If you use more than 5 GB of mobile data most months, if you travel outside the country regularly, or if you want the greatest variety of phone choices, you should consider T-Mobile One Plus. This plan combines T-Mobile One, the carrier’s standard $70 subscription plan with the $15 T-Mobile One Plus add-on (which adds HD streaming video and LTE mobile hotspot speeds and ups T-Mobile’s included Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi from one hour per flight to unlimited.) At $85 per month, T-Mobile One Plus beats Verizon’s $85 Beyond Unlimited plan once you account for the taxes and fees that Verizon doesn’t list but T-Mobile folds into that total—and T-Mobile offers a wider choice of phones and delivers much better international-roaming options. Like its competitors, T-Mobile does reserve the right to “deprioritize” your data above a certain threshold, but it now sets this “soft cap” at 50 GB a month—more than twice that of AT&T and Verizon.
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.
We quizzed experts, crunched numbers, and pored over fine print and pricing to help you figure out how much data you need, which network offers the best coverage where you need it, and whether a postpaid or prepaid plan is the best for you. We think that Verizon Wireless’s single-line 5 GB plan is the best cell phone plan for most people, but we have a variety of picks for different needs.
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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.
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.
But all three services ban hotspot use, a tight-fisted restriction that looks increasingly archaic even for prepaid. TracFone also suffers from its own math: Because the data allotments in its data/voice/message bundled plans are so stingy, we could meet our usage scenarios only by stacking these plans on top of each other, and in some cases then buying additional data packs.
Even as carriers offer multiple tiers of unlimited data plans, the T-Mobile One plan remains the best choice for families. It gives a family of four unlimited data for $160 a month. We wish T-Mobile still let you stream HD video as part of its T-Mobile One plan, but for most users, 480p video on a smartphone-sized screen will be good enough. (Families can pay an extra $10 per month per line if they really want HD streaming.) T-Mobile's network delivers comparable performance to Verizon, which charges more for its best unlimited family plan, though Verizon also lets you mix and match different unlimited options for each line of your family plan.
Our cost estimates assume 400 voice minutes and 500 texts used per month. Those numbers fall roughly in the middle of usage data we saw from the Federal Communications Commission (PDF) and a 2013 PwC study (PDF), among other resources, but are above the much lower averages that CTIA reported for 2017 (187 voice minutes and 143 texts). Unlike postpaid services, many prepaid and resold services still limit your text messages and phone calls, so the actual cost of a particular carrier may be slightly more or less if you use more or fewer minutes and texts, respectively.
For traveling abroad in nearly 180 countries around the world, Sprint adds unlimited and 2G data speed with calls costing 20 cents per minute. Beyond international travel, each customer inside the US also receives 10GB of LTE mobile hotspot data and plans like iPhone Forever or Galaxy Forever that offer a new iPhone or Samsung device after 12 equipment installment payments.
Also a phone with a large battery pack and fast charging is AN ESSENTIAL during international travel. Nobody wants to be lost in a strange street with their phone dead. A phone with a large battery power and fast charging means you can pop up the Google Map and find your way wherever you are. Here the S7 Edge is again a great option as it comes with 3600 mAh battery power and fast charging capability.
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.
International travel has always been a challenge for mobile users. From anticipating roaming charges or setting up an international calling plan to purchasing an adapter for your phone charger, traveling internationally requires some pre-planning. One way to avoid potential hiccups is to purchase a phone that’s suitable for international travel. To find out what cell phones work best for traveling abroad, we reached out to a panel of mobile enthusiasts and tech bloggers to gain some insight. We asked them:
Better Choice Plan: No discounts apply to access charges & early upgrade add-on charge. Incl. unlimited domestic calling & texting. Data allowance as specified. Non-discounted phones req. you to sign up for leasing, pay full MSRP or bring your own capable phone. Third-party content/downloads are add’l. charge. Max. of 10 phone/tablet/MBB lines. Incl. sel. allotment of on-network shared data usage & 100MB off-network data usage. Add’l. on-network high-speed data allowance may be purch. at $15/GB. Add’l. off-network data can be added by opt in only for 25¢/MB for tablets/MBBs. Mobile Hotspot Usage pulls from your shared data & off-network allowances. High speed data is access to 3G/4G.Discounted Phones Access ($45): Inv. will show a term access charge of $45/mo./line charge until the customer enters into a new device transaction that does not have an annual term svc. agmt.