Activ. Fee: Up to $30/line. Reqs. credit approval and eBill. Included features/content may change or be discontinued at any time. AutoPay: $5/mo. discount may not reflect on 1st bill. Quality of Svc. (QoS): Customers who use more than 50GB of data during a billing cycle will be deprioritized during times & places where the Sprint network is constrained. See sprint.com/networkmanagement for details. Usage Limitations: To improve data experience for the majority of users, throughput may be limited, varied or reduced on the network. Sprint may terminate svc. if off-network roaming usage in a mo. exceeds: (1) 800 min. or a majority of min.; or (2) 100MB or a majority of KB. Prohibited network use rules apply—see sprint.com/termsandconditions.
You can also look at phones that are ranked as best in class. This includes rankings for phones with the best battery life, thinnest form factor, highest quality display, and other high-end features. However, battery life is frequently dependent on your habits and how you use your phone. For example, if you check your email or text a lot, or you have lots of long conversations, you will burn battery life more quickly than someone else.
BoostUP!: Req. 18-mo. installment agreement, 0% APR, & qualifying device & service plan. Eligible customers can finance up to $600 and the down payment will cover amounts over $600. A down payment is required at time of upgrade. Sales taxes for full purchase price due at the time of the sale. If you cancel wireless service, remaining balance on device becomes due.
Better Choice Plan: No discounts apply to access charges & early upgrade add-on charge. Incl. unlimited domestic calling & texting. Data allowance as specified. Non-discounted phones req. you to sign up for leasing, pay full MSRP or bring your own capable phone. Third-party content/downloads are add’l. charge. Max. of 10 phone/tablet/MBB lines. Incl. sel. allotment of on-network shared data usage & 100MB off-network data usage. Add’l. on-network high-speed data allowance may be purch. at $15/GB. Add’l. off-network data can be added by opt in only for 25¢/MB for tablets/MBBs. Mobile Hotspot Usage pulls from your shared data & off-network allowances. High speed data is access to 3G/4G.Discounted Phones Access ($45): Inv. will show a term access charge of $45/mo./line charge until the customer enters into a new device transaction that does not have an annual term svc. agmt.
The biggest benefit to simply signing up for your carrier’s international data plan is the fact that it is the easiest option available and keeps you the most connected to loved ones back home. Because your phone isn’t turned off and you are able to use your existing phone number, friends and family can still reach you the same way they would if you were down the street in the US. It is less expensive than not having an international plan at all if you plan to use it for phone calls or Internet access while away.
Once we had an understanding of performance, we dug into the phone plans carriers offered and the prices they charged. Unless you’re purchasing a prepaid plan, the days of phone minutes and a nickel for every text are past — prices are based on data now. The best value is typically an unlimited data plan, but we looked into plans with tiered data, too. You’ll want to think about how often you use internet data (when not on Wi-Fi) to find a plan that fits your needs.
Another option besides making a traditional cell phone call is using a Voice Over IP (VoIP) service such as Skype, which connects calls via an Internet connection. Skype can be used on a laptop, tablet or smartphone. Skype users can talk to each other for free, and can make calls to landlines and cell phones at affordable rates. However, remember that even if you’re not making international calls over your phone’s cellular network, you’ll still need to have an international plan in place to avoid exorbitant data charges (or find a free Wi-Fi connection so you don’t have to use your data).
If you’d like to save some money with a prepaid or resold plan (we talk about the differences below), we like Verizon Prepaid, which costs about a third less than Verizon’s postpaid service for a 7 GB plan ($50) on the same excellent network. As with Verizon’s postpaid plans, you’ll still get unlimited 2G data after you hit your plan’s data cap, but Verizon Prepaid bests the company’s postpaid plans in one way: It doesn’t limit streaming video speed. However, the prepaid plans don’t include calling and texting to Canada and Mexico unless you upgrade to the 10 GB plan or buy the international-roaming TravelPass at the postpaid rate.
TracFone, Net10, and Straight Talk, all properties of the Mexican carrier América Móvil, consistently rank among the most widely used prepaid services. They offer the advantage of reselling service from all four carriers, at the cost of having to trust the company’s judgment about which network works bests for you, as Prepaid Phone News editor Dennis Bournique explains in a helpful post.
Finally, you’ll need to buy and install a local SIM (subscriber identification module) memory chip that will work in the country you’re visiting. This little circuit stores information like your identity, local cell phone number, address book information, and other bits of data. When you put a local SIM chip in your phone, it’s like getting a brand new phone that will work on the local mobile carrier’s network. The chip does need to be activated so you can either go to a mobile store in the country you’re visiting and have everything taken care of on the spot, or try to order one in advance and activate it online.
Post-pay plans will usually offer more features and options at lower rates, but prepay can be a lot less expensive depending on usage patterns, specific communication needs (voice, text, and data), the cellular carrier, and geographic coverage. Some customers only want voice calling, or just need a phone for emergency calls. In such cases, prepay is often the better alternative.
We focus on the Big Four because they dominate the market. But consumers looking for a good deal or great customer service should also check out smaller companies. Our ratings of 20 providers are based on the experiences of about 100,000 Consumer Reports members. The Big Four are all near the bottom of the chart, though T-Mobile rates somewhat higher than its competitors. (Ratings are available to members.)
If you travel internationally, Verizon’s TravelPass can seem tempting. That option costs a reasonable $5 a day in Canada and Mexico to use voice, text, and data drawn from your domestic allowance, $10 a day in much of the rest of the world (with a few exceptions, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar). But Verizon phones are all sold unlocked, so you can (and should) save money by using a local prepaid SIM when traveling internationally.
If you don't want to drop money on a new release, shop for a prior model. Do some research into when your preferred model line is due for a new release, and then a month before the new phone drops, be on the lookout for sales on previous generations. It's during this time that manufacturers mark down previous models to make room for the newest ones, allowing you to score a great cell phone deal. Save even more by opting for an even older model; just make sure the phone's specs meet your needs. Alternately, you can try out a used or refurbished device. You can find both older and preowned devices at eBay and Amazon.