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Which Carrier Has the Best Smartphone Plan?

posted by on February 26, 2015 in Guides & Reviews, Phones and Mobile, Money Savers :: 13 comments

Multiple colored smartphones on a white backgroundWhether you’re thinking about activating a brand new phone line or just shopping around for a better deal on an existing one, it’s a great time to shop around for mobile phone service. Verizon recently dropped their prices, while AT&T and T-Mobile have launched new data rollover options. And not to be left out, Sprint has a great unlimited data deal for iPhone purchasers.

To help you get the best deal possible, Techlicious contacted all the major U.S. cell carriers and asked them to make us their best deal for individual smartphone plans (also check out our picks for the best family plans). We also checked out their website to get all the fine print and double check the deals. We only considered deals with unlimited text and voice, which represent the vast majority of available plans anyway.

But first, before you shop …

Before you start shopping based on price, it’s important to remember that there are other highly important aspects to cell coverage. Not all networks are created equal – Verizon and AT&T generally have the best nationwide 4G LTE coverage and speeds, though T-Mobile’s data speeds have been improving significantly in metro areas. We recommend you compare carriers’ coverage and speeds in your specific location by visiting opensignal.com.

Prepaid Plans

There are a few compelling reasons to consider purchasing cellular service under a no-contract prepaid plan as opposed to a post-paid one. For starters, prepaid plans tend to be slightly less expensive because you've agreed to pay for everything up front. They also protect you from expensive overage charges – once you use up your monthly allotment of 4G LTE data, your data speeds will be significantly reduced (to 2G levels). Many carriers often describe this feature (a bit too generously) as "unlimited data." And you can get a prepaid phone without first passing a credit check. It’s not all sunshine and happiness with prepaid plans, though. You’ll likely need to purchase your prepaid phone outright. Some plans restrict your choice of devices, too, and many won't accept used phones from other carriers.

So, which carrier has the least expensive plans? That honor goes to Sprint Prepaid, which offers unlimited talk, text and 1 GB of 4G LTE data for just $35 per month and 3 GB of data for $45 per month. But just because a plan is the cheapest doesn't mean it's right for you and your needs — 1 GB of data likely isn't enough to cover someone who streams music or video, or even surfs the web regularly. The average U.S. smartphone owner uses 1.8 GB of data per month, so unless getting the absolute least expensive plan is paramount, stick to those that offer at least 2 GB per month.

If you’d rather stick with a top-tier carrier, you're likely best off going with a postpaid plan. That said, the $60 per month AT&T GoPhone 4 GB Plan stands out as a good price for a decent sized data allotment on a major carrier. It should be enough data to really enjoy all the different data applications your phone without having to worry about running out.

Postpaid Plans

To get the best price on a postpaid plan, you’ll likely need to skip the two-year contract and bring your own device (or pay for your device outright). Verizon’s More Everything Plan with Verizon Edge offers unlimited talk, text and 1 GB of data for $45 per month with free mobile hotspot functionality included. To get a reasonable amount of data, though, you'll need to pay $60 for a 2 GB Single Line Plan at Verizon or $65 for a 3 GB Mobile Share Value plan at AT&T.

If nothing less than a brand new iPhone 6 will do, you should definitely check out Sprint’s Unlimited iPhone deal. You can get unlimited text, talk and data for $50 per month, though to qualify for that pricing, you'll need to lease or purchase a new iPhone 6 outright ($649 minimum). T-Mobile’s Simple Choice 3 GB Plan is a good option for Android users at $60 per month. It offers unlimited music streaming that doesn't count against your allotment and a data rollover feature that starts you off with 10 GB in reserve right off the bat.

Want to see how all the plans from the top carriers stack up, side-by-side? Check out the comparison charts below.

 

Least Expensive Individual Plans with Some High-Speed Data Plus Unlimited Talk & Text

  AT&T Verizon Sprint T-Mobile MetroPCS US Cellular Virgin Boost
Plan name AT&T Mobile Share Value Plan* Single Line MORE Everything Plan** Sprint Prepaid

T-Mobile Simple Choice
 

  $45 Simple Connect Prepaid Plan Unlimited Your Way $35 Data Boost Up***
Amount of 4G data included

300MB

1GB 1GB

500MB

2GB 1GB 250MB 2.5GB
Hotspot included  Yes Yes No, $10 per month add-on Yes No, $5 per month add-on No No, $5 per month for 1GB No
Monthly Price $45 $45 $35 $40 $40 $45 $35 $35

 – Prices & Data Allowances Valid as of Feb. 23, 2015
*with AT&T Next, Bring Your Own Device, Full retail upfront or contract terms fulfilled
**with Verizon Edge, Bring Your Own Device, Full retail upfront or contract terms fulfilled
***after you sign up for Auto Re-Boost

 

Least Expensive Individual Plans with 2GB+ of High-Speed Data Plus Unlimited Talk & Text

  AT&T Verizon Sprint T-Mobile MetroPCS US Cellular Virgin Boost
Plan name AT&T Mobile Share Value Plan* Single Line MORE Everything Plan** Sprint  Prepaid***

T-Mobile Simple Choice
 

  $55 Simple Connect Prepaid Plan Unlimited Your Way $35 Data Boost Up****
Amount of 4G data included

3GB plus rollover

2GB 3GB**** 3GB plus Data Stash 2GB 2GB 3GB 2.5GB
Hotspot included  Yes Yes Yes, on compatible devices Yes No, $5 per month add-on No No, $10 per month for 2GB No
Monthly Price $65* $60 $45 $60 $40 $55 $55 $35

– Prices & Data Allowances Valid as of Feb. 23, 2015
*with AT&T Next, Bring Your Own Device, Full retail upfront, or contract terms fulfilled
**with Verizon Edge, Bring Your Own Device, Full retail upfront, or contract terms fulfilled
***requires an approved Sprint Prepaid device
****data access ends after plan's applicable allowance reached.
*****after you sign up for Auto Re-Boost
 

[Colored smartphones via Shutterstock]



Discussion loading

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OWNER

From Amy Bielawski on February 26, 2015 :: 2:52 pm

What about Republic Wireless?  I’ve been with them for a couple of years now….

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The reason we didn't include

From Suzanne Kantra on February 27, 2015 :: 6:22 pm

The reason we didn’t include Republic Wireless is that it has very little data coverage, which is important to most smartphone customers. If you’re in a area with good coverage, great. But if you go outside of the Republic Wireless coverage area, you only have 25MB of data roaming per month and then your roaming data is cut off completely.

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Not sure that is true

From Amy Bielawski on February 28, 2015 :: 2:53 am

I don’t even have wi-fi and use alot of data… nothing been cut off.  I pay $27 a month.  So not sure what you are saying is actually true.

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Not sure that is true 2

From Amy Bielawski on February 28, 2015 :: 2:58 am

And all is covered by Sprint when you aren’t on Wifi…  I’ve been covered in GA/FL/AL/LA/TX/CA/OR/TN/NC/SC thus far…

So still confused by your comment.

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Check out the coverage map:

From Suzanne Kantra on February 28, 2015 :: 11:38 am

Check out the coverage map: https://republicwireless.com/tools/coverage-check

As I said, if you’re in a covered area, great, but there are big chunks of the country that the map shows are being covered by a roaming partner. The terms clearly state:

“Every Republic Wireless member has reduced speeds while roaming and an allotment of 25MB of roaming cell data per service line per bill cycle.”

Here’s the page that I quoted:
https://community.republicwireless.com/docs/DOC-1782#jive_content_id_Roaming_Towers

Family Plan?

From Nell Carol Williams Kozub on February 26, 2015 :: 3:20 pm

Where is the data on family plans that you said you had?  We need three lines.

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You can find our story

From Suzanne Kantra on February 27, 2015 :: 6:23 pm

You can find our story on the best family snartphone plans here: http://www.techlicious.com/guide/best-family-smartphone-plan-2015

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My usage

From Amy Bielawski on February 28, 2015 :: 1:38 pm

Well I average about 47 mb per day of data usage and 1.3 gb per month.  I usually use the phone while driving so…  I have had it for 2 1/2 years and never have been cut off.  So apparently I’m pretty lucky with non-roaming data in several states across the country.

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Kudos to Sprint

From Elizabeth on February 26, 2015 :: 3:31 pm

My family switched from Verizon to Sprint 8 years ago, and I haven’t looked back. the first few years we had some service issues, but I haven’t had any issues with coverage (except the boonies)for years. And Sprint customer service has really impressed me. Their in-store people have fixed mechanical issues with my phone (faulty charger) without charging me a dime and the few times I’ve had to call customer service, they’ve been very good to work with. I do not work for Sprint, nor do I have any stake in their business (outside of my cell plan), but I’d be concerned that cheaper means compromised service. We’ve been happy with Sprint & hope they continue to provide great value for a long time!

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Taxes

From James Wood on February 26, 2015 :: 4:05 pm

You don’t show the taxes and other add-ons for Verizon.  There are two cells with Verizon plans in the house, and the bill is at least $160 per month for the two.  I have used Metro PCS for years, and pay $30 per month including taxes.

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Not enough Ting

From neminem@gmail.com on February 27, 2015 :: 11:47 am

For light to moderate phone users, Ting is *amazing*. They’re the opposite of unlimited - they’re a la carte done *right*. They just charge you at the end of the month based on what you used that month, so if you’re in their smallest bucket on everything, you pay almost nothing (my average monthly phone bill is ~16 bucks). If you’re traveling and end up using more data that month, that’s fine, you just get charged more that month automatically. And their customer service is phenomenal.

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What about Creedo. I just

From Barb on February 28, 2015 :: 7:37 pm

What about Creedo. I just received an email about them and was wondering how reliable they are.

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RE: Credo mobile

From Patrick on October 03, 2015 :: 10:59 am

I know this is a very old post, but Credo is absurdly expensive. They ride on Sprint’s network, but charge you more than AT&T does.  The last time I got an email from them they were charging $75/month for 1 or 2 GB of data. Sprint is $60 for “unlimited” and AT&T is $65 for 3 GB, so I don’t know why anybody would choose Credo.

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