For each service, we computed the cost of a few typical bundles of smartphone service, setting minimal use at 1 gigabyte (GB) of data, moderate use at 3 GB, and heavy use at 5 GB. (Research firms’ estimates have shown steady increases in average use since the first version of this guide, but usage estimates per carrier have also diverged as some carriers have switched to selling only unlimited-data subscriptions: In the second quarter of 2018, Strategy Analytics found that Android users who had opted into its survey used on average 5.9 GB on T-Mobile, 5 GB on Sprint, 4.5 GB on Verizon, and 3.9 GB on AT&T. However, usage outside of the big four can be lower, to judge from the much lower monthly average reported by the wireless trade group CTIA for 2017: only 1.3 GB.
If your usage only slightly exceeds the cap on a service’s limited-data plans—say, you use 3.25 GB in a month and your carrier offers a 3 GB plan—you should see if that plan lets you roll over unused data from months when you don’t hit your maximum. Also, see if that service offers unmetered slow 2G service once you exhaust your high-speed data, so your phone will still always get basic (read: slower) Internet access. These features may let you choose a less expensive plan.
We have reviewed a selection of carriers including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Straight Talk, U.S. Cellular, TracFone, Tello, and more. Some phones are only available with certain carriers because the carriers produce some phone models themselves. But most carriers will serve a variety of manufacturers so in most cases you’ll have a wealth of choices with any given model.
The phone can also be charged using a special ‘Dash’ charger. This promises a 63% charge in just 30 minutes, and unlike many other quick chargers, it doesn’t cause the phone to heat up to an alarming level. It does this by moving the majority of the heat management into the charger itself, as opposed to it being within the phone’s hardware. This makes it ideal to use in countries with high temperatures.
Buy a budget smartphone — While there’s a lot of junk at the bottom of the smartphone range, there are a few decent phones for travelers under $200. My current favorite is the Motorola Moto G — you’ll want to buy a microSD card for some extra storage, but other than that it’s a reasonably speedy smartphone, with a battery that lasts all day and a 5” screen you actually want to use. Tip: grab the “Global” version for maximum compatibility overseas. You’ll still need to buy local SIM cards to put in it.
AT&T: AT&T has a bundle of nice BOGO and rebate deals on name-brand Android and Apple flagships for DirecTV customers: Buy two iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS, XS Max, Samsung Galaxy S9, Galaxy S9 Plus, Galaxy Note 9, or LG V35 ThinQ smartphones on AT&T Next and enjoy between $700 and $900 back in bill credits toward the value of the second phone (the rebate amount varies by model). If you don’t want to buy two and/or you’re not a DirecTV customer, then you can still get up to $600 back on a Galaxy S9, S9 Plus, or Note 9 with an eligible trade-in.
Other Terms: Offer/coverage not available everywhere or for all phones/networks. Accounts that cancel lines within 30 days of activating on promo pricing may void savings. Included features/content may change or be discontinued at any time. May not be combined with other offers. Restrictions apply. See store or sprint.com for details. © 2018 Sprint. All rights reserved. Sprint & the logo are trademarks of Sprint. Other marks are the property of their respective owners.
The average smartphone subscriber uses about 6.9 GB of data per month, according to a June 2017 report from information and communications technology group Ericsson (up from 3.7 GB in 2016). This number serves as a good guidepost when you choose a plan: It’s roughly the amount of data you’ll need if you check directions and browse the web daily. But if you’re looking to cover multiple family members, or if you spend many hours per day on your phone, you’ll need a higher-tier unlimited plan. (And if you don’t use your phone even for directions or web browsing? You’re a prime candidate for a much cheaper plan through an MVNO.)
First things first: The only phones you’ll be able to use when you travel internationally are those considered “world phones,” meaning those that can be used as easily abroad as they are domestically. That means the phone must be capable of running on a GSM network, as that’s the predominant networking standard around the world. But if you’re on a CDMA network (Sprint or Verizon) here in the states, don’t despair: Many top smartphones these days can support both bands, thus simplifying travel.
I ordered a 2-pack of the 6’ Lightning cables in black and was pleased by the overall quality look of these cables. (They are a little stiffer than the original Apple cable.) I charged my iPad with one of the cables and had no issues. The DROK USB Tester I had inline showed the iPad to be charging at a little over 5 volts and 2.32 amps, and the charging indicator showed green with no incompatibility warnings.
For $10 more per month for a one-phone plan, the company offers its Beyond Unlimited plan. That plan offers sharper, HD-quality streaming and 15 gigabytes per line of full 4G LTE mobile hot spot use. (After that, your speeds are capped at 600 Kbps.) And Verizon promises to not throttle your data speeds until you use 22GB of data during a given month.
Fall is the season for new flagship phones, and we’ve already seen Samsung and Apple roll out their latest. Now it’s Google’s turn, and the new Pixel 3 is a more affordable — yet no less impressive — alternative to competing flagships that ring in at $1,000 or more. Retail pricing for the Google Pixel 3 starts at $799, which is already considerably cheaper than the $1,000-1,100 starting price of the Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone XS, but Verizon customers (or those looking to switch to Verizon) can maximize their savings by taking advantage of one of these pre-order offers:
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Verizon’s network is still better than T-Mobile’s, but that advantage is less pronounced for data. Automated drive testing by the research firm RootMetrics that rate T-Mobile poorly include lagging grades for voice and text use, while they show T-Mobile as a respectable third place for speed and data. PCMag currently ranks T-Mobile as a very close second to Verizon, while OpenSignal’s test results say that T-Mobile is now actually ahead of Verizon in speed and data. And though T-Mobile’s GSM-based network—which lets you talk and use data simultaneously, unlike Verizon’s—has historically leaned on higher-frequency bands that don’t reach as far inside buildings, that’s getting better. That GSM foundation also means that T-Mobile is compatible with more phones than Verizon is, including virtually every unlocked phone you can buy.
Verizon has pared back its tiered data plans to just one option for individuals, but it's a really good one. Verizon's 5GB for $55-a-month plan is tough to beat if you don't see yourself needing an unlimited amount of data. (And the truth is, most individual users don't.) Verizon's plan gives you a healthy chunk of data at a reasonable rate, and you can rollover unused data to the next month. Turn on Verizon's Safety Mode, and you'll avoid overage fees if you do go over your allotment.
Project Fi, Google’s wireless service, resells the networks of Sprint, T-Mobile, and the regional carrier U.S. Cellular. It’s not bad for frequent international travelers—we liked its rates and LTE roaming better than T-Mobile’s—but it supports only Google’s Pixel series of phones as well as some LG and Motorola models. If your passport has dozens of stamps and your current or desired phone is on its list, though, Fi is worth a look.
Use a tablet with cell capabilities — If you already own a 3G/4G tablet, there’s a chance it was unlocked when you bought it. If so, you can use this when you travel instead of a phone — just buy a data-only SIM locally, and use Skype and WhatsApp for your phone and SMS requirements. You can also use the tablet as a hotspot, to share the connection among your other devices.
BoostUP!: Req. 18-mo. installment agreement, 0% APR, & qualifying device & service plan. Eligible customers can finance up to $600 and the down payment will cover amounts over $600. A down payment is required at time of upgrade. Sales taxes for full purchase price due at the time of the sale. If you cancel wireless service, remaining balance on device becomes due.
Sprint has tried to position itself as the budget brand, with reliability that beats T-Mobile and performs within 1% of Verizon and AT&T. That’s a bit misleading, because reliability only measures “accessibility and retainability of voice calls and data sessions” and doesn’t account for network speed or overall coverage. RootMetrics’ scores and map confirm that Sprint’s network is notably less extensive than Verizon’s, and it ranks dead last in terms of overall data speeds.
The other option is an unlimited-data plan, but these aren’t truly unlimited: All four carriers have carved out restrictions on things like hotspot use and streaming video, while adding premium tiers or for-fee add-ons that lift some of those limits. As a result, shopping for wireless service can look a lot like buying a plane ticket: You can’t jump on the cheapest price you see, lest you wind up in Basic Economy.
A mobile phone manufacturer is the company that designs and produces the physical phone. Some manufacturers have contracts with certain carriers, so in many cases you can only get certain phones with certain carriers. Read through some cell phone reviews on these different manufacturers to get a better idea of the type of phone that each manufacturer produces. Browse Wirefly for exclusive cell phone deals from all manufacturers and carriers.
Several prepaid carriers offer monthly plans with unlimited 4G LTE data, but Metro by T-Mobile remains the best, thanks to its superior network performance and perks. Metro gives you unlimited data for $50 a month, with 5GB of LTE hotspot data and access to Google One cloud storage. Upgrade to the $60 plan, and you get 15GB of hotspot data plus an Amazon Prime membership on top of Google One. That tops Boost's similarly priced unlimited plans, though Boost does offer more hotspot data, and you can get HD video streaming with its $60 plan.
For longer trips, AT&T has retooled its AT&T Passport, which provides 30 days of service when you travel. Users thought the previous iteration of AT&T Passport offered too little data (since data was limited to 200MB, you can see their point), so AT&T increased the amount of data in its travel plan. The $60 Passport gives you 1GB of data and unlimited texting; you'll be charged 35 cents per minute for calls to any country. A $120 AT&T Passport boosts your data to 3GB. Don't go over that allotment, as AT&T charges $50 for each GB you go over.
The difficulties I encountered are instructive as to what a prepay customer should understand bout service limitations when travel outside of the United States is contemplated. My experience also pointed to a glaring security problem for tracing criminals, terrorists, stalkers or others that seek to use their phone to facilitate illegal activities.
Once you know what you’ll need, and from which providers, it’s time to compare the costs and find the best phone deals for you. You’ll want to factor in any taxes and fees, as well as additional features that increase the overall value of your package. If you have several lines to add, look for promotions that take down the price for family plans. And don’t skip out on auto-pay; it saves you $5 with every carrier.
I love this phone. I was looking at the Galaxy 5 but I will not pay that much for a phone and I really hate contracts. I have kept my T-Mobile to go account and this phone is about as perfect as one can be. It's easy to use, fits easily into my pocket, doesn't drop calls, they keys are a good size, I love the features on it. I have the Android apps on it that I love and am no where's near running out of memory even with all the photos and things I have stored in it. The battery gets me through the day with energy to spare and if I get worried it charges pretty quickly.
As pricey as Verizon's Above Unlimited plan may be, it could be worth it if business takes you overseas on a monthly basis, thanks to the addition of some complimentary TravelPasses. For infrequent travelers taking short trips, programs like Verizon’s TravelPass or AT&T’s International Day Pass will likely be good enough. But again, T-Mobile offers the most appealing international coverage, especially once it launches its $5 On Demand Pass in August.
Another option besides making a traditional cell phone call is using a Voice Over IP (VoIP) service such as Skype, which connects calls via an Internet connection. Skype can be used on a laptop, tablet or smartphone. Skype users can talk to each other for free, and can make calls to landlines and cell phones at affordable rates. However, remember that even if you’re not making international calls over your phone’s cellular network, you’ll still need to have an international plan in place to avoid exorbitant data charges (or find a free Wi-Fi connection so you don’t have to use your data).
Why: With a bigger screen, faster processor and longer-lasting battery, the Samsung Galaxy Note9 is designed for ultimate performance. Control your smartphone remotely with the new and upgraded S Pen. Play music from every direction on the first Note device with stereo speakers. Create your own personalized emojis, record videos in stunning 4k UHD, take photos on a dual-aperture camera and more. Get the most out of your Samsung Galaxy Note9 with Verizon, the nation's largest and most reliable 4G LTE network.