Best Cell Phone Plans
Next time you're in the market for a new smartphone — whether it's the iPhone XS, the Galaxy S10 or one of the best cheap phones — you may find yourself needing to pick out a new cell phone plan, too. And getting just the right plan can be tricky.
Beyond just dollars and cents, you need to consider which phones are supported by which wireless carriers and what coverage and data speeds are like in the area where you’ll use your phone the most. Throw in carriers’ near-continual plan changes — including multiple tiers of unlimited plans — and it’s a recipe for confusion.
To make the decision easier, we’ve gone through each carriers’ plans to figure out which one is the best for your particular needs. Though there are less expensive options, T-Mobile's renamed Magenta unlimited data plan is the best family plan, offering better value than what you'll find at AT&T and Verizon. T-Mobile's $70 plan is also the best unlimited data plan for individuals, though you can get a bare-bones unlimited data plan from the carrier for $10 less.
If saving money without compromising too much on data is the most important thing to you, Republic Wireless offers a decent amount of data for less than $30 a month. Otherwise, Verizon offers the most compelling individual cellphone plan, costing $55 a month for 5GB. Prepaid customers should take advantage of AT&T's limited time offer that doubles the size of its $40-a-month data plan to 16GB, but otherwise Metro by T-Mobile offers the best prepaid plans for both individuals and families thanks to a strong network and appealing perks.
Note: T-Mobile and Sprint have announced plans to merge. While major changes are unlikely until the merger goes through (and that's still awaiting regulatory approval), it could mean less aggressive pricing promotions from the combined company. Another possibility is that a new major wireless carrier emerges as part of a potential deal between T-Mobile, Sprint and the U.S. Department of Justice. T-Mobile CEO John Legere has promised the same or better rates will remain in place for three years after the merger goes through.
These are the best cellular plans available right now.
Best Cellphone Plans: Our Top Picks
Best Family Plan: T-Mobile
T-Mobile's Magenta Plan offers the best mix of perks and pricing on multiple lines.
Best Unlimited Plan: T-Mobile
The Uncarrier's Magenta plan offers the most value for money if you just need a single line of data.
Best Prepaid Plan: AT&T
Prepaid customers can get a lot of data though this is a limited time offer.
Best Family Plan
Even as carriers offer multiple tiers of unlimited data plans, the renamed T-Mobile Magenta plan is still the best choice for families. It gives a family of four unlimited data for $160 a month. We wish T-Mobile still let you stream HD video as part of its Magenta plan, but for most users, 480p video on a smartphone-sized screen will be good enough. (Families can pay an extra $10 per month per line for Magenta Plus if they really want HD streaming.) T-Mobile's network delivers comparable performance to Verizon, which charges more for its best unlimited family plan, though Verizon also lets you mix and match different unlimited options for each line of your family plan.
Best Unlimited Individual Plan
All four major carriers offer different tiers of unlimited data plans. We think T-Mobile's $70 option provides the best mix of value and performance. Sprint's basic unlimited plan is cheaper than T-Mobile Magenta, but its network isn't as fast. The entry-level plans from Verizon And AT&T both carry too many restrictions, relative to T-Mobile's $70 plan. (And if you don't mind restrictions, T-Mobile Essentials is cheaper still at $60 a month.) T-Mobile Magenta features a good price on a strong network, and if you want to upgrade from 480p video streaming to HD, it's just $15 more per month (the same price as Verizon's unlimited plan with HD streaming.)
Best Individual Plan (Tiered Data)
Verizon has pared back its tiered data plans to just one option for individuals, but it's a really good option. Verizon's 5GB for $55-a-month plan is tough to beat if you don't see yourself needing an unlimited amount of data. (And the truth is, most individual users don't.) Verizon's plan gives you a healthy chunk of data at a reasonable rate, and you can rollover unused data to the next month. Turn on Verizon's Safety Mode, and you'll avoid overage fees if you do go over your allotment.
Best Prepaid Individual Plan
Getting the best prepaid plan currently available means acting quickly. AT&T is doubling the size of its $50-a-month prepaid plan, giving you 16GB of LTE data instead of the usual 8GB. Sign up for autopay, and you can knock $10 off your bill. That means you're paying the same $40 for 16GB of data at AT&T that Metro by T-Mobile charges for 10GB of data. AT&T is offering this deal through July 11. Should it vanish, Metro's 10GB is a good alternative, especially since it includes taxes and fees in the price.
Best Plan Under $30
If you're looking to really save money on your monthly bill, nearly a dozen low-cost carriers are competing for your business by letting you mix-and-match your talk, text and data limits. Republic Wireless offers the best mix while keeping your plan under $30. Every plan features unlimited talk and text for $15 a month; just tack on $5 for each gigabyte of LTE data you use, meaning you can get 2GB along with talk and text for a grand total of $25 every month.
Best Unlimited Prepaid Plan
Several prepaid carriers offer monthly plans with unlimited 4G LTE data, but Metro by T-Mobile remains the best, thanks to its superior network performance and perks. Metro gives you unlimited data for $50 a month, with 5GB of LTE hotspot data and access to Google One cloud storage. Upgrade to the $60 plan, and you get 15GB of hotspot data plus an Amazon Prime membership on top of Google One. That tops Boost's similarly priced unlimited plans, though Boost does offer more hotspot data, and you can get HD video streaming with its $60 plan.
Best Prepaid Family Plan
Metro and Boost charge the same $30 to add extra lines to one of their data plans. That means a family of four would pay the same $140 a month for unlimited data on every line. We give the nod to Metro, because the network of its parent company T-Mobile performs better on our test than that of Boost parent Sprint. We also like its included Google One storage, though Boost offers more hotspot data with its plan.
Best International Plan
Sign up for Google Fi (the wireless service from Google previously known as Project Fi), and you need never worry about running out of data when you're overseas. The service costs $20 a month for talk and text, plus $10 for each gigabyte of data you use, with Google capping monthly bills at $80 for single lines even if you need to use more data. Google Fi lets you draw from your regular high-speed data in more than 170 countries with no roaming charges. You just pay the same $10-per-gigabyte rate as before. (You're also credited on your next bill for any data you didn't use.) Unlimited international texting comes with every plan and calls cost just 20 cents a minute. Google Fi used to be limited to a handful of select Android devices, but now you can use it with just about any phone, including iPhones. (Fi-certified devices still enjoy some advantages, though, like the ability to switch seamlessly between networks.)
If you'd prefer a different carrier, T-Mobile remains a strong alternative, letting T-Mobile One subscribers use data in more than 210 countries, though at 2G speeds. You can talk and text for free in Canada and Mexico, though T-Mobile limits you to 5GB of LTE data in those countries. (Be aware that the carrier's lower cost T-Mobile Essentials unlimited plan doesn't include these international perks.)
How we pick the best wireless plans
In evaluating plans, we looked at the four major U.S. carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — and what they offer. We also looked at five discount carriers: Boost Mobile, Cricket, MetroPCS, Straight Talk and Virgin, and to help you stretch your dollar even further, we rounded up plans from several smaller discount carriers. In addition to price, we considered network coverage and performance, including results from our own 4G network testing in eight cities. In some cases, total savings on one carrier’s plan outweighed the performance edge another carrier might enjoy; other times, network performance was a deciding factor in our choice.
What about 5G?
Wireless carriers are launching faster 5G networks in some cities this year, and now that the Galaxy S10 5G and LG V50 ThinQ are available, we're starting to get a sense of what carriers are going to charge for the faster service.
Verizon, which has launched its 5G service in four cities, is charging customers $10 per month for unlimited 5G data on top of the its regular unlimited LTE data plans (though it's currently waiving that fee as part of a limited time promotion); you're restricted to either the $85 Beyond Unlimited or $95 Above Unlimited plans at Verizon.
Sprint isn't charging extra for 5G coverage, but you do have to get its most expensive unlimited plan, Unlimited Premium, for $80 a month.
T-Mobile has added the Galaxy S10 5G to its lineup; like Sprint, 5G service is included in T-Mobile's regular plans.
AT&T has yet to talk about its 5G pricing.
Should you switch?
If these are the best plans, does that mean you should drop your current carrier for one of the above plans that best covers your needs? (That assumes, of course, that the carrier we recommend provides ample coverage for your area.) Yes, but only if you can switch without consequences.
If you can't wait until your deal is up with your current carrier, the major carriers are all willing to pick up some of the cost to get you to switch. Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile all offer incentives for each phone you switch over to pay off your phone purchases and early termination fees. These promotions can vary over time, so we'd suggest keeping an eye on the best carrier deals when you're mulling a switch, as you could find extra ways to save money.
As of this writing, Sprint offers an incentive in the form of a low-cost unlimited for you to leave your current carrier behind. When you bring you current number over to Sprint, you can qualify for an Unlimited Kickstart Plan which gives you unlimited talk, text and data for $25 per line. In exchange for that low cost, you'll give up some of the perks that Sprint offers for its higher priced unlimited plans. Video streaming is restricted to 480p and there are speed limits on music and game streaming, too. You also don't get Hulu bundled with your service as you do on Sprint's other plans. However, Sprint does include free text and 2G data in more than 200 countries with Unlimited Kickstart.
T-Mobile launched a promotion where it will honor some discounts offered by rival carriers to convince people to switch to its network. You'll need to bring in a bill to T-Mobile showing an eligible corporate, affiliate, military or senior discount, and T-Mobile will try to match that discount in $5 increments up to $15 for one line and $30 for two or more lines.