In evaluating plans, we looked at the four major U.S. carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — and what they offer. We also evaluated five discount carriers: Boost Mobile, Cricket, MetroPCS, Straight Talk and Virgin, and to help you stretch your dollar even further, we looked at plans from several smaller discount carriers. In addition to price, we considered network coverage and performance, including results from our own 4G network testing in half-a-dozen cities. In some cases, total savings on one carrier’s plan outweighed the performance edge another carrier might enjoy; other times, network performance was a deciding factor in our choice.
Although prepaid and MVNO plans are cheaper, data is typically limited to around 3 GB; the highest cap we were able to find was 10GB. In other words, these plans are only going to work if you use very little data. You also won’t have access to lightning-fast load times or recently released smartphones. You’ll need to stick with a major carrier for either of these perks.
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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? 

Among the basic-economy, entry-level versions of unlimited data, Sprint deserves some credit for requiring the fewest compromises beyond the streaming-video 480p resolution enforced by all four: Sprint’s Unlimited Basic, $60 for one line, still includes 500 MB of LTE hotspot use (more than I use in most months) and overseas roaming (though at slower speeds). T-Mobile Essentials, at $60, offers only free texting overseas—international voice and data are extra—and limits hotspot use to 3G speeds (although OpenSignal rated its 3G downloads highest among all four). Verizon’s $75 Go Unlimited caps hotspot use at a punitive 600 Kbps, while AT&T’s $75 Unlimited & More bans hotspot use outright.
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.)
To make the decision easier, we’ve gone through each carriers’ plans to figure out which one is the best for your particular needs. Even after introducing a lower-cost, stripped-down plan, T-Mobile's T-Mobile One unlimited data offering is the best family plan; it offers better value than AT&T and Verizon (though bargain hunters may be tempted by Sprint's discounted family plan and AT&T includes a new streaming TV service with its unlimited plans). T-Mobile's $70 plan is also the best unlimited data plan for individuals, though you can now get a bare-bones unlimited data plan from the carrier for $10 less.
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.
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.

Sprint is particularly confusing because of its frequent shifts in price plans—like Sam-I-Am in Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, it’s always got a new marketing angle. We don’t mind that Sprint has adopted a similar approach to T-Mobile One, leaning heavily on unlimited data and free global roaming. But we’re not so keen on Sprint pushing phone-leasing deals that tout the same low up-front costs as the subsidized handset prices that tied customers to two-year contracts. Even if you upgrade every year, those deals offer little or no advantage over reselling a used phone and plowing the proceeds into buying a new model. And unlike Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program, leasing keeps the phone locked to Sprint. Finally, Sprint doesn’t offer installment-plan pricing. To buy a phone from Sprint instead of signing a lease contract, you have to pay the full up-front price yourself.
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:
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.

Right out of the gate there are some restrictions including limited streaming for gaming at 8Mbps and music streaming is limited to 1.5Mbps, but if you can handle those limitations, the Sprint plan is hard to beat on a nationwide network. The good news is that while you might have some data restrictions, you’ll also find unlimited calling, text, and data in Mexico and Canada as well as the United States.
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.

To be sure your cell phone is always ready to go when you are, you may want to select one of the different types of phone chargers. For instance, charger cases have proven popular because they provide some device protection while also keeping your phone charged. Other security options that will help maintain a like-new appearance include a screen protector that fights off scratches and fingerprints, and phone cases, which not only allow you to add your personal style, but can also protect your investment against water, weather and impact.

Why we love it: T-Mobile's ONE plan has proven popular, so much so that it compelled the entire wireless industry in the direction of unlimited. ONE is still arguably the best of the bunch, though, packing in more features than the competition. If you're over 55-years-old and use your phone's data heavily, getting this plan at $50 is a steal and a half.
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If you need better connectivity to, say, hail a Lyft from the Acropolis, simply add a global package to your current service. It's shockingly easy. For example, AT&T offers a service called Passport, which gets you 200 MB of data and unlimited texting in more than 200 countries for just $40 tacked onto your current monthly plan. (Calls abroad still cost a buck a minute, so talk quickly.) Verizon offers a similar service, Travel Pass, that costs $5 a day to extend your plan to Mexico and Canada and $10 per day for service in more than 100 other countries. How much data you need depends upon how active you plan to be online. Posting 30 photos to social media costs about 10 MB; each web page you visit costs about one. Downloading apps like Whatsapp lets you send texts and make calls without racking up minutes, and disabling "automatic refresh" on email and other apps helps avoid blowing through your data allowance.
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.
Anyone who travels wants to be able to take decent photos on the move and the 16MP rear camera on the OnePlus 3T is a solid performer. It’s not the best out there, but if you’re taking photos mainly in daylight, you’ll have no complaints. The colors are accurate, details sharp and because of the 6GB of RAM, it’s easy to take multiple shots with no delays after the button press.
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.
Verizon’s CDMA-based network (used when you don’t have LTE service) isn’t capable of simultaneous voice and data use. This means, for instance, that if you’re using your phone to navigate while you’re driving, and you get a voice call in an area without 4G service, you may lose the call. But the company’s far-flung LTE deployment has addressed this limitation in many areas.
Why we love it: In addition to HD streaming, a 20GB mobile hotspot allowance, 500GB of Verizon Cloud, and a massive 75GB data de-prioritization threshold, Verizon's Above Unlimited includes unlimited talk/text/data in Mexico and Canada and 5 TravelPasses/month for use in more than 130 countries (each TravelPass entitles you to 24 hours of your regular unlimited benefits while abroad). All backed, of course, by Verizon's awesome network. It may be expensive, Above Unlimited delivers the goods. 
With the understanding that there are many cell phone plans that could potentially suit a senior, we've chosen to focus in on the ones specifically geared towards this market, and selected the best of the bunch. Whether you're a senior shopping for yourself or a loved one looking for a gift for a relative, it's worth taking a look at the following plans. 

It has everything what a traveler may wish for: iPhone SE is the most powerful 4‑inch phone ever, with impressive battery life, and a great camera. It has all the advantages of a smaller phone: easy to carry around, even in my pocket, lightweight, easy to operate with one hand, while it has all the great specs of the iPhone 6s and 6S Plus. SE is as powerful as 6S thanks to the advanced A9 chip, the M9 co-processor and 2GB of RAM, that makes the phone fast and responsive. Great battery life for Internet usage and video playback – the same modern battery as in the iPhone 6s lasts longer with a smaller screen. Smartphone’s display is one of the biggest power drainers, but SE is using a small and lower resolution LCD display, and that significantly increases the battery life. I love its camera. It’s an excellent 12‑megapixel camera (as in iPhone 6S) that makes vivid, sharp photos, iPhone SE allows me to shoot 4K video and edit multiple streams of 4K video in iMovie. Like the iPhone 6s, the SE can shoot super-smooth slow-motion video at 240fps (720p) and regular 120fps slow-motion (1080p). Despite these great technical features, there’s no camera bump on the iPhone SE, and that makes the device more comfortable to use. All these features are great for me as a traveler, filmmaker and mother. I travel a lot, in many different countries – and I’m not worried to carry around an expensive-looking, huge device or camera. At the same time I have a compact and powerful device that allows me to record a high quality 4K footage anytime at any exotic or remote place, edit it on the go, then use and submit even for professional purposes, work effectively, be connected wherever I am even during long hours of trips, and there’s always enough battery to make some photos and videos, run an educational app or online course with my homeschooler.
We've some of our favorite cell phone plans in these categories already. Ready to start comparing yourself? Head over to WhistleOut's comparison engine, choose your text/talk/data preferences, type in your home address, and press "Search." For a more detailed breakdown, check out this step-by-step guide to using WhistleOut to find your next cell phone plan. 
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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.
Sprint is particularly confusing because of its frequent shifts in price plans—like Sam-I-Am in Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, it’s always got a new marketing angle. We don’t mind that Sprint has adopted a similar approach to T-Mobile One, leaning heavily on unlimited data and free global roaming. But we’re not so keen on Sprint pushing phone-leasing deals that tout the same low up-front costs as the subsidized handset prices that tied customers to two-year contracts. Even if you upgrade every year, those deals offer little or no advantage over reselling a used phone and plowing the proceeds into buying a new model. And unlike Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program, leasing keeps the phone locked to Sprint. Finally, Sprint doesn’t offer installment-plan pricing. To buy a phone from Sprint instead of signing a lease contract, you have to pay the full up-front price yourself.

However, switching to prepaid, where you pay for service before you use it, can be an easy way to save $10 to $20 a month or more. Many prepaid services are provided by smaller companies that simply resell service from one of the big carriers, so they offer similar coverage as those carriers at a lower price. But for these resellers to undersell the major carriers while using those carrier networks, the resellers make some trade-offs; similarly, the major carriers’ own prepaid plans tend to involve restrictions their postpaid plans lack. We don’t recommend switching to prepaid unless you meet most of these criteria:
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.
We used the iKits charger (white with gray) for a two week long trip in the UK. This charged even our sensitive devices (one phone and three Kindles) well and became our sole electronics charger for tablets and phones after the first day. The adapters snap in snugly and create a single unit that is secure, easy to use, and compact for travel. It is well made and fit securely everywhere we stayed. We never had surge or power issues.
TracFone, Net10, and Straight Talk, all properties of the Mexican carrier América Móvil, consistently rank among the most widely used prepaid services. They offer the advantage of reselling service from all four carriers, at the cost of having to trust the company’s judgment about which network works bests for you, as Prepaid Phone News editor Dennis Bournique explains in a helpful post.
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