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The best and worst phone carriers of 2020

Sprint — Last Place Among Major U.S. Carriers

Editors' Note: We've published the results of our latest network testing. Current rankings reflect previous results, but we plan to update scores along with new customer service rankings for wireless carriers shortly. In addition, the T-Mobile-Sprint merger is now complete, making Sprint part of T-Mobile. Here's what we had to say about Sprint prior to the close of the merger. 

Sprint's days as a recognizable carrier are coming to an end. The merger between Sprint and T-Mobile was officially completed in April, and T-Mobile says that sometime over the summer, Sprint will be fully absorbed into the new T-Mobile service. (Existing customers will get to keep their current plans even after the Sprint branding disappears.) Sprint exits the scene having made an effort to  close the gap between itself and rival major carriers.

Sprint has rolled out out aggressively priced, unlimited data plans, and made an effort to improve network performance. But other competitors aren't standing still either, and Sprint now finds itself looking up at prepaid provider Metro by T-Mobile after dropping in our rankings (though with Sprint merging into T-Mobile, they're all part of one big happy family now).

Carrier Performance (33/40 points)

For Sprint, it continues to be a case of good news/bad news when we test network performance. Just like in 2017, our latest LTE speed testing found that Sprint's speeds are improving. The trouble is, it still lags the other major wireless carriers.

In our latest round of testing, Sprint posted the best results in Philadelphia, finished runner-up in Chicago and turned in solid finishes in New York and Seattle. Best of all, Sprint's average download speed jumped from 17.7 Mbps in 2017 to 32.5 Mbps in our latest round of testing. Our scores still reflect those 2017 numbers, but we expect Sprint's to improve when we update our rankings with new test results.

Sprint continues to bring up the rear in RootMetrics' overall rankings, though its score wasn't that far behind T-Mobile's for the second half of 2019. In OpenSignal's report, Sprint finished second in video experience and in latency; it was last in every other category. Ookla also ranked Sprint fourth among the major carriers for network speed.

Sprint has launched its 5G network in 10 cities. You can see how Sprint's 5G performed from our 5G testing in Dallas, where speeds weren't as fast as Verizon's 5G network, but the signal was more consistent. Sprint customers who bought a Galaxy S20 can now access T-Mobile's nationwide 5G network, one of the benefits of the T-Mobile-Sprint merger. (Of course, Sprint customers who bought 5G phones in 2019 won't be able to use those phones on the merged carrier's network, though they have the chance to migrate to an S20 at a discount.)

Plans (21/25 points)

After reshuffling its data plans, Sprint still has one of the least expensive unlimited data plans among the Big Four carriers, with its $60-a-month Unlimited Basic plan. (That's the same price as T-Mobile's Essentials plan.) You will have to live with some restrictions for that lower rate, though: video streaming is capped at 480p resolution, speeds on music and gaming streams are capped as well and you only get 500MB of LTE hotspot data. 

For $10 more each month, the Unlimited Plus plan features full HD streaming and 15GB of hotspot data. It also includes both Tidal and Hulu (Basic subscribers just get access to Hulu) and doubles the amount of LTE data you can use when you travel in Canada or Mexico.

Sprint plansView Deal

For families, the Unlimited Basic plan offers a cheaper monthly rate, with a second line of data costing $40 and additional lines available for $20 each. A second Unlimited Plus line costs $50 with additional lines costing $30 each. Sprint has lowered the monthly cost on the third and fourth lines through July 31, 2021, so if you're a family looking to save on your monthly bill, now's the time to take advantage of Sprint's deal before the company is fully absorbed into T-Mobile.

If you need even more perks, the new Unlimited Premium plan offers the Tidal and Hulu subscriptions that Unlimited Plus subscribers get, while also throwing in an Amazon Prime membership and access to the Lookout mobile security service. You'll get 50GB of LTE hotspot data and unlimited data when you're in Canada and Mexico. You'll pay up for these benefits, though: Unlimited Premium costs $80 for a single line, with a second line available for $60. Sprint lets families mix and match the different tiers of its unlimited plans.

Should you live in one of the cities where Sprint launches its 5G service, you won't pay extra for 5G data. However, you will have to get an Unlimited Premium plan, the most expensive option at Sprint.

MORE: Sprint Phone Plan Buying Guide

Customer Service (14/20 points)

Sprint took a step back when we went undercover to test customer service. The carrier's agents certainly answered questions promptly and politely when we approached them on social media and over the phone, but the answers weren't always accurate.

MORE: How Sprint Fared in Customer Service Testing

We had better luck online, where Sprint's chat feature provided informative responses in a timely fashion. It's also easy to look up information on Sprint's support site. We'll soon update our customer service rankings and find out if Sprint's performance improved.

Phone Selection (8/10 points)

Sprint offers a respectable mix of phones, including some of the best smartphones currently available. You'll find all the major flagship phones at the carrier, as you would expect, along with the previous generation of Apple, Samsung and LG flagships. Google's Pixel phones are now available through Sprint, too. You'll find an emphasis on pre-owned versions of older phones, which can drive down your overall cost.

Featured Sprint Phones: Galaxy S20, Galaxy Z Flip, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max, iPhone SE, Galaxy Note 10,  LG G8X ThinQ Dual Screen, Pixel 4 and 4 XL

MORE: The Best Phones at Sprint

Special Features (3/5 points)

The rise of unlimited plans means that one of Sprint's best promotions — its willingness to cut your bill in half if you switch from a tiered data plan with another carrier — is no more. Sprint still offers a few perks, though, and its latest addition is free access to Hulu for both versions of its unlimited data plan. The perk covers Hulu's $7.99-per-month membership, giving Sprint customers access to the streaming service's library of TV shows and movies. Unlimited Plus subscribers get access to the Tidal steaming music service, too.

Like its rival (and possible future partner) T-Mobile, Sprint offers special pricing to seniors through its Unlimited 55+ plan, which offers two lines of data for $70 a month — a savings of $30 off the regular price.

On the international front, Sprint no longer offers its Open World program to customers, which is a bummer if you travel frequently in Central and South America. At least you still have Sprint Global Roaming offers free text and data, but only at 2G speeds in most countries.

Other Sprint specials don't seem as special as the carrier probably thinks they are. Sprint Music Plus is a music player that's unlikely to have you singing its praises, and Sprint TV's promise of live or on-demand video only takes off if you skip the free service and pay up for the $9.99-a-month Xtra version. Sprint's Scout personal navigator and Family Safety Essentials mirror services you can find elsewhere, and the 5GB of free cloud storage you get through Pogoplug doesn't match the 15GB you'll get with Google Drive.

  • PhilipMichaels
    Archived comments are found here:
  • tyronesuerpype
    I have had all of your top rated phone carriers and most may be fine if you stay in your "home" area. If you plan on traveling in the U.S., the only carrier I and my friends have had that works the best is Verizon. I had T mobile that worked great as long as I stayed home, but traveling it sucked. All the other features of these carriers do not matter if you have no cell or data service. I hated going back to Verizon, but now they have prepaid plans that are very competitive.
  • bounds
    Really stay away from AT&T We were long time (10 year) customers who in the end their customer service lied to us and then the company did not stand behind what their reps said they would do. In the end try someone else.
  • Rob1C
    I disagree with the way Points are divided.

    Performance taking up 40 points is too much and it's based only on Data Speed. It's essential that you never get dropped and important that you can walk or drive around without ever being in a dead spot.

    Plans is 'OK' allocated 25 points, I guess. It should be more about what would be the so-called 'Perfect Plan' that various Groups might want and how far does what is offered stray from that.

    Presumably there are 3 or 4 Groups with 3 or 4 Add-on Extras. The 'Plan Choices' being "Free and Cheap" where the reasonable number of free phones are offered with a low cost Plan. Next up is pay something towards the phone and towards the monthly rate, receiving a 'decent' phone (last year's higher end or this year's upper-mid) with some Data. Third pay a couple of hundred towards the phone and an extra $10 month to get a fair bit of Data (but not crazy, that's what the Add-ons are for). Forth Tier would be no holds barred 2-5 hundred towards the phone and 15 or 20 extra a month for lots of Data. The Add-ons could be 'Phone Upgrade' (where the cheaper Plan can get a better phone), 'Data Upgrade' (where you can bump up your Data, maybe increase Upload Speed if you upload more than the average person), and a 'Jetsetter Upgrade' for double price where you're uncapped for Roaming and Data - OR whatever you think would be a bunch of desirable options.

    The question then would be how does each Carrier's Plans differ from what it is assumed that people would want.

    Where I am we have 3 or 4 Tiers of Carriers. Number one is the richest some of whom put down Landlines back in the day, or Cablevision (either way they have the Wire or Fiber going to the Towers). Number two is owned by #1 but charges half as much, so you might as well sign with #2; they have a few fewer phones on offer or are second to get a particular phone but you can bring your own. Third Tier are the ones who discussed with the Regulators the benefits of competition and the detriment of the former monopoly. Third Tier gets to use 1st Tier's Towers for a reasonable Fee (yet charge less than half as much monthly). The 4th Tier being 'Johnny come lately' who simply showed up last with a promise of a Bankroll and an acceptable Business Plan, they're all over the map for Service and Plans ranging from copying the Big Guys to selling 'Monthly Cards' from Gas Stations and Convenience Stores (still around 50-60% of Tier 1 rates).

    If you can divide all that into 25 points ... good going !

    For the other sectors the Customer Service HAS to be good enough, I was with one of the biggest Tier 1s, damn you if you wanted something - 20 minutes of Elevator Music interspersed with telling you what spot in line you were and an estimated wait time. Once I waited 40 minutes, when they asked how they could help I explained that I had waited over a half hour and asked that they hire more people politely mentioning that if other callers were grumpy that would be the reason why - they replied that they had just hired over 500 people to which I replied that it must be insufficient as the wait was unrealistic but they didn't seem to get my point.

    Speakerphone was your only friend, it kept you from losing the circulation in your arm (speaking of which).

    If they're Tier 1 and charge the max for everything they had best not be ripping you anywhere be it a limited selection of phones, the extortion pricing for years or extended waits for lousy service - all that should lump into Service and drop the score.

    Lastly (because I'll type no more and the reader is likely nodding off) the Phone and Extras should score more.

    The selection of phones should be decent from bleeding edge to refurbished for free.

    Bring your own phone and get a discount is an important feature - some dogs only sell you a phone with a Plan and every couple of years it's a new Plan at an increased cost.

    As for Extras what are those, Tech Support comes from the Internet and it's not like I need phone lessons or an oil change - if they'd take 4 year old phones for a $100 tradein that would be something but they don't ...

    Want me to Manage your Cellular Provider? tell them they need Rob not you need to be robbed.
  • morty8908
    TL;DR-tests were a joke and not objective, Look at Ooklas site to see who has the has the fastest service

    Verizon Has consistently lost in the data speed category (according to Okla, the site you claim to have used.) you also offer no information about the devices or settings you used. if you are using 2 of the same phones with the exact same settings,battery life, and even cell phones cases, then maybe this could be called a fair trial. but you went to only six cities, why not just look on Ookla's actual site for who has the fastest? T-mobile every time. I understand Verizon has to pay saps like you to say they are the best. The only way you could get anyone to maybe believe this is the fact that you only let them win by 1 point. Any more and you would have been laughed at (more so than right now anyway.)

    Also, as someone who as used both services, T-mobile has fantastic customer service. Every provider has Philippines call centers, so depending on when you are calling in (maybe one provider has a promotion going on and they are busier than usual so you get routed more often to those crap centers in the Philippines) and judging performance of customer service, you need to remove the calls from the Philippines and instead only rate those calls from the corporate customer service, not third party overflow.
  • sakman74
    For the past 6 months, one of our verizon wireless lines has been charged international outgoing calls.
    I have explained to verizon multiple times, that the line is using a calling card based in the US (a US number) and that the call log of the device (which is never touched) does not show these outgoing direct international calls.

    in the past there used to be no way for someone to make a direct international call from a verizon wireless phone, at least this was not possible on our lines. it seems in recent times that has changed and the representative said there is no way to turn that 'feature' off.

    we are basically being told the verizon bill log never lies. we have - to date - been charged $ 300 for such calls which were not made directly from the phone to an international number.

    before you decide who to choose simply based on who comes out number 1, look at this example of what the carrier is doing to it's customers - before you choose verizon wireless.
  • jerbigge
    I have Tracfone. I'm a long term member and quite satisfied with Tracfone. However if you want to make a lot of calls, text a lot, or download data,
    Tracfone isn't for you. It is best for the individual who only carries a cell phone for occasional use, accidents, etc. I'm quite happy with my iPhone SE
    I purchased from Tracfone for a very good price. However dealing with Apple makes you feel like you are dealing with a government agency where
    everything is done the way "they" decide. Most businesses that I deal with online put some sort of "cookie" on your computer so after this is done,
    you just "sign in" with your user name and password already stored. My user name and password I use on Amazon dates back to the start of this
    century. I've never had a bit of trouble with them. Apple? Like signing in to the CIA... The people who work the customer service lines do their
    best, but the entire experience dealing with the company is about like dealing with some government agency that doesn't give a damn about
    customer satisfaction. They do make a very good product, but I have no intention of buying say a book or music or anything else from Apple.
  • bulkbuy
    I highly recommend adding a measure to the analysis for coverage in rural areas. Educators, Consumers, & Businesses located in rural areas have been widely shorted by wireless providers in rural areas. Its 2017 and time 4G wireless data and voice truly be a reliable nationwide benchmark. Education systems nationwide including ones in rural areas count on the fact, children will have access to the latest technologies available today. But the truth is, some simply do not due to the FCC preventing actions to require carriers to provide complete coverage for areas they market in.
  • the2ndflood
    Verizon is by far the best carrier, especially here in Tennessee. Everyone that I know who lives in a remote area, is only able to use Verizon. I am surprised though, that Straight Talk has such slow data speeds, even when on Verizon's network. I have been reading that Verizon has lifted its policies on limited data speeds on for MVNO's using their carrier. But definitely, by far, MVNO's have the worst possible customer care! Holy **** is it bad! You have to tap through tons of menu options and if you do manage to get a hold of someone, they either will not help or just hang up on you! Verizon also wins in customer care as well. Each reply will even give you their work email address, so you can contact them when you need more help.
  • 89startup
    thanks for the info! I use Verizon and I'm completely satisfied with its work