Editors' Note: Sprint has announced plans to join forces with T-Mobile. The merger requires regulatory approval, and is unlikely to be completed before 2019. Should the merger move ahead, look for us to update our evaluation of the combined carrier, but until then, you can look at our guide to the T-Mobile-Sprint merger to see how it might impact the wireless market.
Sprint is making an effort to close the gap between itself and its Big Four rivals, rolling out an aggressively priced, unlimited data plan and making an effort to improve its fourth-place network. But other competitors aren't standing still either, and Sprint now finds itself looking up at prepaid provider MetroPCS after dropping in our rankings.
Carrier Performance (33/40 points)
First, the good news for Sprint: It performed better this year when we tested LTE speeds in six cities, turning in one of the fastest average download speeds in Houston (it only trailed Virgin, which uses Sprint's network), and outperforming AT&T and T-Mobile's download speeds in Chicago.
Now, the bad news: Sprint still lags behind the other major carriers in LTE speed; its national download average of 17.7 Mbps places it fifth in our rankings. Because MetroPCS' speed so closely matches that of parent network T-Mobile, Sprint found itself finishing behind MetroPCS in addition to Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T.
Sprint can point to offering one of the lowest-priced unlimited data plans.
Sprint took a step back in RootMetrics' recent rankings, finishing fourth after T-Mobile leaped over it in overall performance. OpenSignal painted a more optimistic picture, noting that Sprint is nearly even with AT&T in 4G availability and is within 600 Mbps of that carrier's download speed. However, Sprint brought up the rear in Ookla's rankings of download and upload speed for the first half of 2018.
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 new 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.
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.
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 $90 for a single line, with a second line available for $70. Sprint now lets families mix and match the different tiers of its unlimited plans.
Note that Sprint has essentially eliminated tiered data plans for post-paid customers, hoping to win you over with unlimited data. (There's still a 2GB option available for individual customers, but at $40 a month, it's not a very compelling one.) If you really don't want an unlimited plan, you could try Sprint's prepaid service, where $40 a month gets you 4GB of LTE data; Sprint offers a $10 discount on each additional line of 4GB for families on its prepaid plans. Sprint continues to offer an unlimited data plan for prepaid customers, priced at $60 a month, though changes could be in the works in light of Sprint's overhauled unlimited plans for postpaid customers.
Customer Service (14/20 points)
Sprint took a step back when we went undercover to test customer service this year. 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.
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.
Phone Selection (8/10 points)
Sprint offers a respectable mix of phones. 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. There's also an emphasis on pre-owned versions of older phones, which can drive down your overall cost.
Featured Sprint Phones: Galaxy S9, iPhone 8 and X, Galaxy Note 9, LG G7 ThinQ, LG V30+, Essential Phone
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.
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.