Why Find the Best Cell Phone Provider?
In today’s world, owning a cell phone has become a necessity. Maybe you want to use the latest and greatest smartphones to stay atop social media when you’re on the go. Perhaps you just want a cheap flip-phone you can use to talk to your family and text with your friends, or to have on hand in case of emergencies. Regardless of the phone you buy, you’ll have to go through a provider to use it.
The biggest choice you’ll make when picking a cell phone company is whether to go with a contract or prepaid plan. Contract plans are great if you want to own the latest smartphone without paying hundreds of dollars up front. They lock you into your service for two years, but subsidize the cost of your phone in return. Prepaid plans let you pay for minutes, text messages and data up front each month, so you can avoid overage fees and switch to something different whenever you like. They’re flexible, but they usually only offer basic phones and older-model smartphones. If you want to buy the latest and greatest devices on a prepaid plan, you’ll have to pay hundreds more for the privilege.
The best cell phone companies give you your choice of plan: contract or prepaid, single-line or family share. They have excellent coverage across the country, lightning-fast download speeds and phenomenal customer service. You’ve probably already heard of some of the names on our list: Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint all have the most reliable and feature-rich nationwide coverage you can find, but which is best? Check out our reviews, and if there’s anything that has you confused, our articles on cell phone providers can help you make your final decision.
Cell Phone Providers: What to Look For
Picking the right cell phone provider is all about finding balance. If you’re budget-conscious but you live in a rural area, you’ll need to balance the price of a plan with the coverage you’re likely to get in your hometown. If you don’t want to be locked into a contract, you’ll have to balance that flexibility against the limitations you’ll face when it’s time to pick out a phone.
Many companies are strong in some areas and weak in others, which is why it’s important to know what matters to you before you start comparing them. Keep the following criteria in mind as you’re making your decision.
Plans & Pricing
Every mobile service provider has a different set of plans it offers, with different amounts of voice minutes, text messages and data allocations you can pick from. While they all vary slightly, plans that offer unlimited talk minutes and text messages are becoming increasingly common. The biggest differentiators is often data allocation – the amount of megabytes or gigabytes you can download to your smartphone.
With some providers, exceeding your data allocation incurs additional charges; with others, it simply throttles your speeds, making it much less practical to stream audio and video to your phone. A handful of providers offer truly unlimited data: You could stream video all day long and always have access to the fastest speeds the carrier offers.
Of course, if you don’t want or need a smartphone, data allocation becomes much less important. For people who barely use their phone for phone calls, it’s more cost-effective to go with a provider that offers small bundles of minutes.
Few things can be as frustrating as dropped calls or a No Service alert on your screen. When you’re looking for a cell phone provider, always be sure to check how well it covers the areas you frequent most – your home, your place of business, the roads along your commute and so on. While most providers offer excellent coverage along the coastlines and around major cities, many of them are spotty in rural areas.
4G LTE is the latest, fastest form of mobile broadband. In some cases, it can even be faster than the speeds you’ll get from your Internet connection at home. It’s only used by smartphones. If you’re a heavy smartphone user and like to stream multimedia, you’ll want to make sure that the carrier you’re considering has 4G LTE towers in your area.
Devices & Features
Having your pick of phones may or may not be important to you. If you’re only interested in a basic phone, you can find affordable options from just about every carrier. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a smartphone, tablet or mobile hotspot, be sure to check our comparisons to see what each company offers. Most providers offer Android phones, for instance, but only half sell i Phones.
Everyone hates hidden fees, and cell phone bills are notorious for showing up with extras you didn’t budget for. Roaming fees are quite rare these days, especially if you only travel domestically, but they can rack up quickly if you’re not careful. Activation and early termination fees can raise the cost of starting a new plan or switching to a different provider well beyond what you expected. And if you have a data plan, it’s not uncommon to see overage charges tacked onto your monthly statement. Before you sign up for any plan, know exactly what fees to expect.
Help & Support
Great customer service can mean the difference between a provider you hate and one you love. No matter how simple your plan or infrequently you use your phone, you’re bound to have to speak to a representative at some point. Look for companies with great telephone and email support and FAQs pages to answer your questions. If your phone dies and you don’t have a way to make a service call, Live Chat can help you find solutions with someone over the Internet. And if you’re a fan of social media, Twitter- and Facebook-based service and support can mean less time on hold waiting for answers, and more time going about your life.
Picking a new cell phone provider is a big decision that can affect you, your finances and your quality of life for years. Take your time and think about what matters most to you in a carrier, and you’ll end up with a phone you can rely on wherever you go.