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The best and worst phone carriers of 2020

Metro by T-Mobile - The #1 Low-Cost Phone Carrier

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. Also, MetroPCS has relaunched itself as Metro by T-Mobile.

Thanks to a fast mobile network and appealing plans that satisfy both data demands and budget concerns, MetroPCS is our top-ranked prepaid carrier. In fact, MetroPCS has enough going for it that we'd even recommend it over Sprint. Opting for MetroPCS means accepting some trade-offs, particularly in the area of customer service, where the carrier continues to struggle, but MetroPCS' mix of performance and plans is hard to overlook, even after the service's name change to Metro by T-Mobile.

Carrier Performance (37/40 points)

Metro relies on the network of its parent company, T-Mobile, and that's good news for the discount carrier as it rode T-Mobile's improved download speeds to retain its crown as the best performing discount carrier. When we tested LTE speeds in eight cities, Metro mostly matched T-Mobile's performance. (We saw exceptions in Chicago and Houston, which could have been attributed to network congestion on the days we tested.) In other words, you won't have to sacrifice network performance if you opt for Metro's lower-priced plans. Note that our scoring in this category still reflects earlier results; we plan to update overall scores soon.

T-Mobile has launched a nationwide 5G network and that benefits Metro subscribers who are able to access the faster network, provided they have a 5G-ready phone like the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G. 

MORE: MetroPCS vs. T-Mobile: Which Is Best for You?

Plans (21/25 points)

Whether you want a low monthly bill or a big bucket of data, Metro has a plan that will deliver what you're asking for, and that's likely to continue once new plans launch under the Metro by T-Mobile banner. Plans still start at $30 a month for 2GB of data, which matches what Cricket offers. A better deal is Metro's $40 a month plan, which features 10GB of data, doubling the plan's old 5GB allotment.

MetroPCS plansView Deal

Metro really shines in its unlimited data plans. You can get unlimited data for $50 a month; that comes with 5GB of LTE hotspot data and Google One access to 100GB of cloud storage. Opt for the $60 unlimited plan, and your hotspot data increases to 15GB; you'll also get an Amazon Prime membership on top of Google One storage. Unfortunately, both plans restrict video streaming to 480p resolution. (Boost's $60 plan lets you stream in HD.)

MORE: MetroPCS vs. Boost Mobile: Which Is Right for You?

Metro by T-Mobile will still let you add extra lines to each of its plans for $30 each. That's a better deal on more expensive plans, and it matches what rival Boost charges for additional lines.

Customer Service (13/20 points)

If there's one area where Metro continues to struggle, it's in handling customer service questions. While Metro's online support site has improved in our last round of testing — it includes documentation for various phones — the carrier doesn't always answer questions promptly on social media. Phone support features a maze of automated voice-recognition options that you have to navigate, adding time to support calls. Metro reps struggled to answer our questions, and we struggled to understand the answers. If you anticipate needing to interact with support a lot, that may be reason enough to give Metro a pass, though we'll be retesting customer service soon to see if there's been any improvement.

MORE: How MetroPCS Fared on Our Tech-Support Showdown

Phone Selection (6/10 points)

For a discount carrier, MetroPCS offers a decent selection of phones. While not great in number — we counted 24models on offer — you do get a variety of phones, including flagships like the Galaxy S10 and iPhone 11. ZTE's struggles in the US have robbed Metro of some of its more appealing exclusives, but the company has worked to improve selection after its Metro by T-Mobile relaunch. We hope the carrier continues to offer good discounts on phones — as of this writing, roughly a third will cost you less than $200, with additional savings if you bring a phone number over to Metro.

Featured MetroPCS Phones: Galaxy S10 Plus and S10e, Galaxy S9, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max, iPhone XR, Moto G7 Power

Special Features (3/5 points)

Metro has stepped up its perks considerably since the last time we evaluated carriers, taking a cue from parent company, T-Mobile. That figures to continue under the Metro by T-Mobile brand, starting with the Google One and Amazon Prime benefits available to unlimited plan subscribers. We expect the carrier will continue to let customers with tiered data plans take advantage of a Data Maximizer feature, which streams video at lower resolution, allowing you to squeeze more data out of your monthly allotment. The carrier's Music Unlimited program lets you stream music from more than 40 services without touching any of your data.

For $5 a month, you can get an add-on to your plan that allows unlimited calling in either Mexico or Canada. The Unlimited Canada package also includes unlimited texting to the United States' neighbor to the north, and you can use your LTE data plan when traveling in Canada. Mexico Unlimited offers the same benefits, except you don't get unlimited texting to or from that country. A $10 World Calling package allows for unlimited calls to landlines in more than 75 countries, plus 200 minutes of mobile calling in select countries.

  • PhilipMichaels
    Archived comments are found here: http://www.tomsguide.com/forum/id-2873661/wireless-carrier-2015.html
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • bounds
    Really stay away from AT&T att.com. 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 89startup
    thanks for the info! I use Verizon and I'm completely satisfied with its work
    Reply