Which Carrier Should You Choose for the Galaxy S8?

All the rave reviews about the Galaxy S8 have you convinced: Samsung's latest flagship is going to be your next smartphone. Now you just have to decide which carrier to pair with your new phone.

Illustration: Tom's GuideIllustration: Tom's GuideYou may be tempted to just stick with your current provider. But upgrading to a new phone gives you the chance to assess just which carrier can best meet your needs. Here's what to consider for the Galaxy S8 in particular, from the overall cost and bloatware to 4G performance and customer service.

Galaxy S8 Pricing Compared

You won't find a lot of variation among the carriers in Galaxy S8 pricing, especially now that presales are over. You'll pay around $750 for the Galaxy S8 and $850 for the S8+.

Carrier
Galaxy S8 (Full retail/Monthly cost)Galaxy S8+ (Full retail/Monthly cost)Activation FeePromotions
AT&T
$749.99/$25
$849.99/$28.34
$30
Offering up to $200 in trade-ins
Boost
$649.99
N/A
None
None
Cricket
$699.99
N/A
$25 (Waived on online orders)
None
MetroPCS
$729
N/A
$15
None
Sprint
$750/$31.25$850/$35.42$30 (Waived on online orders)
Buy 1, Get a Galaxy S7 Edge free on 18-month lease
Straight Talk
$659/$33.39
$759/$37.96
None
None
T-Mobile
$750/$30 ($30 down)
$850/$30 ($130 down)
$25
None
Verizon
$756/$31.50$840/$35$30
Trade-ins reduce monthly payments
Virgin
$649.99
N/A
None
None

But the devil can be in the details. AT&T offers the lowest monthly payment, at $25 a month, but that's because the carrier spreads out payments over 30 months instead of 24 like other carriers do. At $31.50 per month, Verizon features the steepest monthly payment for the Galaxy S8.

Trade-ins can reduce the cost of your Galaxy S8 with AT&T and Verizon. This week, AT&T said it would knock off at least $200 when you trade in a phone with a value of at least $20 before the end of May. (You will need a promotional code, which you can get at an AT&T retail outlet.) Verizon will let you trade in a phone to reduce your monthly payment on the Galaxy S8 to $15 to $20 a month depending on the condition and age of your current smartphone.

T-Mobile is the only carrier to require a down payment: $30 for the S8 and $130 for the S8+. After that, you pay $30 a month for either device over two years.

Sprint offers the most flexibility, as you can either buy the phone in monthly installments or lease it over 18 months. You pay $31.25 per month for the S8 and $35.42 for the S8+, regardless of which method you use. Lease the phone from Sprint, and you'll be eligible to upgrade to a new device after 12 payments.

Note that every carrier will charge some form of activation fee. Verizon charges $30, while AT&T and T-Mobile will tack $25 onto your bill. (That's an activation fee in AT&T's case and a SIM starter kit for T-Mobile.) Sprint has a $30 activation fee, too, but waives it if you buy your phone online.

Special offers may also help decide which carrier is best. AT&T will give you a second S8 or S8+ free with your purchase of the phone, but you also have to subscribe to the carrier's DirecTV service. Sprint continues to offer a 2-for-1 deal when you lease a Galaxy S8, but the phone you get for free is a Galaxy S7 Edge; you get that free phone in the form of monthly bill credits over the lifetime of your lease. T-Mobile is offering customers a new Gear VR headset, but you have to buy a Galaxy S8 or S8+ by May 14 and redeem the gift by May 28.

If you want to save money on your phone, you could turn to a prepaid carrier. Both Boost and Virgin sell the Galaxy S8 for $649.99, a $100 discount from what you'd pay at most carriers. However, you'd have to buy the phone outright, as neither Boost nor Virgin offer installment plans. Similarly, Cricket ($699.99) and MetroPCS ($729) both sell the Galaxy S8 but require you to pay for the phone upfront.

Straight Talk now offers the Galaxy S8 and S8+ for $659 and $759, respectively. It also offers to let you pay for the phone in 24 monthly installments, though the monthly payments of $33.39 and $37.96 for the S8 and S8+, respectively, add up to far more than what you'd pay if you bought the phone outright.

Winner: AT&T is a good choice, if you can take advantage of the carrier's trade-in offer, and Verizon's not a bad alternative if you've got a phone to trade-in that can score you a lower monthly payment. Otherwise, Sprint gets the edge for waiving the $30 activation fee on online orders. Boost and Virgin offer the lowest price on the S8, but you have pay for the phone in one fell swoop.

Bloatware

You don't want to fire up your new phone, only to find it loaded up with apps you never asked for and have no intention of using. So consider which carrier crams the most bloatware onto your Galaxy S8 when deciding which company to choose.

You're least likely to be disappointed with T-Mobile, which features just five preloaded apps, and one of those is the useful T-Mobile app for logging into your account. The other carriers pack on at least eight apps, with AT&T devoting two different apps related to its DirecTV service. Sprint and Verizon users are likely to disable or remove nearly all of the apps those respective carriers pack in, with the possible exception of Verizon's NFL Mobile offering.

Winner: T-Mobile offers the cleanest Galaxy S8 experience by far.

Cellphone Plans

These days, you can get any plan you like from one of the Big Four carriers, so long as it offers unlimited data. All four major carriers now prominently feature unlimited data plans that they're pushing for new customers.

Carrier
Unlimited Individual Plan
Family Plan (For Family of Four)
AT&T
$60/$90
$155/$195
Boost
$50
$140
Cricket
$55
$180
MetroPCS
$50
$160
Sprint
$50
$120
Straight Talk
No unlimited plan
N/A
T-Mobile
$70
$160
Verizon
$80
$180
Virgin
$60
N/A

Sprint's unlimited plan is the cheapest, at $50 a month as of this writing. (That's a promotional rate that lasts until June 2018; at that point, your monthly bill goes up to $60.) T-Mobile has the next lowest-priced plan, at $70, though this plan limits video streams to 480p unless you pay an extra $5 each month. Verizon's unlimited plan starts at $80, but features HD video streaming plus 10GB of hotspot data. AT&T offers two unlimited plans: one for $60 a month and another for $90. The $60 plan caps data speeds at 3Mbps and restricts video streaming to 480p. The $90 plan, while more expensive, removes those limitations, adds 10GB of hotspot data and includes HBO streaming.

T-Mobile's unlimited plan is also good for families: Four lines of data cost $160 per month, which is cheaper than what Verizon offers. (Sprint has the cheapest family plan, though again, its rates reset after June 2018.) A current T-Mobile promotion offers two lines of data for just $100 a month.

If you don't see yourself needing a lot of data, you can still get tiered plans from AT&T and Verizon. The best option is Verizon's 5GB plan for $55 a month, which gives you more data at a lower cost than AT&T's $60 3GB plan. Note that Verizon lets you roll over unused data, and you can enable a safety mode to avoid overage charges by throttling your data speed once you hit your monthly allotment.

Among prepaid options, MetroPCS has the best unlimited plan, at $50 a month. (You can pay $60 to remove video-streaming restrictions.) Boost ($50 a month) and Virgin ($60 a month) offer unlimited plans, too, but in addition to capping video streams to 480p resolution, those carriers place speed limits on music and game streaming. Note that Straight Talk doesn't offer unlimited LTE data; you can only get plans with 5GB ($45) or 10GB ($55) of data from that carrier.

Winner: We like T-Mobile's Unlimited plan because taxes and fees are already baked in, and it won't increase in a year's time like Sprint's cheaper plan will. Verizon has the best tiered data plan.

Network Coverage and Performance

Verizon has the most extensive network of the four major carriers, but in terms of reliability and performance, the gap seems to be closing. That's the conclusion of testing firm OpenSignal, at least, which said in its most recent report that Verizon and T-Mobile were essentially in a dead heat for network speed. Rival testing outlet RootMetrics, however, called Verizon the "undisputed leader" in coverage and reliability in its latest report.

Our testing of 4G network speeds found that Verizon remains the fastest, but T-Mobile is a respectable runner-up. Sprint continues to lag its rival carriers in our testing, though we noticed some improvement in its results.

MetroPCS uses parent carrier T-Mobile's network, and it matches T-Mobile's impressive speeds in our testing. Likewise, Sprint subsidiaries Boost and Virgin match the performance of Sprint's network — for better or for worse. Cricket uses AT&T's network, but Cricket’s speeds are capped at 8 Mbps, so you’ll take a performance hit. Straight Talk had the worst performance in our carrier testing.

Winner: You'll need to take into account the coverage available in your own location, but generally, you can't go wrong with Verizon or T-Mobile.

Customer Support

A bit of good news here: If you get a phone from AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon, you can expect fairly solid customer service. That's based on our recent round of undercover testing, which found fast, accurate responses from all three carriers when we peppered them with questions online, over the phone and on social media.

Verizon had an edge over its rivals, thanks to the depth of its online support and some friendly calls with its tech-support staff. But T-Mobile and AT&T offer helpful service, too. (AT&T, in fact, was the defending champ in our tech-support showdown and lost its crown over an ill-advised move to a not-very-helpful automated phone system on the company's tech-support line.)

The lone exception in our survey was Sprint, which was friendly enough, but provided too many incorrect answers when we quizzed tech-support reps about the company's service and our device.

Among prepaid carriers, Cricket had the best customer service by far, though we also appreciated Boost's online support.

Winner: Verizon won our support showdown, and we think its online support tools are top-notch.

Extras

Each carrier throws in special perks to sweeten the deal with subscribers. T-Mobile remains the king in this regard, starting with its weekly T-Mobile Tuesday giveaways that shower subscribers with weekly gifts. T-Mobile also offers the best plan if you do a lot of international travel (though Sprint's Open World program is appealing if your travel takes you primarily to other parts of the Americas.)

AT&T typically offers nice bundling deals with the DirecTV Now streaming service. Verizon will appeal to football fans with its NFL Mobile app that offers streaming of live local and prime-time games. Sprint customers can get an Amazon Prime subscription on a monthly basis instead of having to commit to a full year of the service.

Winner: Other carriers offer some nice goodies here and there, but T-Mobile wins this category hands-down.

Bottom Line

Your choice of carriers will likely come down to whichever one provides the best service where you live and work. But if you look at the other factors listed above, it's a toss-up between two carriers. Verizon and T-Mobile make the best case for providing you with network connectivity for your Galaxy S8. That's not surprising since the carriers finished 1-2 in our updated rankings of the best cellphone service providers.

Verizon wins on network performance, customer service and cost (if you can get a good trade-in deal) while splitting honors with T-Mobile for the best cellphone plan. T-Mobile stands out for its lack of bloatware and appealing extras, and it's not that far off from Verizon in terms of customer service and performance.

If you want to go the discount-carrier route, MetroPCS offers the best performance and most attractive plans, though the company offers only a modest discount from what you'd pay for the phone from one of the Big Four carriers. If you can live with Sprint's network, Boost saves you $100 on the cost of the Galaxy S8, and it's got decent customer service, though there are limits on video, music and game streaming.



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