a JPEG or PDF. The basic app is free with some limitations. Heavy users and small businesses can spend $50 per year to unlock premium features.

Potential Savings: $80+

Light Meter

You could pay hundreds of dollars for a light meter, or you could use the free Pocket Light Meter app on your iPhone. For slightly better results you could snag the Luxi accessory for $30. The Luxi attaches to the front-facing camera and works in conjunction with the app to determine optimal exposure settings. And while it requires some calibration for the best results, and it is slower than a dedicated light meter, it's a much more affordable option for folks who simply want to fine-tune their photography.

Potential Savings: $100+

Gaming Guide and Additional Monitor

If you don't have the space or budget for an extra computer monitor for gaming, then you probably know the pain of having to constantly ALT+TAB to look up online game guides or watch walkthrough videos. But consider this: With just a phone stand—like the Breffo Spiderpodium iPhone Stand ($19.06 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $1)—with it sitting flat next to your keyboard, your smartphone can double as a second screen. With your phone by your side, you can easily browse video walkthroughs and free online cheat sheets, which beat the pants off expensive paper guidebooks.

Potential Savings: $10+

Personal Trainer

Why buy a pedometer or sign up with a personal trainer when you can get all the motivation and statistical feedback you need to get in shape from your smartphone? Popular free apps like RunKeeper employ your smartphone's GPS and other sensors to track your activity, provide valuable feedback, and even help to coach you. Set your goals and measure your progress with ease; all it costs is effort.

Potential Savings: $15+

Spirit Level

Smartphones are packed with sensors and gyroscopes that determine which way the phone is oriented so as to display the screen in either portrait or landscape. These sensors can also be employed for other jobs, such as determining a level surface. There are loads of free apps for iPhone, Android, and Windows that allow almost any smartphone to double up as a spirit level. You can also find apps that will let your smartphone act as an accurate tape measure.

Potential Savings: $10+


If you're sailing, windsurfing, or wakeboarding, then you're likely interested in the nuances of the wind, but you don't need to spend money on a standalone device. You can either access the current surf conditions via the web, get an app that pulls in the latest data from weather stations, or simply opt for an anemometer app that uses your smartphone's microphone to estimate wind speed.

Potential Savings: $30+

Universal Remote Control

Thanks to an abundance of remote control apps, many smartphones have the ability to control the TV, cable, satellite, and DVR. Some apps even let you remote control your games console, stereo, or computer. What's more, the latest Android smartphones, like the Samsung Galaxy S4, have remote control apps and IR blasters built-in.

Potential Savings: $20+

Instrument Tuner

Even professional musicians use tuning apps to get their instruments pitch perfect. There are a bounty of free options out there that will do a decent job, or you can drop a few bucks and get a feature-packed app like Cleartune ($3.99 for iOS and Android). Either way you'll be saving some money and you won't have an extra device to carry.3

Potential Savings: $10+

Baby Monitor

There are plenty of apps to help lull your baby to sleep or that transform your smartphone into a baby monitor. Having to leave your phone in the baby's room is an obvious drawback, but an old smartphone can easily be repurposed as a baby monitor; there are apps that will alert you to your baby's sounds and even let you remotely view your baby in its crib. Alternatively, you could buy a camera accessory that picks up motion and sends a feed to your smartphone.

Potential Savings: $50+


The vast majority of smartphones now have a flashlight app that comes standard in the OS. Apple added this functionality to iOS 7, and you can access it easily by swiping up from the bottom of the screen to reveal the Control Center and tapping the flashlight icon at the bottom left. There are also plenty of free flashlight apps available if your smartphone doesn't have one. The majority of these apps use the camera flash, the screen, or a combination of the two to illuminate the area.

Potential Savings: $5+

There are a number of other unexpected uses for your smartphone: from blood pressure monitor accessories, to gaming dice apps, and beyond.

10 Household Items Your Smartphone Can Replace