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UPDATED: 23 Tips For Choosing A Carrier

UPDATED: 23 Tips For Choosing A Carrier

We slice and dice the plans, phones and fine print at each major U.S. carrier to come up with 23 reasons you might choose one carrier over another.

Buying a mobile phone is not easy these days. There’s a confusing array of phones, plans and networks, and once you are locked in, you're locked in for two years without a reasonable means of escape.

So, we wanted to help reduce some of that indecision and confusion with a comprehensive evaluation of the big four mobile services, plus a few no-contract players, based on the criteria that people like you use when making a buying decision.

It's our intention for this list to be a source of reference and still valid even after it's long since left the front page of Tom’s Guide. We'll be updating it regularly as things change, and they will change. Some phones are rapidly falling out of favor while others rise. One player may disappear from this list and another has a doubtful future.

Obviously we could not field test all the phones and networks, so we did our best to base those types of evaluations on the numerous tests and reports out there. Much of this, though, is wading through tons of fine print and information scattered around Web sites of the major players, which can take hours. We hope our up-to-date research proves useful for you.

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  • 0 Hide
    mcd023 , June 17, 2011 9:08 PM
    thanks Toms! this is very useful and the first that I've seen.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , June 18, 2011 1:22 AM
    Straight talk uses Verizon's network and it's only $45 for unlimited call, text and data!! Can't beat that!!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , June 18, 2011 2:29 AM

    Straight Talk is not only Verizon. Depending on device (they do sell GSM devices) some use AT&T. It did start off as they only used Verizon services but since last year around this time they now also use AT&T.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , June 18, 2011 3:28 PM
    I think this is a very helpful article, but there is some bad info under "9. Best individual plan (power user)". Sprint price for a single line unlimited everything is $99.99/month, add in 4G for an additional $10/month.

    Then under "10. Best family plan (economical)". Sprint does have options for texting at the 700 minute mark. $5/line for 300 messages, $10/line for 1000 messages, and $20/line for unlimited.

    The only reason I know that is since I was shopping for new phone service recently, and I did all the research you have done here
  • 1 Hide
    Marcus52 , June 19, 2011 1:46 AM
    It's not true that AT&T is the only option for talking and surfing at the same time. You can do it on Verizon 4G as well. Why they don't advertise this in their TV commercials, since AT&T makes a big deal out of it (or used to anyway), I don't know. Verizon commercials have never taken advantage of all their actual benefits in any of their services. I think their marketing department is clueless. :D 

  • 0 Hide
    kyuuketsuki , June 20, 2011 4:03 AM
    "T-Mobile: Unlimited text, talk and 4G via the Even More plan: $99.99"

    "T-Mobile is confusing as hell. They don't separate talk, text and data in their plans, nor do they have an unlimited plan. Their data rates start at 200MB per month and top out at 10GB. The 10GB plan with unlimited minutes is the most expensive, at $119 a month."

    Uh. What the hell? Contradiction much?
  • 0 Hide
    kyuuketsuki , June 20, 2011 4:07 AM
    Also, T-mobile is currently offering an unlimited everything (sort of... 2 GB of full-speed data per month with reduced speed data after that, which beats simply paying an exorbitant amount per GB IMO) for $79.99.
  • 0 Hide
    mrmoo500 , June 20, 2011 6:23 PM
    How much you pay depends on how smart you are when choosing your plan. We have Verizon, with three feature phones and one smart phone with a full data plan, full texting plan for all the phones and 700 min, and we pay much less than our neighbors who have sprint, with four phones and they have the simply everything plan for two of them and just texting and min for the other two. We pay over $100 less per month than they do! But we do get a 20% discount through work, but that just applies to the lead phone. In conclusion how much you pay depends on how you set up the plan and what you want.
  • 0 Hide
    pifive , June 21, 2011 9:15 AM
    Just one word for this article..... MetroPCS
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , June 21, 2011 7:06 PM
    virgin mobile's pay-lo is by far the cheapest - you only need to top-up with $20 every 3 months and that is all I have ever payed since I have never exceed the limits.
  • 0 Hide
    ellett , June 23, 2011 9:28 PM
    Sprint's coverage link isn't live like the other three. The hyperlink URL should be:

    Sprint's data rates are under-quoted. For any phone you'd want to use data on, there is a $10 per month pr phone surcharge regardless of plan. See official details at:
  • 0 Hide
    Caffeinecarl , June 24, 2011 12:27 AM
    Marcus52It's not true that AT&T is the only option for talking and surfing at the same time. You can do it on Verizon 4G as well. Why they don't advertise this in their TV commercials, since AT&T makes a big deal out of it (or used to anyway), I don't know. Verizon commercials have never taken advantage of all their actual benefits in any of their services. I think their marketing department is clueless.

    I'll add to this... I use T-Mobile and I too can talk and surf simultaneously! Don't say I'm using my Wi-Fi... I turned my phone's Wi-Fi off because it frequently crashes the phone. Along with this, I was tethered to my PC (Cable modem OFF) and streaming a youtube video as I was on the phone with a friend telling him about it.
    Touche, AT&T... Touche.
  • 1 Hide
    ellett , June 24, 2011 5:23 AM
    Amen. GSM has always been able to do simultaneous voice and data, which certainly includes T-Mobile, but AT&T is already acting like they own T-Mobile and is ignoring T-Mo in any comparisons they do.

    Until recently CDMA carriers Verizon and Sprint couldn't do simultaneous voice and data, but their respective LTE and WiMax 4G phones all have this capability. The companies are also working on providing this for CDMA 3G, although it will require new 3G phones.
  • 0 Hide
    hellwig , June 24, 2011 6:12 PM
    Yeah, sorry I didn't get past the data plan page (and it was the first one I skipped to). First off, how old is this article? Verizon just got rid of their unlimited data plans, they are now tiered similar to AT&T (although their minimum plan is now $30, bad starting point).

    T-Mobile is also offering different plans for different usages. I think they have a new $10 data plan (2GB or something like that), maybe they stopped that promotion. I currently get "unlimited" for $30/month, which was an add-on to my Family plan ($59.99/mo 750 minutes + $10 per additional line).

    Finally, like others have said, GSM supports simultaneous talk and web. I downloaded an MP3 the other day while talking to my manager. I think you need to have 3G or HSPA+ (a restriction even AT&T would have) since I think EDGE and the phone call use the same frequency band.

    Also, did phone selection criteria take into consideration the fact that AT&T has locked all but 6 of their android phones from installing third-party apps? And of those 6, I'm not sure you can install any third-party apps other than the Amazon App Store. So yeah, I'm not really sure I'd consider any of AT&T's Android offerings as true offerings.

    Maybe this article should have been based on actual research, and not just what the commercials are saying.
  • 0 Hide
    devnul3 , June 28, 2011 3:47 AM
    Verizon has a network extender like the airave, it's just not easy to find on their site:

    Supports 6 simultaneous calls as well as evdo rev-a, in case you have a phone with no wifi radio in it.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , July 21, 2011 10:37 AM
    I saw no mention of Consumer Cellular -- It is the best budget plan out there. Data, if you want it, but no contracts, and the same coverage as AT&T, not to mention the ability to raise or lower your plan on any given month without fees.

  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , July 23, 2011 6:35 AM

    This article has its facts wrong (see above comments).

    Net10's minutes roll over. Better said, they are additive. The catch is that you must have your phone "active," meaning that you have not run out of "service days." These are always sold with the minutes purchased. Example: $30 = 300 Minutes = 60 Service Days

    Lazy fact-checking makes this article's conclusions suspect.

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