It has everything what a traveler may wish for: iPhone SE is the most powerful 4‑inch phone ever, with impressive battery life, and a great camera. It has all the advantages of a smaller phone: easy to carry around, even in my pocket, lightweight, easy to operate with one hand, while it has all the great specs of the iPhone 6s and 6S Plus. SE is as powerful as 6S thanks to the advanced A9 chip, the M9 co-processor and 2GB of RAM, that makes the phone fast and responsive. Great battery life for Internet usage and video playback – the same modern battery as in the iPhone 6s lasts longer with a smaller screen. Smartphone’s display is one of the biggest power drainers, but SE is using a small and lower resolution LCD display, and that significantly increases the battery life. I love its camera. It’s an excellent 12‑megapixel camera (as in iPhone 6S) that makes vivid, sharp photos, iPhone SE allows me to shoot 4K video and edit multiple streams of 4K video in iMovie. Like the iPhone 6s, the SE can shoot super-smooth slow-motion video at 240fps (720p) and regular 120fps slow-motion (1080p). Despite these great technical features, there’s no camera bump on the iPhone SE, and that makes the device more comfortable to use. All these features are great for me as a traveler, filmmaker and mother. I travel a lot, in many different countries – and I’m not worried to carry around an expensive-looking, huge device or camera. At the same time I have a compact and powerful device that allows me to record a high quality 4K footage anytime at any exotic or remote place, edit it on the go, then use and submit even for professional purposes, work effectively, be connected wherever I am even during long hours of trips, and there’s always enough battery to make some photos and videos, run an educational app or online course with my homeschooler.
Finding the right phone plan to fit your needs is tricky. Beyond just dollars and cents, you need to consider which phones are supported by which wireless carriers and what coverage and data speeds are like in the area where you’ll use your phone the most. Throw in carriers’ near-continual plan changes — including multiple tiers of unlimited plans — and it’s a recipe for confusion.

Buy a disposable phone — If you’re in a country for a while and all you need are calls, texts, and maybe some light web browsing, just buy the cheapest prepaid phone you can find at the local mobile store. Sure, it’ll probably be complete rubbish, but you can often pick these phones up with a bit of credit for next to nothing and they’ll do the job for a while. The upside? You really won’t care if you drop it in the hostel toilet. If it does survive the length of your trip, just pass it onto to somebody else when you leave.
Selecting a network is the trickiest part of picking a plan. Coverage can vary from block to block or even building to building, so carrier coverage maps can be a good starting point only if you can zoom in to the street level—and even then they say nothing about how the network fares in areas with many devices using it. OpenSignal, PCMag, and RootMetrics all publish independently sourced network-performance metrics, but those studies take different approaches and are thus good for different purposes. (When using these metrics, and a carrier’s own coverage maps, don’t forget to check a network’s coverage in frequent business or vacation destinations.)
We focus on the Big Four because they dominate the market. But consumers looking for a good deal or great customer service should also check out smaller companies. Our ratings of 20 providers are based on the experiences of about 100,000 Consumer Reports members. The Big Four are all near the bottom of the chart, though T-Mobile rates somewhat higher than its competitors. (Ratings are available to members.)

Ashley Turner is director of Gadget Valuer – one of America’s biggest gadget trade-in comparison sites. Launching in 2009, the founding team wanted to create a completely independent recycling comparison website after running an actual phone recycling site. Such experience in the recycling market means Turner is constantly in touch with the latest trade-in trends and consumer habits.
If you need a lot of data more than you need the widest coverage, the T-Mobile One unlimited plan, augmented by the $15 One Plus add-on to enable full-speed tethering, is a well-priced plan (even after recent T-Mobile price hikes for One Plus) on a network that still provides pretty good coverage. T-Mobile’s network isn’t quite as good as Verizon’s—you’ll likely encounter more places where you can’t get a signal—but it’s still good, and third-party studies (for example, ones from PCMag and OpenSignal) report that a few years of upgrades have boosted T-Mobile above AT&T and Sprint. T-Mobile also bests Verizon in terms of international-roaming plans, and a wider variety of phones work on T-Mobile’s GSM network than Verizon’s CDMA network (though the best phones are available for both).
Why we love it: In addition to HD streaming, a 20GB mobile hotspot allowance, 500GB of Verizon Cloud, and a massive 75GB data de-prioritization threshold, Verizon's Above Unlimited includes unlimited talk/text/data in Mexico and Canada and 5 TravelPasses/month for use in more than 130 countries (each TravelPass entitles you to 24 hours of your regular unlimited benefits while abroad). All backed, of course, by Verizon's awesome network. It may be expensive, Above Unlimited delivers the goods. 

If you make frequent trips overseas, T-Mobile’s plan is a no-brainer, especially now that more countries are covered. The carrier includes unlimited data and texting as part of its standard T-Mobile One unlimited plan (albeit at slower speeds than you’re used to in the states). If your calls include a lot of overseas numbers, it may even be worth upgrading to T-Mobile One Plus International for an extra $25 a month, since it lets you make calls to landlines and mobile numbers in many countries at no additional charge. Sprint offers something similar with its new unlimited plans and their access to the Global Roaming feature. But T-Mobile will cover you in more countries after July 22.
We’re not fond of Verizon’s unlimited plans, none of which (as I’ve observed elsewhere) are truly limitless. For example, in addition to banning HD-video streaming and knee-capping mobile-hotspot speeds, the $75 Go Unlimited plan may throttle your speeds “in times of congestion,” even at the start of a billing cycle before you’ve burned up any data yourself—the others spot you 22 or 75 GB of usage before subjecting you to that risk. And as with the 5 GB plan, the $75 price requires enabling automatic payments from a checking account or debit card; otherwise it’s $5 more. Unlike Verizon’s capped plans, which give you full-speed data when roaming, the unlimited plan offers only 2G domestic data roaming, which one reader complained about while noting his experience roaming in Alaska and Puerto Rico. And the unlimited plans exclude all of Verizon’s discounts except for those for active military and veterans.
If you need quality voice and text coverage but use little or no data, and you’re willing to stick to a small, if growing, subset of Android phones, Republic Wireless is the best bet. At just $15 a month, it’s the cheapest way to get unlimited voice and texts, and adding 1 GB of data (with hotspot support) on the Sprint and T-Mobile networks tacks on another $5.
We focus on the Big Four because they dominate the market. But consumers looking for a good deal or great customer service should also check out smaller companies. Our ratings of 20 providers are based on the experiences of about 100,000 Consumer Reports members. The Big Four are all near the bottom of the chart, though T-Mobile rates somewhat higher than its competitors. (Ratings are available to members.)
More good news, at least for heavy data users, is the rise of unlimited data plans. These plans, which carriers started to pull a few years ago when smartphones such as the iPhone started using substantial amounts of data, can be a respite for a new wave of consumers hooked on streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify. All the major carriers now offer unlimited plans, but they come with catches. More on that below.
Ashley Turner is director of Gadget Valuer – one of America’s biggest gadget trade-in comparison sites. Launching in 2009, the founding team wanted to create a completely independent recycling comparison website after running an actual phone recycling site. Such experience in the recycling market means Turner is constantly in touch with the latest trade-in trends and consumer habits.
AT&T's size, reputation, and brand recognizability also means they don't have to beat other carriers on price to stay competitive. AT&T's plans are among the most expensive on the market, though a recent overhaul of their unlimited offerings have made them a bit more reasonable. The main things you're paying for with AT&T are coverage, features (like hotspot allotments) and international options. 
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Even better, an unlocked GSM phone allows you to switch out the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card. -- the internal chip that stores your phone number and account settings -- for a local phone number. Outside of the United States, most GSM phones come unlocked, but inside the country, you need ask your carrier for a special code. So if you know you're going to be spending the next four months in Botswana, you can spend $20 for a local SIM card instead of paying hundreds of dollars in international roaming fees.
If you travel internationally, Verizon’s TravelPass can seem tempting. That option costs a reasonable $5 a day in Canada and Mexico to use voice, text, and data drawn from your domestic allowance, $10 a day in much of the rest of the world (with a few exceptions, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar). But Verizon phones are all sold unlocked, so you can (and should) save money by using a local prepaid SIM when traveling internationally.
If you’re in search of a budget option but don’t want to give up the reliability of Big Four service, Sprint has a range of plans that hit their target. It has the cheapest unlimited data plan, starting at $60 per month. Sprint also tends to run numerous half-off promotions that can provide an extra nudge. Its current promotion offers the fourth and fifth line free if you switch from another provider.
New smartphone releases are generally on the pricey side. If you aren't dying to have the latest device as soon as it comes out, waiting a few months for the price to drop can really pay off. Apple products typically take around a year to decrease in price. Most new Sony, LG and Samsung products become substantially more affordable within three to six months after release. Amazon and eBay usually have good selections of these products, and both frequently offer cell phone promo codes and coupons. If you're a dedicated early adopter, look for presales, which might offer an opportunity to save some cash.
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