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.
Verizon’s $85 Beyond Unlimited plan allows higher-definition video—720p resolution on phones, 1080p on tablets—and 15 GB of LTE tethering. But it imposes the same auto-pay requirements to avoid sending your pre-tax-and-fees bill to $100. The company’s $95 Above Unlimited plan caters to frequent travelers with a 20 GB LTE tethering allotment and five free one-day international roaming Travel Passes each month. It also raises the deprioritization threshold to 75 GB and throws in 500 GB of Verizon cloud storage, but still limits video streaming to 720p.
Opting for Google’s Project Fi seems like a really great idea for a variety of reasons. First, the nuts and bolts: You can get calls and texts for $20 per month, and data for $10 per GB of use (and you can add extra people for $15 each). But what exactly makes the plan unlimited? You're only charged $10 for the GBs you use up until 6 GBs, then beyond that, it’s unlimited.
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.
Consumer Cellular’s prices aren’t quite as low as those of other resellers, but the company offers major savings in lower data-usage situations—the service is $15 to $30 cheaper if you expect to use 3 GB or less a month. Infrequent callers can get further savings by choosing one of Consumer Cellular’s lower voice allotments. And as the website reminds visitors, the company offers a 5 percent AARP discount. It blocks tethering by default but will enable that feature if you ask. And Consumer Cellular offers installment-plan purchase options with roughly the same terms as the majors do.
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.
Some devices may automatically transmit and receive data without any user action or knowledge. This may result in significant unexpected cellular data charges. Applications such as push email, news and weather updates, location services and many downloadable apps (even free ones) may do this. This list is not at all exhaustive; therefore, to avoid unexpected bills, we recommend that you take great care to disable automatic applications on your device.
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.)
You can also purchase an international SIM card that can be used in many different countries. This is a good bet for multi-country trips or for travelers who travel regularly to many different regions around the world. However, the option of replacing the SIM card is only available on unlocked phones. Ask your phone company if your phone’s SIM card can be unlocked.
You can also look at phones that are ranked as best in class. This includes rankings for phones with the best battery life, thinnest form factor, highest quality display, and other high-end features. However, battery life is frequently dependent on your habits and how you use your phone. For example, if you check your email or text a lot, or you have lots of long conversations, you will burn battery life more quickly than someone else.
Verizon has a reputation for taking a long time to push out software updates for its phones, but its performance with Google’s Android 8.0 Oreo update shows improvement. That said, you don’t have to buy your phone from Verizon as long as the model you get supports its network, so you can choose a phone that gets quick updates. Most unlocked phones, including iPhones, Google’s Pixel handsets, and some Samsung phones, are all compatible with Verizon nowadays. Though as you can see at Will My Phone Work, this group excludes GSM-only phones like the Nokia 6.1, our pick for the best budget Android phone, as well as some LTE models with limited frequency support, such as OnePlus’s Android 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 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.
Verizon also offers pay-as-you-go pricing for international travel. You’ll pay 99 cents per minute in Canada and Mexico and $2.99 per minute in other countries for voice service. (Talk rates fall to $1.79 per minute in 140 countries with monthly pricing.) Each text message you send will cost you 50 cents, and each received text will set you back 5 cents. Your data will be charged at a rate of $2.05 per megabyte.
If you’d like to save some money with a prepaid or resold plan (we talk about the differences below), we like Verizon Prepaid, which costs about a third less than Verizon’s postpaid service for a 7 GB plan ($50) on the same excellent network. As with Verizon’s postpaid plans, you’ll still get unlimited 2G data after you hit your plan’s data cap, but Verizon Prepaid bests the company’s postpaid plans in one way: It doesn’t limit streaming video speed. However, the prepaid plans don’t include calling and texting to Canada and Mexico unless you upgrade to the 10 GB plan or buy the international-roaming TravelPass at the postpaid rate.
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.
Verizon is the nation's largest carrier, boasting a staggering 149 million subscribers as of 2017. Pretty impressive for a company that's technically only been around since 2000 (after a merger between GTE Wireless and Bell Atlantic). Verizon was the first to launch a wireless high-speed broadband network, and the first to build a large-scale 4G LTE network.
I ordered a 2-pack of the 6’ Lightning cables in black and was pleased by the overall quality look of these cables. (They are a little stiffer than the original Apple cable.) I charged my iPad with one of the cables and had no issues. The DROK USB Tester I had inline showed the iPad to be charging at a little over 5 volts and 2.32 amps, and the charging indicator showed green with no incompatibility warnings.
Once we had an understanding of performance, we dug into the phone plans carriers offered and the prices they charged. Unless you’re purchasing a prepaid plan, the days of phone minutes and a nickel for every text are past — prices are based on data now. The best value is typically an unlimited data plan, but we looked into plans with tiered data, too. You’ll want to think about how often you use internet data (when not on Wi-Fi) to find a plan that fits your needs.
Buy a budget smartphone — While there’s a lot of junk at the bottom of the smartphone range, there are a few decent phones for travelers under $200. My current favorite is the Motorola Moto G — you’ll want to buy a microSD card for some extra storage, but other than that it’s a reasonably speedy smartphone, with a battery that lasts all day and a 5” screen you actually want to use. Tip: grab the “Global” version for maximum compatibility overseas. You’ll still need to buy local SIM cards to put in it.
Look for more tie-in deals from the carriers that throw in one video service or another, along the lines of T-Mobile’s free Netflix subscription with two-line plans, Sprint’s Hulu deal, AT&T’s WatchTV bundle, and Verizon’s $20 discount on a bundle of unlimited wireless and a triple-play of Fios Internet, phone, and TV service. (These media tie-ins are essentially another way carriers try to keep you around without the handcuffs of two-year contracts. Watch for new-lease or early-upgrade deals, but treat them with a fair amount of skepticism; buying your phone independent of service gives you far more leverage.)
If saving money without compromising too much on data is the most important thing to you, Republic Wireless offers a decent amount of data for less than $30 a month, especially after tweaking what it charges for LTE data. Otherwise, Verizon offers the most compelling individual cellphone plan, costing $55 a month for 5GB; you can also roll over unused data to the next month. Metro by T-Mobile — the new name for the old MetroPCS service — still offers the best prepaid plans for both individuals and families thanks to a strong network and appealing perks.
The carrier's new Above Unlimited offers that Canada/Mexico benefit, too, and augments it with another goodie aimed at travelers: you get five daily TravelPasses each month to use in more than 130 countries. That lets you use up to 512MB of LTE data per day. Just be aware that you'll have to do a lot of traveling to justify the higher rate for Above Unlimited, as it costs $95 a month for a single line versus $75 and $85 for Go Unlimited and Beyond Unlimited, respectively.
The number one reason is because the 6S is compatible with CDMA and GSM networks–therefore usable worldwide. While all Apple products are a target for thieves, standard features including iMessage and a powerful camera makes iPhone superior to other phones when traveling internationally and traveling light. The iPhone 6S is smaller in size than many iPhones, so it’s less likely to be a target. It’s also older–a secondhand 6S won’t leave as big of a dent in your pocket if it’s stolen. What’s more, the automatic backup and syncing features will help you hold on to all your photos and information.Compared to previous iPhones, the 6S is made out of sturdier material (for more heavy usage) and has a better front-facing camera (for Skype and Facetime calls back home to family and friends). And, as with all iPhones, you’ll appreciate the long-term investment. Apple’s hardware always have a long-term compatibility with software updates.
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We’re not fond of Verizon’s unlimited plans, none of which (as I’ve observed elsewhere) are truly limitless. For example, in addition to banning HD-video streaming and knee-capping mobile-hotspot speeds, the $75 Go Unlimited plan may throttle your speeds “in times of congestion,” even at the start of a billing cycle before you’ve burned up any data yourself—the others spot you 22 or 75 GB of usage before subjecting you to that risk. And as with the 5 GB plan, the $75 price requires enabling automatic payments from a checking account or debit card; otherwise it’s $5 more. Unlike Verizon’s capped plans, which give you full-speed data when roaming, the unlimited plan offers only 2G domestic data roaming, which one reader complained about while noting his experience roaming in Alaska and Puerto Rico. And the unlimited plans exclude all of Verizon’s discounts except for those for active military and veterans.
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.