Why we love it: Sprint's new Unlimited Plus plan improves upon the carrier's now-scrapped Unlimited Freedom plan with a 15GB hotspot, texting to 185 countries, 10GB of data in Mexico and Canada, and a Tidal subscription. This in addition to the perks of the previous plan, which include a Hulu subscription and unlimited HD streaming. When you bring your existing phone or buy one at full retail price from Sprint, you can all of this for an incredible $60—which is pretty great. 
If Verizon doesn’t cover your most frequented locations—or if you simply want a slightly cheaper option to postpaid service but don’t want to sacrifice customer support—Consumer Cellular is a great alternative. This reseller of AT&T and T-Mobile consistently tops customer surveys such as Consumer Reports’s latest, PCMag’s annual survey and J.D. Power’s most recent “wireless purchase experience” study. The service is marketed to seniors, but the things that make it good for seniors make it good for most people as well. Most important, it offers US-based phone support that caters to the non-tech-savvy and maintains an in-store presence in major retailers such as Target. We also like that it allows you to specify an AT&T or T-Mobile SIM, whereas many other prepaid carriers, such as TracFone, will determine that for you unless you buy a SIM card in person.
Selecting a network is the trickiest part of picking a plan. Coverage can vary from block to block or even building to building, so carrier coverage maps can be a good starting point only if you can zoom in to the street level—and even then they say nothing about how the network fares in areas with many devices using it. OpenSignal, PCMag, and RootMetrics all publish independently sourced network-performance metrics, but those studies take different approaches and are thus good for different purposes. (When using these metrics, and a carrier’s own coverage maps, don’t forget to check a network’s coverage in frequent business or vacation destinations.)
To determine the best plans, we looked at the monthly plan price before taxes and fees, the price per gigabyte, and features such as unlimited video streaming or rollover data. We only considered national carriers, which ruled out regional providers like U.S. Cellular. For average users and prepaid users, we looked at plans with 2GB to 5GB. For families, we looked at plans with at least 6GB and calculated pricing for a family of four. Recommendations for heavy data users only factored in plans with at least 10GB of data.
Use a tablet with cell capabilities — If you already own a 3G/4G tablet, there’s a chance it was unlocked when you bought it. If so, you can use this when you travel instead of a phone — just buy a data-only SIM locally, and use Skype and WhatsApp for your phone and SMS requirements. You can also use the tablet as a hotspot, to share the connection among your other devices.
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of unlocking your phone and installing a local SIM, you can simply buy or rent a cell phone that will work abroad. Cellular Abroad sells and rents unlocked GSM phones and SIM cards that will work in dozens of countries around the world. The company also rents the National Geographic Talk Abroad Travel Phone, whichworks in more than 200 different countries. It’s the ideal solution for travelers visiting more than one country during the same trip. Most U.S.–based mobile carriers like AT&T and Verizon also have rental programs. Give them a call to find out what options are available to you.
If you’ve tried to unlock your phone in the past but were told by your carrier that you couldn’t, you should try again. The Consumer Code for Wireless Service was implemented in February 2015, providing more freedom and flexibility to consumers when it comes to their cell phones. You can learn more about unlocking a phone or tablet from the Federal Communications Commission.
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.
All four major carriers now offer different tiers of unlimited data plans. We think T-Mobile's $70 option provides the best mix of value and performance. Sprint's basic unlimited plan is cheaper than T-Mobile One, but its network isn't as fast. The entry-level plans from Verizon And AT&T both carry too many restrictions, relative to T-Mobile's $70 plan. (And if you don't mind restrictions, T-Mobile Essentials is cheaper still at $60 a month.) T-Mobile One features a good price on a strong network, and if you want to upgrade from 480p video streaming to HD, it's now just $15 more per month (the same price as Verizon's unlimited plan with HD streaming.)
If you’ve tried to unlock your phone in the past but were told by your carrier that you couldn’t, you should try again. The Consumer Code for Wireless Service was implemented in February 2015, providing more freedom and flexibility to consumers when it comes to their cell phones. You can learn more about unlocking a phone or tablet from the Federal Communications Commission.
T-Mobile has changed the name of its MetroPCS to Metro by T-Mobile, to eliminate the idea that you're making a trade-off when you opt for a prepaid cellphone plan. One of the ways it's fighting that preconception is by doubling the amount of data you get with its $40 a month plan to 10GB. That edges out AT&T's 8GB plan, which costs the same amount after you deduct $10 by enrolling in autopay. Metro's plan also includes taxes and fees in that $40 rate.
iPhone Forever: Does not guarantee mo. payment amount, phone selection, or svc. plan rates. Upgrade after 12 payments as long as lease & early upgrade offered. Req. active line thru time of upgrade with min. 12 consecutive mo. svc. plan payments, new phone Lease Agreement, acct. in good standing, & give back of current eligible device in good & functional condition. After upgrade, remaining unbilled lease payments are waived. Upgrade does not incl. same generation model iPhone; must be next generation iPhone.
Lots of people like to get prepaid plans because they are a way to get phone service without having to sign a contract. This means that you can end your service with a carrier at any time without consequence. If you have a yearly contract with a carrier and you want to cancel service before the end of the contract, you usually have to pay a fee for each of the remaining months in your contract. No contract cell phone plans typically require you to pay the full price of the phone. However, many companies will now let you pay off the phone over 24 months.
Sprint is offering free iPhone Xs with eligible trade-in and Sprint Flex lease. The promotion is available for the iPhone Xs 64GB variant. You get $0/month after $41.67/month credit applied within 2 bills. It requires an 18-month lease with new line or eligible upgrade and approved credit. If wireless service is canceled, the remaining balance on the device becomes due. 
Why: Save $999.99 on a brand new (and one of newest) iPhone! The regular price of this phone on Sprint's Flex Lease is $41.67/month, but with Sprint's limited time offer, you'll receive credits on your bill each month making this phone completely free. You'll also have the opportunity to upgrade to a new iPhone after 12 months on this 18-month lease plan.
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