Choosing a cell phone plan has never been simple, but lately every carrier seems to be claiming to have the best deals on plans and features. We’re here to set the record straight. We’ve compared the four carriers in three separate use scenarios: an entry-level user who just walks to talk, an experienced cell phone user who wants to step up to a smartphone as cheaply as possible, and an advanced user who needs all the minutes and data providers will offer.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t account for factors like which carrier offers the best phone selection, coverage and customer service — just which offers the most features for your hard-earned dollar.
Just the minimum, please
You would just assume keep using a land line for a couple of bucks a month, but those goons you call friends and family insist on being able to reach you at all times. You’re ready to relent with a cell phone, but want to keep price to an absolute minimum — and you know how to keep a conversation short.
Best Deal: Sprint
If all you’re looking for is a cheap plan with no features, Sprint has the best deal, by far. Beating out the competition by about 25 percent, Sprint offers fewer “anytime” minutes, but still offers nights and weekends beginning at 9 p.m. Unfortunately,Sprint offers no 200 minute plans available for users seeking texting or data. AT&T is the runner up here due solely to its inclusion of rollover minutes, which can be accumulated for up to 12 months before expiring.
Dabbling with a smartphone
That creaking Motorola Razr is starting to show its age. You’re ready to shell out a little more every month for a smartphone, but not knowing how much you’ll really use it, you don’t want to spend too much.
Best Deal: Sprint
When looking for a bare-bones smartphone plan, Sprint isn’t the cheapest, but it is the best value. Though $69.99 is $10 more than AT&T and T-Mobile, the inclusion of unlimited (your bandwidth may be choked after 5GB) of data is huge compared to the competition, which offer puny 200MB packages. These are virtually useless if you actually browse the Web or use data-intensive apps more than a few times a month. Downloading few or less podcast episodes of a single radio show will eat through 200MB of data alone. To add unlimited data to a 500 minute T-Mobile plan, it’ll cost you $79.99. AT&T doesn’t even offer plans that reach 5GB, though another $10 on AT&T would get you 2GB of data, which is enough for many users.
Running a life without wires
Your phone is an appendage. You have 40-minute conversations with relatives on your commute, text nonstop with friends, and whip out your phone to stream your favorite YouTube videos without hesitation, gobbling up data with reckless abandon. You’re the user cell phone companies dread, but you’re willing to pay for the all-access key to the kingdom.
Best Deal: Sprint & T-Mobile
For those who love their smartphones and do a lot of texting, talking, and data using, an unlimited plan is what you want. It’s here where underdogs Sprint and T-Mobile truly shine. Verizon and AT&T both cost $15 to $20 more than the competition, and in AT&T’s case, you get less than half the data for the price. Cuts in texting and talk time are needed to bring Verizon and AT&T’s plans to comparable prices with Sprint and T-Mobile. Now, if only the two carriers had the phone selection of the big guys.