AT&T’s prepaid service and Cricket Wireless offer comparable savings, as do T-Mobile’s in-house prepaid service and its Metro by T-Mobile subsidiary, but those networks aren’t as good as Verizon’s and their prepaid plans aren’t as good for world travelers. Sprint’s Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile USA in-house brands are even worse for limiting the ability to bring your own phone.
Keyboard and interface refers to the style of the screen and keyboard of the phone. On some phones, you use the number keys to type text messages. On some phones, you get a flip keyboard that looks like a standard keyboard. Some phones have touch screens with a display of a keyboard that you use right on the screen. A 4 inch or bigger display refers to the size of the screen. Most phones with 4 inch or bigger display screens are usually touch screen phones.
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With every carrier, unlimited data isn’t truly unlimited — but AT&T sets the limit unusually low, with every unlimited plan throttling speed after 22 GB of data usage. That’s half of T-Mobile’s data limit. If you spend a lot of time streaming or browsing social media in places without Wi-Fi, there’s a chance you could go over your limit. And if you want “unlimited” data but no DIRECTV Live, no dice: The pair are inseparable. There are some standard phone plans that have smaller data limits for a lower price, but the comparable value is poor. While you can set your cap at 1 GB for just $25, the 10 GB cap is $75 — more expensive than the standard $70 unlimited plan.
Verizon’s plans are consistently more expensive than those of its competitors. For example, the T-Mobile One unlimited plan starts at $70 for one line, with data speed throttled at 50 GB. Verizon’s basic unlimited plan, by comparison, starts at $75, with data speed slowed at unpredictable times based on congestion. The next tier guarantees fast speeds until you hit 22 GB, with a price hike up to $85; the most advanced plan, with throttling at 75 GB, costs $95 for a single line.
Why we love it: T-Mobile's ONE family plan gives you 4 lines of unlimited data, Netflix subscriptions and unlimited hotspot usage (at 3G speeds)—all for $140 a month. Plus, it comes backed by T-Mobile's solid network. If you have a family full of data streamers and browsers, this plan is the way to go. Did I mention that all taxes and fees are included in this price?
Sprint Unlimited Military Plan: Includes unlimited domestic calling, texting, 500MB LTE MHS, VPN & P2P & data. MHS reduced to 3G speeds after 500MB/mo. Third-party content/downloads are add’l. charge. Plan not avail. for tablets or MBB devices. Select Int’l svcs are included for phone lines. See sprint.com/globalroaming. Subsidized devices incur an add'l. $25/mo. charge.
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.
Verizon’s 5 GB pricing barely beats that of T-Mobile and Sprint’s unlimited plans, but those two carriers’ options (and even Verizon’s own $75 Go Unlimited plan) limit what you can do with that data in ways that Verizon’s plan does not—most notably, by limiting streaming video to DVD resolution and limiting either the speed or the volume of hotspot use. This 5 GB plan includes full-speed mobile hotspot use and allows HD streaming video, albeit capped at 720p resolution on phones and 1080p on tablets. (That streaming video limit remains undocumented as of August 2018 outside of a brief mention in the second-to-last paragraph of a press release.) So as long as you—like a large chunk of the wireless population—don’t use more than 5 GB in a month, Verizon’s continued network advantage still makes this plan a good deal.
Since any information I accrue during my travels is backed up the second I hook up my phone to my computer using iTunes, saving me both time and effort. Although international plans are now readily available through most carriers, there are SIM cards available abroad that I can pop into my phone for the duration of my trip, and even if those sim cards aren’t available immediately, there’re hotspots around that will allow me to have immediate use of Wi-Fi.
The one place where AT&T holds a competitive advantage is in its bundles. In mid-2015, AT&T merged with satellite TV provider DIRECTV, making bundling discounts available for the first time. In 2018, the DIRECTV live streaming service is paired with its unlimited phone plans, providing more than 30 live TV channels that you can stream on any platform.
Sure, vacation should be the time to power down, disconnect, and focus on the people in front of you. But that doesn't mean giving up the option of getting directions from Google Maps or documenting your exotic meal on Instagram. Using your phone abroad used to be complicated, expensive, or both, but it's getting easier and easier. Here are a few options for bringing your smartphone abroad.
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.
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Gem! Phone works great. Needs nano SD card, I had to get an adapter kit but once I put in my ATT sim card, no issues at all! I don't know why anyone would spend $700 on the S7 when you can get this for $220 and its virtually the same phone. I previously had the S6, and I see virtually no performance difference between the two. Buy this if you need a good US or international phone.
Our estimates included only sales and discounts without expiration dates (though we included plans with “for a limited time” vagueness) and that are open to any customer (those that require trading in a phone or porting over a number didn’t qualify). If a plan offers a lower rate for automatic payments, we factored that discount in. We also allowed for regular purchases of an extra data pack or per-megabyte overage fees of $15 a gigabyte or less, but only up to $30 a month.
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.