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.)
Given that a traveler is always on the go, battery life matters the most. Apart from that, a good camera and global compatibility with different cellular networks is a big factor. Looking at these criteria, the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge fits the bill. It’s priced well, supports various global networks including VoLTE, and has a 12MP camera and good battery life with 3600mAh capacity.
Flexing that unlimited vacation policy and staying abroad for more than a week or two? Consider replacing your SIM card and using a local service provider. First, make sure your phone is unlocked. You can do this by swapping your SIM card for another one and confirming that your phone still works, or simply calling your service provider. The FCC requires that providers unlock all devices so you can use them on any network, so simply ask your provider for an unlock code. One caveat, though: That rule doesn't apply if you're locked into a contract or you haven't paid for your phone in full.
Finally, we didn’t factor in taxes and regulatory fees, because they vary by jurisdiction (on my own T-Mobile plan, for example, these fees added up to just under 10 percent of my July 2018 bill). But wherever you live, taxes and fees should hit you equally across all of your options—except for T-Mobile’s T-Mobile One offering, which sweeps them into the advertised cost.
Usually, unlocked cell phones have the carrier's branding on the device. To test whether your phone is locked, insert a Telestial SIM Card or a SIM Card provided by a different carrier (than that of your device). If your device connects to a network and you are able to use the service, your phone is not locked. If your device does not connect to a network or you are unable to use the service, your phone may be locked.
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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.
RootMetrics gives out regional awards to carriers that are top performers in categories like network speed and reliability, call quality, and data performance. Verizon swept the table in 2018, earning 112 of 125 possible awards. Sprint, by comparison, earned three awards. What does this mean? Verizon has the best track record for offering its customers a reliable network and satisfying performance.
Sprint Unlimited 55+ Plan: Reqs. new account activation. Acct holder must be 55 or older. 2 line max. Includes unlimited domestic calling, texting & data with 3G Mobile Hotspot VPN & P2P data. Discounted phones subject to add'l $25/mo./line. Third-party content/downloads are add’l charge. Plan not avail. for tablets/MBB devices. Select Int’l svcs are included see sprint.com/globalroaming.
Today's teens (and, admittedly, many of us) treat their smartphones like permanent appendages, texting, Facebooking, Instagramming, streaming and playing games like the outside world doesn't exist. If you're the parent of a data-hungry teen, unlimited plans can be the way to go, since they eliminate concerns about overages. Alternatively, you might consider a bare-bones "lifeline" cell phone plans that provides your teen with a means to make a calls, and not much else.
5G wireless—which should offer much faster and more responsive connections—is coming, but not soon. For example, Verizon and AT&T began pre-commercial 5G trials last year, but those were limited to “fixed wireless” systems that provide whole-home bandwidth. Don’t expect widespread commercial deployment of mobile 5G during the real-world lifespan of any phone you buy today. We will, however, continue watching for early signs of each carrier’s 5G rollout.
Sprint: Unlimited Basic includes talk, text and high-speed data in Canada and Mexico. You can add Sprint’s Global Roaming service to any Sprint plan at no additional charge. With Global Roaming, you get free texting and 2G data. Calls made abroad start at 20-cents-per-minute. You can purchase high-speed data passes to get LTE data download speeds abroad
Most cellular customers in the United States subscribe to plans that are set up as post-pay, which means they are billed monthly and obtain service if they have good credit. A growing number of subscribers are also choosing prepay services (Pay-as-you-go) which provide both advantages and disadvantages in comparison to prepay, but for some it is the only way they can have a phone.
But like the Unlimited Choice plan that preceded it, the Unlimited &More plan comes with a few big catches. Video streaming is limited to standard-definition quality, with the speed capped at 1.5 megabits per second. The plan doesn’t provide mobile hot spot capabilities, so no tethering your computer to your phone. (Verizon has similar restrictions.) And people who subscribe to the cheaper unlimited plan no longer get free HBO.
Metro and Boost charge the same $30 to add extra lines to one of their data plans. That means a family of four would pay the same $140 a month for unlimited data on every line. We give the nod to Metro, because the network of its parent company T-Mobile performs better on our test than that of Boost parent Sprint. We also like its included Google One storage, though Boost offers more hotspot data with its plan.
You may find that prepaid phones are a good option for your needs if you don’t like the idea of a long-term contract or prefer to stick to a predictable monthly budget. Plus, you can get prepaid phone cards to add minutes or data for times when a little extra is needed. Another option would be an unlocked phone, which gives you the freedom to choose the carrier and plan you want with no long-term contract. This is where you’ll really appreciate browsing the best cell phone deals, since unlocked phones require you to pay for the phone upfront instead of having it subsidized by the carriers.
iPhone Xs, Xs Max offer: Phone Offer: iPhone Xs (64GB) MSRP $999.99; iPhone Xs Max (64GB) $1,099.99. Phone Trade-in: Phone must be unlocked, deactivated & all personal data deleted before trade-in and in good working order; device powers on and there are no broken, missing or cracked pieces. Device will not be returned. Current customers must own trade in device. Credits end at 18 months, early payoff or upgrade, whichever occurs first.