Best Cell Phone Carriers: T-Mobile vs Verizon vs AT&T vs Sprint, US Cellular, Google Fi & More

To sustain this free service, we receive affiliate commissions via some of our links. This doesn’t affect rankings. Our review process.

1st
Verizon logo
2nd
T-mobile logo
3rd
AT&T logo
Compare All Plans

Looking to save money on your cell phone plan? It’s not fair that cell phone providers take advantage of us and sell us overpriced phones and plans. We’re all tired of it, but unfortunately, we live in an age where we must be available 24/7.

We want to mention that just because one carrier is good in one area of the United States does not mean they will perform well in your area. We strongly suggest you ask around about the carrier you are considering to see how good they are in your neck of the woods. We’ve based the information in this article on overall performance in the U.S.

Please note that these are reviews of cell phone carriers. There are dozens of cell phone providers (resellers of cell phone carrier services) that may potentially offer more competitive plans, using the same networks. It all depends on your location, voice, text and data needs. Check out our article comparing the best cell phone plans for the scoop.

Article Overview

What You Need From Your Cell Phone Carrier

Before we get into the winners for best cell data plans and our full wireless phone plan comparison, we wanted to point out that there are five main things you’ll want to know before choosing your cell phone carrier:

  1. Coverage
  2. Data speeds
  3. Plans
  4. Phone models available
  5. Customer service

What you find out about the carriers involving these five items could make it or break it for you so be sure to keep them in mind while you compare cell phone plans.

1. Coverage Is Of Paramount Importance

This is the most important consideration when it comes to choosing a carrier. Purchasing a phone and plan from a carrier that doesn’t have service in your area is worthless. Cell phone companies typically have those little coverage maps of the United States to show you the areas they cover. These are good places to start, but you should also do your own research.

Just because they say they cover your area doesn’t mean the service is great. Places you travel to often is another thing to keep in mind. If you spend a lot of your time traveling, you’ll want to have good coverage in those locations as well. One tip is to ask your neighbor and coworkers who their phone providers are and if they are pleased with the service.

2. Data Speeds Need To Be Lightning Fast

Do you plan on using your smartphone to access the internet, stream music and video, download apps and send emails? (Of course, you are.) Then data speed will be important to you.

Currently, the fastest data speed currently available nationally is 4G LTE. 5G is expanding across the country by carrier, starting in bigger cities. Ask the carrier you are considering about availability or the timeline for your area. Your mobile phone must be 5G-compatible for this new service to work.

No one wants their phone to load at the pace of dial-up internet. Yikes, that dial-up sound still irritates me.

3. How To Choose A Plan?

Obviously you’re looking for the cheapest cell phone plans in your area with the best features. It’s important to find a plan that includes the functionality you want but doesn’t force you to eat Ramen Noodles for the rest of your life.

Most carriers offer a plan with unlimited talk and text but how much extra do they charge for media usage? Make sure you know how much your plan will cost you a month and how long you’re tied into your contract.

4. What Phone Do You Want?

If you’ve had your heart set on a specific phone make sure the carrier has it. U.S. Cellular didn’t get the iPhone until 5 years after it was released. This bummed out quite a few customers and some switched carriers because of it. So, if a new phone is coming out, be sure to ask if the carrier will be offering this hardware.

5. Why Customer Service Matters

This is a huge determining factor when you’re choosing any company over another. In case there is a problem, you want to make sure your issue is solved in a friendly, timely manner. No one wants to deal with long wait times or a jerk on the phone who won’t listen to you. Ask around your neighborhood to see what others’ experiences have been.

Best Cell Phone Carriers

Below are the top three cell phone carriers according to the five main elements we laid out above.

Verizon Review

#1

Visit Website

Verizon is the largest cell phone carrier in the U.S., but does that make them the best? Verizon pros: they have a great reputation and has coverage even in many remote areas where “No Service” is the prominent message from most carriers. Their performance is outstanding and they have tons of phones to choose from. Their customer support team is also impressive.

Verizon cons? They tend to be on the more expensive side. What you’re truly paying for is Verizon’s reliability. They know they’re the best so they charge an arm and a leg and do not offer to pay your early termination fees.

Pros

Cons

  • Reliable
  • Coverage in more remote areas where other services do not perform
  • Unlimited data plan
  • Diverse phone selection
  • Great customer support team
  • Offers 4G LTE and 5G (limited cities)
  • No annual cell phone contracts
  • Expensive
  • Does not pay early termination fees if switching from another carrier

What Is Verizon’s Device Payment Program?

Verizon Device Payment, formerly called Verizon Edge, is a device payment program that spreads the cost of your device over a 24 month period. So if your device costs $599.99 it will cost you about $24.99/month for 24 months.

This doesn’t mean you’re locked into a two-year contract with Verizon though, so there are no early termination fees. Other perks of Verizon Device Payment are no activation fees and no finance charges.

T-Mobile Review

#2

Visit Website

It’s tough to beat T-Mobile’s price and performance; the trouble is they might not cover your area. T-Mobile pros? They got rid of their annual contracts so you can end your service whenever you want. They offer unlimited talk, text and data at a reasonable price.

Before going with T-Mobile, we suggest asking around to see how they perform in your local area. However, this may become less of a concern when the merger with Sprint completes, bringing more resources to their offering.

Pros

Cons

  • Low prices
  • High speeds
  • Unlimited data plan
  • No contracts or termination fees
  • Offers 4G LTE and 5G (limited cities)
  • Poor coverage in rural areas and sometimes in urban areas too (be sure to check their reputation in your area)

AT&T Review

#3

Visit Website

AT&T is the second-largest cell phone provider in the United States and you may remember them as Cingular Wireless (the two companies merged a decade or so back). They have great coverage, but not quite as good as Verizon.

From our research, it looks like they could also improve customer service. So if you have a problem with AT&T billing or coverage, you may be frustrated with the resolution of it.

Pros

Cons

  • Fast download speeds
  • Good coverage in the U.S.
  • Offers 4G LTE and 5G (limited cities)
  • AT&T Next Up lets you upgrade devices when you’ve paid off 50% of current phone
  • Contract is not required (changed in 2016)
  • Not as strong of a network as Verizon
  • More expensive than competitors, extra fees
  • From what we’ve heard from customers and read online, poor customer service

Cell Phone Plan Comparison Table

 1st Verizon2nd T-Mobile3rd AT&TSprintU.S. Cellular
PlanVerizon UnlimitedT-Mobile One (Unlimited)AT&T Unlimited StarterSprint Unlimited BasicU.S. Cellular Unlimited Basic
Cost Per Line Per Month - 1 Line$70 + Taxes and Fees$70 + Taxes and Fees$65 + Taxes and Fees$60 + Taxes and Fees$30 + Taxes and Fees
Cost Per Line Per Month - 2 Lines$60 + Taxes and Fees$50 + Taxes and Fees$60 + Taxes and Fees$50 + Taxes and Fees$30 + Taxes and Fees
Cost Per Line Per Month - 3 Lines$45 + Taxes and Fees$40 + Taxes and Fees$45 + Taxes and Fees$40 + Taxes and Fees$30 + Taxes and Fees
Cost Per Line Per Month - 4 Lines$35 + Taxes and Fees$35 + Taxes and Fees$35 + Taxes and Fees$35 + Taxes and Fees$30 + Taxes and Fees
Service/Speed4G LTE Data4G LTE Data4G LTE Data4G LTE Data4G LTE Data
Video Quality480p Streaming480p Streaming480p Streaming480p Streaming480p Streaming
IncludesApple Music free for 6 monthsMobile hotspot (up to 3G)Unlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada, spam blocking.Hotspot
Discount For Auto Bill?n/an/a$10 Off Per Bill (included in pricing above)$5 Off Per Bill (included in pricing above)$5 Off Per Bill (included in pricing above)

Some Of The Other Best Cell Phone Plans

Just because these companies didn’t make our top 3 doesn’t mean they’re bad choices. These carriers may have great service in your area. Be sure to check them out and do the research before choosing your company.

Sprint | U.S. Cellular | Google Fi

Sprint Review

Sprint logo

Visit Website

If price is the main concern for you then Sprint may be your solution. Sprint now offers its Unlimited Basic  plan. It offers unlimited talk, text and data. It’s only $100 per month for a family of five.

Sprint gives you the best bang for your buck, but know that you’ll be sacrificing performance. So, if you’re okay with dropped calls now and then and a slower media network, then this may be the phone carrier for you.

Note: Sprint’s merger with T-Mobile has been approved so expect to see changes in the near future.

Pros

Cons

  • Affordable unlimited talk, text and data plan
  • Contract buyout incentives and reduced rates
  • Offers 4G LTE and 5G (limited cities)
  • No 2-year contracts
  • We’ve received feedback on slower network and longer download times
  • Poor HD streaming according to customers
  • Coverage is not as robust as Verizon, especially in rural areas

US Cellular Review

US Cellular logo

Visit Website

U.S. Cellular is continuing to expands its national coverage and availability of 4G along with new markets adding 5G, making it a national player in the industry. Their coverage is sometimes better than the big four (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile), depending on your location. US Cellular’s rewards system allows customers to redeem new devices at a lower price.

Pros

Cons

  • Great rewards system
  • Good variety of smartphone choices
  • Offers 4g LTE in most locations and 5G in limited cities
  • I have personally experienced billing problems as well as many other customers
  • Expensive
  • No unlimited data plans
  • 4G LTE is still not available in all areas

What Is Google Fi?

Google Fi may take the number one spot as the best cell phone carrier, but not yet. As of now, it’s only available for select Nexus smartphones. The national coverage is spotty. They promise fast speeds, more coverage and better connections to wifi.

The key difference between Google Fi and other phone carriers is that it changes between cellular networks, so depending on where you are you may be using a different network so you have the fastest 5G or 4G LTE at your location.

Who Is The Best Phone Carrier?

Finding the best phone carrier in your area doesn’t have to make you want to pull your hair out. Start your search by asking friends, family and neighbors how they like their service. Ask them how much they pay (if they don’t mind sharing) and what their plan includes as well as the performance.

If you’re close to them, ask if you can take a couple of minutes to surf the web on their phone or download an app. Firsthand experience with the service will always beat out hearsay. Then, when you’ve narrowed down your search, come back here and check out the pros and cons for each company to see which is the best fit for you and your needs.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Hopefully you found a good fit and are ready to make the switch. When shopping around for plans, make sure you are considering your cell phone insurance options and you might also look into adding a wifi hotspot plan or use your phone as a hotspot (using your monthly data plan). Good service and coverage can have an impact on your phone life as well.

What do you love or hate about your cell phone plan?

About The Author:

Kimberly is our home security expert and has been writing about security and safety since 2013, covering everything from security systems and home automation to identity theft protection, home warranties, medical alert systems, and more. She has personally tested hundreds of system components and interfaced with dozens of home security companies to find out what’s happening behind the scenes. Her work has appeared in many notable brands, including The New York Times' Wirecutter, Reader's Digest, Forbes, People, Woman's World, and Huffington Post.

In 2018, she had her first child, which opened up a whole new avenue of security experience with baby gear. She wanted to purchase the safest items for her family.

Kimberly received her Bachelor of Arts in multimedia journalism from Simpson College. Her natural curiosity helps her research as she seeks the truth when learning about, comparing, and personally testing products and services.

Disclaimer: This website contains reviews, opinions and information regarding products and services manufactured or provided by third parties. We are not responsible in any way for such products and services, and nothing contained here should be construed as a guarantee of the functionality, utility, safety or reliability of any product or services reviewed or discussed. Please follow the directions provided by the manufacturer or service provider when using any product or service reviewed or discussed on this website.

Subscribe
Notify of
19 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Paul
March 21, 2020 3:43 am

I have a iPhone XS Max and i am with Att but my phone is really slow with bring things up on the internet or just when I open something on the front of my phone and I don’t have all my memory used up.

The Jimster
May 23, 2019 2:52 pm

My cell phone contract is up and I’m considering moving from Verizon to Sprint. Verizon’s service and coverage has been great, but it seems like I can save some money with Sprint. I’ve always had a negative impression of Sprint, but maybe they have turned things around?

(Admin)
Alex Schenker
May 23, 2019 5:54 pm
Reply to  The Jimster

We’ve compared Sprint vs Verizon and in our research found that Sprint does in fact have limited coverage and network speeds when compared to Verizon. Check out the reviews above though, T-Mobile is making ground with their network and currently offer a pretty competitive pricing model.

Anne and Mike Diodati
December 27, 2018 9:38 pm

Att is robbing me blind!! Over $250/month for 3 cell phones! HELP!

Bill
June 4, 2018 10:22 pm

20 year customer of AT&T in NC. Coverage/Service has continually diminished for last 2 years. No clue why. Customer Service has deteriorated faster than their signal. Sure seems they’ve abandoned wireless service/maintenance to focus on Direct TV. Real shame. Hopefully T-Mobile keeps improving so we have options here.

C.Smith
March 17, 2020 11:52 pm
Reply to  Bill

My friend works with someone whose brother works on att towers. He said att is reducing power in their towers. It must be true when our calls drop when we pass by…guess…an att tower. Lololol! Your world DISconnected. Lol!

Anne and Mike Diodati
December 27, 2018 9:41 pm
Reply to  Bill

I needed help with a bill and Craig was not only rude but arrogant, cocky and pompous at ATT. Told me I could report him. I needed help cos a credit card was hacked. He needs to be fired. Looking to change service.

Joan Girdler
December 23, 2017 3:10 pm

I am a senior who doesn’t want to pay high data fees, so I am going with just talk and texting. Thinking of T-Mobile. Am I making a mistake? I travel and basically need phone for safety, as I can use wifi for data.

(Admin)
Michelle Schenker
December 24, 2017 11:51 am
Reply to  Joan Girdler

Hi Joan, I have t-mobile via the Ting network and my bill went down by 70% when I switched to this setup vs. my former AT&T cell plan. As an added bonus, I have found that T-mobile actually has more coverage than AT&T – at home and when traveling within the US.

Pat
December 13, 2017 8:44 am

I’ve been on Verizon for about 10 years and it’s been great for me. I get great service and the price is comparable to others. This past month I found out my work offers a discount to its employees through Verizon. Now it’s saving me $11 per month, which may not sound like much but over time that’ll add up!

kev
May 16, 2017 11:01 am

I have a T-Mobile personal phone, and my work phone is Verizon. so I have real time comparison of the coverage. It’s not even close. I always have 4G LTE with Verizon, and have a ton of no service areas with T-Mobile. I live in Tampa, and your location matters. But for where I live, there’s no comparison. Verizon smashes T-Mobile in this area.

Jackson
March 27, 2017 12:35 pm

I’ve priced out T-Mobile and Ting to make the switch from Verizon. For our data usage (whole family is on one plan, so usage for 6 lines), T-Mobile is going to be around $34/line, Ting would be around $58/line. We are currently paying around $59/line with Verizon. Looking forward to making the switch to T-Mobile!

Mike
March 10, 2017 11:30 pm

Been with Verizon since the late 90’s and because I TRAVEL for my job, Verizon is the only carrier that I and between my friends and their carriers that has had service no matter where I have ever been. Yes, Verizon has always been higher than their so called competitors, but that’s priceless when you can total depend on your phone service when and wherever you need them! Now the key to this comment is TRAVELING! As far as I am concerned, no other carriers even come close to the coverage areas that Verizon has service in!

Guest
January 16, 2017 5:55 pm

I have had AT&T since 2007 and no complaints as far as customer service and cell service! We have the unlimited data which is why we are pretty much “stuck” with them but we’re happy so not gonna change. Just sucks they don’t have the free phone upgrades anymore (unless you do Next and pay a monthly fee)

mcquainj
March 28, 2017 7:43 pm
Reply to  Guest

My family and I have had AT&T for the past few years. We live just below Seattle. The reception is terrible everywhere, and the customer service is worse than Comcast!

Larry
May 29, 2017 6:15 pm
Reply to  mcquainj

To all of you. If U.S. cellular is in your area it is your best all around company.. It is a regional carrier and I would advise you not to travel with this company, It has a large range from the region you live in, it will cover the nation. Yes Verizon, and the other big companies have more to offer, however, U.S Cellular very reliable , it costs , trade ins and phone plans are where the rub comes in.U.S Cellular offers far more for the money than the rest. There is no doubt that Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T. Mobile are all great companies. IF you want a good regional , reliable cell phone carrier you should consider U.S. Cellular.

I have been a customer for 9 years and I have very few problems with U.S. cellular.

Sincerely ,

Larry

Luccas Zanetti
July 25, 2016 8:29 am

You say that because you’ve never came to Brazil and tested our cell phone carriers. Claro, Tim, Oi and Vivo are expensive and one of the worst services, no coverage, extra fees, poor customer service… You got luck.

Kimberly Alt
July 26, 2016 8:57 am
Reply to  Luccas Zanetti

I’m sorry Luccas, I’m not sure I understand your comment. This article is based on cell phone carriers in the U.S.A. We did not review Brazil phone carriers for this article.