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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When you're purchasing a cell phone, make sure the device you select has sufficient memory, speed, camera precision and general functionality to meet your needs. You can choose between locked phones, which require you to pick a carrier, such as T-Mobile, AT&T, Boost or Verizon, or you can go with an unlocked model that works on a variety of networks. Best Buy, Amazon and B&H Photo Video are just a few stores that sell unlocked phones, including Apple iPhones and Android devices. Consider a prepaid phone with limited functions if you're purchasing an inexpensive device to take with you to festivals, nightclubs and other places people frequently lose expensive cell phones.
I write about all things "cyber" and your right to privacy. Before joining Consumer Reports, I spent 16 years reporting for The Associated Press. What I enjoy: cooking and learning to code with my kids. I've lived in the Bronx for more than a decade, but as a proud Michigan native, I will always be a die-hard Detroit Tigers fan no matter how much my family and I get harassed at Yankee Stadium. Follow me on Twitter (@BreeJFowler).
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.
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Due to constantly shifting promotions and terms, family-plan pricing is difficult to sort through. Our Verizon single-line pick isn’t competitive here because all of the lines on a Verizon subscription share the same data bucket. Verizon’s largest capped-data option is 8 GB, so if that won’t cover your family’s usage, you have to upgrade to more expensive unlimited data plans: $130 for two lines of not-so-versatile Go Unlimited and its limits on mobile-hotspot and streaming-video use ($160 for Beyond Unlimited), or $160 for four lines of Go Unlimited ($200 for four lines of Beyond Unlimited).
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.
Sprint Unlimited Premium Plan: Includes unlimited domestic calling, texting, 50GB LTE MHS, VPN & P2P & data. MHS reduced to 3G speeds after 50GB/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. Must remain on Premium plan for a minimum of 30 days.