When you're ready to compare cell phone plans you need all the information you can get. There are so many different options as far as data allowance, devices, and price - it can be difficult to decide which carrier and cell phone plan best fit your needs.
You may need only one line, which could make the best mobile phone service for you different from someone who needs a family plan. Or maybe you have a small business and are looking for a way to control overage charges on employees' mobile phones. A prepay cell phone plan can be a good choice for small businesses because you only get what you pay for.
In this guide, I'll help you compare monthly plans among major providers.
Key Considerations When Comparing Cell Phone Plans
Making a wise choice among cell phone plans is especially important in this high-tech era because many people rely mainly on their smartphone for internet access. If you're in this group, you need reliable service and enough data to be able to read email, watch videos, and even access job search tools. You may also need to consider family cell phone plan options in order to get the best deal on service for multiple devices.
Choosing a cell phone plan means comparing various aspects of the carrier's offerings. These include:
- Price: Your plan's price may include the monthly fee, plus other costs like activation, early termination, and data overage charges.
- Features: Things like unlimited text messages may not matter as much to light cell phone users, whereas international calling may be a must for others. Other features you might consider include early upgrade options or the number of phones you can have on one plan.
- Devices: Are you an Apple or Android? Or maybe you're a flip phone devotee looking for the cheapest cell phone to use just for emergencies. In any case, you'll want to evaluate the mobile device selection from the various cell phone carriers. If you're considering a smaller provider from an MVNO, you may have to be prepared to choose from a smaller selection of older devices. For a full list of MVNO providers (and to learn what an MVNO is), you can check out our buyer's guide.
- Coverage and Reliability: You know the frustration of dropped calls and "dead zones". You'll want to be sure that your carrier has complete coverage in your area and that their cell phone service has a high reliability rating. Use our coverage maps to view the range of the big four - AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. It's important to note that these days the difference in coverage is tiny - a couple of percent or less. This means T-Mobile and Sprint are very competitive even though they come in behind the other two. Smaller prepay phone service carriers like Straight Talk run off of the major networks, although their coverage may be slightly more limited.
- Speed: Just because a carrier advertises 4G LTE speeds doesn't mean you'll get that speed everywhere. PCMag.com has performed speed tests on the big four in 30 major cities, noting that T-Mobile and Sprint have both gained strides against giants Verizon and AT&T.
- Customer Support: It's important to have peace of mind in knowing that if you do have an issue, your carrier is willing and able to resolve in a prompt, friendly manner.
One thing to keep in mind when comparing cell phone plans is that the days of subsidized phone purchase are largely over. Most carriers have moved to a system of monthly device payments on no-contract plans, even for the cheapest cell phone they carry. This practice essentially replaces contracts in many cases, although it functions as a contract in that you must pay off the phone whether you stay with the cell phone carrier or not.
You can take a look at the differences between prepaid and postpaid phone plans for more.
By the same token, carriers are also offering more flexible upgrade options. Depending on the cell phone provider, you need to have between 50% and 80% of your payments completed before trading up to a new phone. This means on a 24-month repayment plan, you could potentially upgrade after just one year, simply by trading in your old phone.
Related: All four providers are great for kids! You can view the best phones for kids here.
Some smaller no-contract plans like those offered by Republic Wireless and Consumer Cellular also offer installment payments. Others, including Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, still require you to buy a phone outright.
One thing to keep in mind when comparing cell phone plans is that the days of subsidized phone purchase are largely over. Most carriers have moved to a system of monthly device payments, even for the cheapest cell phone they carry.
Next, I'll take a look at some of the most popular cell phone companies and do a phone plan comparison among their offerings.