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 T-Mobile One unlimited data offering 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. 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
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 will launch faster 5G networks in some cities this year, but even with the Galaxy S10 5G set to arrive in May, we've yet to hear much detail about pricing for plans that access the higher-speed network. Verizon, which has launched its 5G service in two cities earlier this month, is charging customers $10 per month for unlimited 5G data on top of the its regular unlimited LTE data plans. T-Mobile has said that its 5G plans will cost the same as its current unlimited data offerings.
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.