The best cell phone plans of 2018

Don't listen to the guy at the mall. How to pick the best smartphone data plan

best cell phone plans wireless carrier
dt-best-of-150_carriersNavigating U.S. carriers’ family plans is a frustrating exercise, to say the least. Although carriers’ websites have improved and plans have become more transparent, trying to figure out which network offers the best deal for your family is still a nightmare. Luckily, we’ve compiled this comprehensive guide on how to choose the wireless plan that best suits your needs — and saves you the most cash.

Here are our picks for best family plan, best individual plan, best unlimited plan, and more. We’ve also added helpful explainer sections to help you choose your carrier.

Editor’s Note: Each plan we’ve chosen lists only the price of your service bill. You will also pay monthly installments on your new phones’ balances, if you choose to buy new phones from your carrier. This is explained further in the section below titled “How do phone payment plans work?”

At a glance

Service Category
T-Mobile Best cell phone plan overall
Sprint Best individual plan
Verizon Best rural service
Mobile Share Advantage, Unlimited Choice, and Unlimited Plus Best AT&T plans
T-Mobile and Sprint Best plans for international travelers
T-Mobile One Unlimited Best unlimited data plan
T-Mobile Simply Prepaid Best prepaid plan (from a major carrier)

T-Mobile

The best

t-mobile-hq-sign_feat-2x3

Why should you buy this: T-Mobile leads the industry with plans that charge no overages, cost less than the competition, and offer more perks.

Read more about T-Mobile’s plans here.

Who’s it for: Anyone who wants an unlimited plan, lives in an urban area, or travels internationally a lot.

How much will it cost:

 People  Line cost  Data  Total
1  $70  Unlimited  $70
2  $70 + $50  Unlimited  $120
3  $70 + $50 +$20  Unlimited  $140
4  $70 + $50 + $40 +$20  Unlimited  $160
5  $70 + $50 + $40 + $20 +$20  Unlimited  $180

Why we picked T-Mobile:

T-Mobile is the industry leader in the U.S. with its bold “Un-carrier” moves. When T-Mobile busts out a brand new plan or feature, the rest of the carriers inevitably follow its example. T-Mobile started by ending overage charges, killing the two-year contract, and offering lower prices than its competitors.

Now, T-Mobile offers a wide range of perks, including free gifts on Tuesdays, unlimited data plans, unlimited music and video streaming, free international service, and more. As such, T-Mobile wins our awards for best unlimited plan, best international service, and best urban service.

Of course, you have to look beyond the gimmicks to see the core aspects of T-Mobile’s service. It offers one plan: T-Mobile One.

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

T-Mobile One Plus, a premium upgrade, starts at $5 a month and includes unlimited GoGo in-flight Wi-Fi, voicemail to text, and caller ID. An international option, the One Plus International plan, includes unlimited LTE hotspots, calls to landlines in 70 countries, and all of the One Plus plan’s benefits.

Data hogs get a pretty decent deal with the T-Mobile One Plan and its unlimited data, but if you’re a customer who was using only the minimum amount of data each month, the new T-Mobile One plan represents a price increase of $20-$70. You do get unlimited data for that extra money, but if you don’t have cash to spare, you may want to stay on your old plan — especially if you’re satisfied with your current data limit.

Bottom line: People who want a no-frills unlimited option will find T-Mobile’s One plan attractive. Large families who make international calls or tether to mobile hotspots should opt for One Plus.

Disclaimer: If you live in a rural area, T-Mobile may not work for you. Coverage is still spotty in rural America, though it excels in cities.

The perks that come with T-Mobile’s plan:

  • Mobile without Borders: T-Mobile users get unlimited talk, text, and data in Canada and Mexico, as well as the United States. Unlimited text and data at lower speeds (3G/2G) is also available in almost 150 countries worldwide, though calls cost 20 cents per minute.
  • Jump! on Demand: You can lease phones for less and upgrade to the latest and greatest phone whenever you want.
  • Music Freedom: Stream music on most of the popular streaming apps including Spotify without burning through your data allowance.
  • T-Mobile Tuesdays: Download this iOS and Android app to get free deals every Tuesday, like $15 in Lyft credit or a Frosty from Wendy’s.
  • No overages on data: The unlimited plan has no overages.
  • Free Netflix subscription: For T-Mobile One unlimited costumers with two or more lines on their account
  • Speeds won’t throttle until 50GB: For subscribers on the T-Mobile One plan, speeds won’t throttle until your data usage reaches 50GB.

The downsides of T-Mobile’s plan:

  • Spotty coverage in rural areas.
  • 10 GB of LTE mobile-hotspot data.
  • The tethering between your phone and other devices is limited to 3G speeds. You’ll have to upgrade to the One Plus International plan for 4G LTE tethering.
  • Sign up for Auto Pay on your bills, or T-Mobile will charge $5 extra per line each month.
Mobile

Verizon is launching real standards-based 5G in 30 cities in 2019

Verizon is in the midst of a massive 5G rollout. In addition to fixed 5G service, it will also begin deploying mobile 5G in the coming months. Here's everything you need to know about Verizon's 5G network and when it will be in your town.
Mobile

You can now pre-order the Samsung Galaxy S10, S10 Plus, or S10e

The Samsung Galaxy S10 is one of the most-anticipated phones of the year, offering a new chipset, beautiful display, and more. Now that the phone has been announced you might be wondering where you can get it for yourself.
Deals

Looking to upgrade? These are the best iPhone deals for February 2019

Apple devices can get expensive, but if you just can't live without iOS, don't despair: We've curated an up-to-date list of all of the absolute best iPhone deals available for February 2019.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? You totally can with these top-of-the-line drones

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Deals

Protect your iPhone or iPad with the IPVanish VPN, on sale through February

One of our favorite virtual private networks for iPhones and iPads, IPVanish, is now offering a huge discount on its two-year subscription as part of its 7th-birthday promotion. Read on to find out more about how this VPN works and how you…
Deals

Stay fit and save cash with our top 10 affordable Fitbit alternatives

As much as we love Fitbits, they're rather expensive. If all you want is a simple activity tracker, however, then check out these great cheap Fitbit alternatives. With offerings from brands like Garmin, you don't need to pay full price.
Mobile

Samsung’s wide range of Galaxy products means there’s something for everyone

Samsung launched a host of new products on February 20, with prices ranging from just $35, all the way up to nearly $2,000. This was not by chance, and the company believes it has something for everyone in 2019.
Mobile

Samsung Galaxy S10e vs. OnePlus 6T: Can the Flagship Killer survive?

The Samsung Galaxy S10e is the new affordable flagship on the block, but at $750, it's $200 more than the OnePlus 6T. Does the Flagship Killer stand a chance against the new generation of flagship devices? Let's take a closer look.
Deals

Make some time for the best smartwatch deals for February 2019

Smartwatches make your life easier by sending alerts right on your wrist. Many also provide fitness-tracking features. So if you're ready to take the plunge into wearables and want to save money, read on for the best smartwatch deals.
Product Review

Samsung’s Galaxy Buds are a brilliant combination of value and comfort

With six hours of battery life, an extremely comfortable fit, sweatproofing, and a very palatable price tag, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds are putting all other true wireless earbuds on notice.
Deals

Amazon drops a sweet deal on the Kate Spade Scallop smartwatch for women

Unlike many other smartwatches geared toward women, the Kate Spade Scallop offers a more chic and minimalistic look. With this Amazon sale going on right now, you can get it for $109 off its retail price.
Cars

Lyft’s Shared Saver service offers cheaper rides, but you’ll have to walk a little

Lyft has launched a new ride option called Shared Saver that offers cheaper rides if you're willing to walk a little. Shared Saver designates a nearby pick-up point and drops you off a short distance from your final destination.
Deals

The 5 best Apple AirPods alternatives for Android, Windows, and iOS devices

Apple AirPods, nice as they are, aren't the only game in town. Other makers are offering their own truly wireless earbuds, and if you're looking to buy a pair of high-end in-ear headphones, we've got the best AirPod alternatives on the…
Mobile

Samsung Galaxy S10e vs. iPhone XR: Cut-price flagship showdown

The Samsung Galaxy S10 range has been revealed, and it heralds a new age of powerful technology. The Galaxy S10e packs the new power and design into a cheaper price point. But is it better than the iPhone XR?
1 of 8