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Switching to AT&T? We break down the carrier’s new unlimited and prepaid plans

AT&T finally did it. The wireless carrier recently announced that it joined Sprint and T-Mobile in offering unlimited talk, text, and data. But even with the switch, the carrier’s plans remain the most expensive, and some of its plan options are odd. If you live in an area where Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint don’t work, AT&T is likely your only option. That said, it offers some solid options for subscribers.

There’s no contract, and you have to pay the full, unsubsidized price for each smartphone on your plan. You’ll pay for each device in installments, which typically range between $20 and $30 a month per phone. You can also add your own phone to your plan instead of buying a new one.

In the table below, we break down the costs for you for the company’s Unlimited Choice and Unlimited Plus plans. Which one you pick is up to you, but choose wisely: All lines are either one or the other, and you can’t mix and match.

AT&T Unlimited Plans

People Unlimited Choice Total Unlimited Plus Total
1 $60 $60 $90 $90
2 $60 + $55 $115 $90 + $55 $145
3 $60 + $55 + $20 $135 $90 + $55 + $20 $165
4 $60 + $55 + $20 + $20 $155 $90 + $55 + $20 + $20 $185
5 $60 + $55 + $20 + $20 + $20 $175 $90 + $55 + $20 + $20 + $20 $205

AT&T’s Unlimited Choice single line plan is actually fairly competitive, but any of the other unlimited options are higher than every other carrier. Which one you choose depends on your mobile data usage. The Unlimited Choice plan offers standard definition video (480p), a 3mbps max speed — a first that we’ve seen among post-paid plans, and a questionable decision — and roaming in/calling to Mexico and Canada.

Stepping up to the Plus plan removes the speed cap, upgrades your SD streaming to HD, 10GB of tethering, and a $25 credit to DirecTV or DirecTV now. You also must use autopay to get the above listed rates, as well as paperless billing. Without it, you’re paying $5 more per month on single line plans and $10 on multi-line accounts.

Recommendations:

  • If you’re single and have DirecTV, go with AT&T. The Unlimited Plus option will give you a much better network than Sprint’s, although it is more expensive.
  • Families are better served looking at other carriers, unless AT&T runs promotions to lower the costs.

The perks of AT&T plans:

  • Strong coverage in both rural and urban areas.
  • Big phone selection.
  • Unlimited data is back.

The downsides of AT&T plans:

  • All but one of its plan combinations are pricey.
  • International coverage costs extra.
  • AT&T’s strange decision to cap data speeds on Unlimited Choice. These days, 3mbps is slow, even in most rural areas.

AT&T prepaid plans

AT&T also offers decent prepaid plans for those who want to go month by month. These are deals for people who are looking to save some money. For each line, you get unlimited talk and text, as well as unlimited messaging to more than 100 countries. You also have three data options: One to purchase it on an “as needed” basis every 250MB; another with unlimited data, but throttled after 6GB; and finally, another unlimited plan that throttles at the same amount of data post-paid plans do (22GB).

There aren’t any overages, either. Here’s a chart of what you get at every price point.

AT&T GoPhone

 Service  $30/month  $45/month  $60/month
 Data  $5 per 250MB  6GB 4G LTE Unlimited
 Stream Saver Yes Yes No
 Unlimited talk and text to Mexico and Canada  No  Yes  Yes
 Unlimited talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada  No  Yes  Yes

The Stream Saver function is a manually activated streaming video throttle — similar to T-Mobile’s Binge On — that reduces video quality to SD. In theory, this should help you conserve some of your data allotment. You can get a $5 discount if you sign up for AutoPay. The $45 and $60 plans are also eligible for multi-line discounts, so if you start adding lots of lines to your plan, you can get some money back.

Recommendations: 

  • AT&T GoPhone is best for individuals without heavy data needs.
  • If you’re a family, you can get similar service for less elsewhere.

The perks of AT&T GoPhone:

  • Strong coverage in both rural and urban areas.
  • Big phone selection.
  • No data overages anymore; speeds slow to 2G after you hit your limit.
  • No credit check or contract.
  • You’ll pay less than you would on AT&T’s other plans.

The downsides of AT&T GoPhone:

  • Still pricey for a prepaid plan.

Top phones at AT&T

Phones Down payment Price/month x 24
iPhone 7

iPhone 7 Plus

iPhone SE

$0 $21.67 x 24 = $520

$25.67 x 24 = $616

$13.34 x 24 = $320

Samsung Galaxy S8

Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus

$0 $25 x 24 = $600

$28.34 x 24 = $680

LG G6 $0 $24 x 24 = $576

AT&T has plenty of great phones, along with a few cool exclusives on new devices. There are no more two-year contracts, though, so you do have to pay full price for your phone. You can do so in monthly installments, which AT&T tacks on to your bill. High-end phones tend to go for somewhere between $20 and $30 a month, while cheaper ones can be had for as little as $5 a month.