Verizon - The #1 Phone Carrier
Verizon had the fastest network in our carrier speed tests. It had the best customer service when we went undercover to grade how carriers handled tech support questions. Throw in an attractive mix of plans and phone selection that outshines what its rivals offer, and it's easy to see how Verizon landed on top of our rankings as the best U.S. phone carrier.
Verizon leapfrogs from second place over last year's champion, T-Mobile, to claim the wireless carrier crown. And this really is an instance where Verizon put in a little extra effort to grab the top spot. Here's how Big Red won the day.
Carrier Performance (38/40 points)
When we went to six cities across the country to test LTE speeds for nine different carriers, Verizon recorded the fastest national download average download speed, at 36 Mbps. It claimed the top performance in two cities outright (New York and Chicago) and never finished outside the top four in any city we tested. Most impressively, it had the best app download times in every city where we tested, averaging just over a minute nationally to download Pokemon Go. We're about to update those results with our 2018 testing.
Verizon still has a tiered data plan, and if you're an individual user who doesn't burn through data, it's a pretty compelling option.
Verizon also rates highly in performance by third-party testing companies, particularly with RootMetrics, where the carrier topped all performance categories during the first half of 2018. Verizon fares less well with OpenSignal, where it only managed a tie with T-Mobile in 4G availability; the Uncarrier finished tops in five other performance metrics. According to Ookla, Verizon's speed score ranking was just behind T-Mobile's nationwide, but Verizon finished first in more cities.
Plans (22/25 points)
Feeling pressure from its rivals, Verizon finally reversed course to offer an unlimited data plan; in fact, it now offers three of them. Verizon's best unlimited option, the $85-a-month Beyond Unlimited plan, lets you stream at HD resolution (though only 780p) and adds 15GB of LTE hotspot data. It costs only $5 a month more than T-Mobile's plan with HD streaming. Discounts for adding extra lines aren't very generous, though, and this unlimited plan costs a family of four $200 a month, though Verizon now lets you mix and match its different unlimited options. That means you can have one Beyond Unlimited line while opting for a cheaper option on the remaining lines in your plan.
That would be the more basic Go Unlimited plan costs individuals $75 a month; families of four will pay $160. Your video streams will be limited to 480p resolution and your hotspot speeds will be severely capped. But the biggest knock is that Verizon reserves the right to throttle your data speed if its network is congested.
The third plan is the just-added Above Unlimited plan. At $95 a month, its only real appeal is for people who use a lot of data (Verizon will only throttle you after you use 75GB of data on Above Unlimited versus 22GB on its other plans) or who travel internationally. Otherwise, this is a very expensive option when cheaper choices are available.
Unlike T-Mobile, which only offers unlimited data now, Verizon still has a tiered data plan, and if you're an individual user who doesn't burn through data, Verizon's 5GB-for-$55-a-month offering is pretty compelling. Verizon also lets you roll over unused data to the next month — another welcome change in policy — and if you enable Safety Mode, Verizon merely slows down your data speeds to 2G when you go over your allotment rather than charge you overage fees.
For prepaid customers, Verizon also offers a wide range of options, starting at $30 a month for a slender 500MB data plan and going all the way up to unlimited data (now $75 a month and featuring 3G speeds on hotspot daata). You can add extra prepaid lines at a discounted rate, with the discount increasing based on the size of your plan. Under a limited-time promotion, Verizon is doubling your monthly data allotment when you sign up for a prepaid plan; the extra data remains so long as your line of data remains active. Verizon's tiered data plans let prepaid customers roll over unused data, too, though your data speed could be throttled if Verizon's network gets congested.
Customer Service (19/20 points)
In our undercover testing, Verizon topped our customer service rankings by nailing every aspect of tech support. The carrier fielded questions posted to Twitter and Facebook with alacrity. The company's phone support reps were courteous and helpful — one even wound up saving our undercover tester money on her monthly bill. But it's Verizon's online support that really stands out, thanks to thorough documentation and helpful online tools like a device simulator to help you learn about how to use your smartphone.
Phone Selection (9/10 points)
Verizon's CDMA network is no longer the barrier it once was, especially with the carrier lining up so many noteworthy exclusives to offer its subscribers. Verizon is the only carrier to offer the Google Pixel (though you can get that phone unlocked directly from Google) and later this summer, it will become the exclusive carrier for the Moto Z3, which will feature a Moto Mod add-on next year that will add 5G connectivity. Verizon also offers one of the widest selections of phones, and if there's a flagship device from a major phone maker, it's likely to be available through Verizon.
Earleir this spring, Verizon stopped selling phones unlocked out of the box, a move it says will foil thieves. But that took away an edge Verizon had over rival carriers that make you wait before they'll unlock your phone; it also potentially inconveniences travelers who like to swap in local SIM cards when they head overseas.
Featured Verizon Phones: Galaxy S9, iPhone X, 8 and 8 Plus, Galaxy Note 9, LG V30, LG G7 ThinQ, Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL, Moto G6
Special Features (3/5 points)
Verizon took a page out of T-Mobile's book by adding discounts for current and former military members plus their families. If you're active-duty military, a reservist, Gold Star family or vetern, you can get a $15 discount on one line, with discounts for two lines ($35 off) and three or more lines ($40 off) also available.
Verizon can't quite match the other special features that T-Mobile provides to its subscribers — few carriers can — but it rewards customers in a few different ways. That unlimited data plan Verizon added this year includes calling from the U.S. to Mexico and Canada. Travel in those two countries, and you'll pay $5 extra per day to use your phone's existing data plan. (It's $10 a day if you travel to more than 100 other countries.)
Verizon's new Verizon Up program lets you earn a credit for every $300 you spend on products and services with the carrier, and that includes your monthly bill. Each credit earns you a reward such as discounts and giveaways. Unfortunately, to participate, you need to enroll in in Verizon Selects, which tracks personal data such as web and app usage.
Verizon's apps are a mixed bag. A revamped Verizon Smart Family program adds parental control tools for managing screen time and blocking apps and websites for $5 a month; adding another $5 lets you add location tracking services. But that duplicates functionality available elsewhere, as does VZ Navigator, a $5-per-month assisted GPS service. Verizon Cloud's 5GB of free storage is OK, though not nearly as vast as the 15GB that Google Drive gives you.
One of Verizon's most notable perks is no more. It used to be the exclusive carrier for streaming in-market NFL games, but starting with this year's NFL playoffs, Verizon now makes games available to customers of other wireless carriers. It's part of Verizon's efforts to get more eyeballs on platforms including Go90, Yahoo and AOL. However, Verizon customers can take advantage of a new perk if they have an unlimited data plan: Verizon offers a free six-month subscription to the Apple Music streaming service.