If you haven't looked at AT&T in a while, you may not recognize what the carrier has done with its plans. Those variable access fees that depended on the size of your plan? It's all one flat fee now. The overage charges AT&T would assess when you used to much data? They're gone too. And now AT&T is even offering an unlimited data plan — two of them, actually — without also requiring you to first subscribe to DirecTV or U-Verse.
We've looked over AT&T's current offerings — which the carrier calls Mobile Share Advantage plans — and have recommendations for the best plans for families and individuals. AT&T has also made drastic changes to its prepaid plans to provide you with even more options.
Best Family Plan
Finding the best AT&T plan comes down to a question of how much data you need each month. Assuming you plan to use a lot — and you don't want any restrictions on streaming video quality — your best choice is AT&T's Unlimited Plus plan. It costs a family of four $185 each month. (To break it down even further, that's $90 for the first line, $55 for the second, and $20 for each line after that.) You'll need to enroll in autopay for that price.
That gives AT&T the most expensive unlimited option among the four major carriers. But you do get 10GB of hotspot data and the ability to stream video at HD resolution. Note that AT&T reserves the right to throttle your speed should you use more than 22GB of data in a given billing period. Should you use DirecTV, the Unlimited Plus plan is more appealing, as you'll get a $25 monthly bill credit either on the DirecTV satellite service or DirecTV Now streaming service.
Other Options: AT&T does offer a less expensive unlimited data plan — $155 a month for a family of four — but the Unlimited Choice plan has plenty of gotchas. For one thing, there's no hotspot data, and you're restricted to standard definition video when streaming. The real limitation though is that AT&T will restrict your Internet speeds to 3Mbps — the only carrier to cap data speeds right off the bat.
In that sense, you're almost better off with one of AT&T's tiered data plans, especially if you don't really need unlimited data. AT&T continues to offer a 10GB plan, in which families draw from the same pool of data. The plan costs $80 a month, plus $20 per line in access fees, so a family of four plays $160. That's $5 more than AT&T's current unlimited plan, but without the onerous restriction on data speeds.
Best Unlimited Plan for Families
At the risk of repeating ourselves, we'll say it again: The Unlimited Plus plan is a much better option if you want true unlimited data, even if the Unlimited Choice plan would save a family of four $30 each month. The fact that Unlimited Plus customers get uncapped data speeds and HD video streaming more than makes up for the extra cost, though budget crunched families who don't care about fast data may find the Unlimited choice Plan to their liking.
Best Individual Unlimited Plan
With other carriers undercutting it on unlimited data, AT&T has reshuffled its unlimited data plan, splitting it into two tiers. Assuming you want a truly unlimited experience, the $90-a-month Unlimited Plus plan (with autopay) is your best option, as it features HD video streaming and 10GB of hotspot data. You can also get a $25 monthly discount on DirecTV, whether that's via the satellite TV service or the streaming service.
The Unlimited Choice Plan is significantly cheaper at $60 a month, but it restricts your speed to 3 Mbps. You can also only watch standard definition video, and you don't get any hotspot data.
Best Individual Plan
Figuring that the average smartphone user requires around 3GB of data each month, AT&T's best plan for individuals is its 3GB plan. You'll pay $60 a month for that 3GB offering — $40 for the plan itself, plus a $20 access fee.
Other Options: Perhaps you want more headroom than 3GB has to offer. A 6GB plan will cost you $80 a month, access fees included, though at that point, you're getting pretty close to the cost of AT&T's Unlimited Plus plan. If you don’t require a lot of data, then AT&T's 1GB plan will only set you back $50.
The good news is that AT&T has stopped charging overages; instead it throttles your traffic down to 128 Kbps once you go over your data cap. What’s more, the carrier also allows you to roll over unused data from one month to the next.
Best Prepaid Plan
AT&T's GoPhone plans give you an opportunity to go contract-free, and thanks to some recent increases to data size, they compare very nicely to what you'll find at dedicated prepaid carriers like MetroPCS and Cricket Wireless (which is an AT&T subsidiary). AT&T's best prepaid option provides 6GB of LTE data for $45 a month. Sign up for auto-pay, and you can save yourself $5 each month, bringing your bill down to $40. You can rollover unused data to the next month as well.
If you want a lot of data, AT&T also offers its prepaid customers a $60-a-month unlimited plan. (That assumes you're enrolling in autopay; otherwise, you'll pay $65.) There are some catches, though, similar to the Unlimited Choice plan available to postpaid customers. Unlimited data speeds are capped at 3 Mbps, and if you use more than 22GB of data in a given month, AT&T could slow you down even further. You'll also be limited to 480p resolution when streaming video, so forget about watching Netflix in HD.
If you don't plan on using a lot of data — as in, any data — AT&T offers a $30 monthly plan with just talk and text. (Autopay enrollment drops the cost to $25.) You can add data in 250MB chunks for $5.
AT&T's prepaid plans are also attractive if you need to add extra lines, as the carrier offers multi-line discounts that escalate as you add more people. After the first line, AT&T will knock $5 off the second prepaid line, $10 off the third and $15 off the fourth. That means a family could get four lines each with 6GB of data for $145 a month. (That assumes you enroll in autopay for the first line.)
What You Need to Know About AT&T
Before you pick an AT&T plan, here are a few more things to know about the wireless carrier.
* AT&T's a good choice if you subscribe to DirecTV Now. The DirecTV Now streaming service launched last year, offering cord-cutters streaming TV from broadcast and cable channels starting at $35 a month. Now that DirecTV is owned by AT&T, you'd expect AT&T wireless subscribers to get some benefit from that service, and you'd be right: If you watch streaming video from DirecTV Now on your mobile device, it won't count against your monthly data plan if you're an AT&T subscriber, too. And as noted above, AT&T Unlimited Plus subscribers can knock $25 off their DirecTV bill. (Just be warned: we haven't been too impressed with DirecTV Now when we've tested it multiple times.)
* Access fees are the same across the board. AT&T used to vary the size of the per-device fee it charged you depending on the size of the data plan you were on. That needlessly complex formula has been simplified: everyone on a tiered plan now pays $20. (There is one exception: if you buy a subsidized phone on a two-year agreement, AT&T charges you $40 a month. For the most part, though, you’re going to buy your phone outright or on an installment plan, so you’ll pay the lower access fee.)
* Upgrading your phone is less complex. AT&T has whittled down the number of installment plans it offers two choices: AT&T Every Year and AT&T Next. The former option is a two-year payment plan lets you upgrade to a new phone each year; the latter is a 30-month payment plan that lets you upgrade every two years. That’s a lot better than AT&T’s old approach, which featured multiple payments with confusing names.
* You can roll over unused data. AT&T offers rollover data for all its tiered plans. However, you only get to keep that data an extra month before it disappears. So if you've only used 12GB of your 15GB plan in a given month, that unused 3GB rolls over, but it disappears at the end of the month. (Verizon, which also added data rollover in 2016, works the same way.)
* Larger data plans have international appeal. AT&T offers unlimited talk and text to Canada and Mexico for 10GB and higher plans. Those higher data plans are also eligible for use in Mexico with no roaming charges. Other plans can add an AT&T World Connect Value package for $5 a month per line to get unlimited calling to Canada and Mexico, along with discounted calling rates to 225 other countries. All plans enjoy unlimited texting to more than 120 countries.
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