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 the lowest-priced unlimited data plan.
RootMetrics had some encouraging words for Sprint in its most recent report on network performance, as Sprint shared the top spot for texting performance with Verizon and AT&T. OpenSignal noted that Sprint's 4G speed is drawing closer to AT&T's, as the latter carrier tries to regain the edge it lost after rolling out unlimited data plans in 2017.
Plans (21/25 points)
Sprint can point to offering the lowest-priced unlimited data plan. Sprint charges $60 for a line of unlimited data, which is less than similar offerings from T-Mobile ($70) and Verizon ($75). AT&T offers a $60-per-month unlimited plan, but it has caps on data speed and video streaming that Sprint doesn't impose on its users.
Families can still enjoy a discount on Sprint's unlimited plan. Normally, a family of four would pay $160 per month for unlimited data — the same amount T-Mobile charges — though Sprint's current promotion lowers the monthly cost to $100 through June 2019 by waiving the fees on the third and fourth lines.
Note that Sprint has essentially eliminated tiered data plans for post-paid customers, hoping to win you over with unlimited data. (There's 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 now offers an unlimited prepaid plan with pricing similar to its postpaid unlimited plan — including current discounts.
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. Verizon has assembled the more impressive array of exclusive phones, though Sprint was the only carrier to offer the HTC Bolt, which was designed specifically to take advantage of Sprint's carrier aggregation. (Now if only more markets would support that capability.)
Featured Sprint Phones: Galaxy S9, iPhone 8 and X, Galaxy S8, Galaxy Note 8, Moto Z2 Force, Essential Phone, LG V30+, Galaxy S8 Active
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 if you've got an 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. The fine print on this offer suggests it's for a limited time, though.
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.