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Best Overall: T-Mobile Magenta
"Unlimited data, streaming video perks and special offers and discounts every Tuesday."
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Sprint Unlimited Plus
"Up to 15GB of hotspot data per line, unlimited talk, text and data, HD streaming video."
Best Value: Cricket Wireless Unlimited 2 Plan
"Outstanding value with a nationwide network that piggybacks off AT&T’s 4G LTE network."
Best Pre-Paid: Metro by T-Mobile
"Excellent deal for customers who want to pay upfront for their cell phone service."
Best Coverage: Verizon Wireless Unlimited Plans
"Go Unlimited Plan, “You’ll be hard-pressed to find gaps in Verizon’s network."
Best for Two People: Boost Mobile
"Offers a nationwide LTE network along with no annual service contracts."
Best for Cost: Ting
"Lets you customize a rate plan specifically tailored to your needs."
Best International: Project Fi
"Only charges $10 per 1GB in nearly 135 countries when traveling internationally."
With its industry-leading unlimited data plan, international travel, in-flight texting and no taxes or fees on your bill, the T-Mobile Magenta plan (formerly T-Mobile One) is the best bet for families. Starting at $140 for four lines ($35 per line) or $120 a month for a family of three ($40 per line), the lengthy list of T-Mobile perks makes it hard to pass up, although T-Mobile’s coverage in your area will certainly play a factor. If it’s good, you’ll receive a free Netflix subscription, unlimited HD streaming (up to 480p), unlimited 4G LTE mobile hotspot data and unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi on all Gogo-enabled flights. Adding a tablet or wearable (think Apple Watch) costs an extra $20 and $10, respectively, which falls right in line with the rest of the industry. If you want unlimited data, streaming video perks and special offers and discounts every Tuesday with the downloadable T-Mobile Tuesday app on iOS and Android, the One plan is calling your name.
Familiarize yourself with what cell phone plans are if you are unsure of how they work.
Putting up a strong fight for the best overall family plan, Sprint’s Unlimited Plus plan offers 4 lines for $180 per month when you bring your own device. The services is an extra $10 per line (plus the cost of the device lease) when you lease a device from Sprint. For that price, you’ll receive up to 50GB of hotspot data to share, unlimited talk, text and data, HD streaming video, as well as a no-cost subscription to Hulu's Limited Commercials plan and Tidal music streaming. Sprint inclusion of 1080p video streaming quality at no extra charge is a significant upgrade from the 480p quality typically offered by the competition who then offer an upgrade to higher quality for an extra monthly fee. For users that don't need quite that much capability, the Unlimited Basic Plan reduces streaming quality and hotspot data, but the price drops to $60 for a single line, or $100 for two to five lines.
Additionally, Sprint offers an excellent program for iPhone and Samsung smartphone fans with iPhone Forever and Galaxy Forever that allow customers to upgrade to the newest devices every 12 months (and it just so happens to be the same timeframe new flag devices are launched each year).
Cricket Wireless offers outstanding value with a nationwide network that piggybacks off AT&T’s 4G LTE network. Cricket’s Unlimited Core Plan offers an excellent rate and does so without any annual contracts or monthly taxes included. Offering four lines of unlimited data for $100 per month is a tremendous value and vastly cheaper than any of comparable family plans offered by the nation's big four carriers. As a value offering, the difference is notable since data speeds are limited to 3Mbps per second, although that limitation drops if you choose lower-priced data plans available in buckets of 2GB and 5GB, which offer faster speeds due to their more limited use. The lower tier rate plans allow for the purchase of an extra GB of data per month for $10, as well as Cricket International with unlimited calling to landlines in more than 36 countries worldwide.
Looking to save money? Check out our picks for the best cheap cell phone plans.
Piggybacking on parent network T-Mobile for nationwide LTE coverage, Metro by T-Mobile is an excellent deal for customers who want to pay upfront for their cell phone service. Beginning at $90 for two lines, Metro by T-Mobile really shows its prepaid chops once you hit four lines for $120, which includes unlimited data, 100GB of Google One cloud storage, and video streams at up to 480p. Breaking down to about $30 per line overall, all four users will have the opportunity to stream millions of songs, share on social media, as well as watch their favorite shows all without skipping a beat. Another highlight is that taxes and fees are already included, making your $120 price exactly $120, so it's easy to budget every month. Ultimately, as a prepaid line, there are no equipment installment plans monthly, so purchasing a phone means doing so at full price up front, which can quickly add up if you want the latest and greatest (although you can bring your own compatible device at no extra cost).
For more options like this, check out our roundup of the best prepaid cell phone plans.
When it comes to coast-to-coast marketing, nobody does it better than Verizon and they have the trophy shelf to prove it. With a rock solid 4G LTE network in place, Verizon’s competing rate plans offer two sets of pricing with one plan offering slightly more benefits over the other. The Start Unlimited plan offers four lines for $35 each while scaling down video to “DVD-quality streaming” at 480p on both smartphones and tablets. The higher tier Play More Unlimited and Do More Unlimited plan jumps up in pricing to $45 per line for four lines for a total of $180 per month, which gives you 720p video streaming on smartphones and 1080p on tablets and hotspot devices. Regardless of which plan you pick, you’ll be hard-pressed to find gaps in Verizon’s network because the carrier was the first to build its LTE network and has had years to densify it.
Not every “family” is a family of four, so couples looking to join plans or find lower pricing should gravitate toward Boost Mobile for a terrific offer. Boost’s $60 a month rate ($100 for two lines) offers unlimited data, talk and text alongside HD streaming video and 30 gigabytes of mobile hotspot monthly. The HD capability jumps the quality up to 1080p, music up to 1.5Mbps and gaming streams at 8Mbps. As a subsidiary of Sprint, Boost offers a nationwide LTE network along with no annual service contracts (and taxes and fees are included), so you can count on a set rate every month. Additionally, you can tack on extras such as international roaming, BoostTV for live programming, as well as Boost Dealz for viewing video ads every month in exchange for discounts as high as $20 per month on your monthly rate.
Ting is a wireless service provider that lets you customize a rate plan specifically tailored to your needs. Rates can vary, but keeping costs down is easy if your usage is limited (Ting’s rates beat any of the big four carriers by a wide margin). If you purchase a four-line family plan from Ting with 2,100 minutes for all four lines, 1,000 text messages and 2GB of data, your grand total would be a mere $84 monthly. You can easily drop that rate for a family of two with the same talk, text and data choices to $72 per month. Operating off both Sprint and T-Mobile networks, Ting offers the latest devices available for purchase outright or for a monthly installment.
Backed by the Google name, Project Fi offers exceptional pricing on if you're planning to travel abroad quite a bit. Staring with the basics: Unlimited calling and texting for two is $35 monthly, while a family of four totals out to $65 monthly. It's after the basic rates where the difference really stands out because Project Fi adds the option of pre-selecting a set amount of data for monthly use. In other words, if you select 10GB for the whole family but only use 6GB, the unused data cost is credited back to on your next billing statement. So far, so good and the news gets even better when you travel abroad since Project Fi only charges $10 per 1GB in nearly 135 countries when traveling internationally. That’s far and away one of the best rates around and while you have to do a little piecemeal work to set up a family plan, the international roaming rate is hard to pass up.
Also don't overlook the Google Fi Unlimited plan that makes things even easier by providing free texts and voice calls, calling to more than 50 countries, mobile hotspot tethering, and unlimited data (high-speed up to 22 GB and slowed after that) for just $60 each for two lines ($120 total) or $45 each for four or more lines ($160/mo for four people).
If your'e still unsure of what to choose, check out our list of the best cell phone plans of the year.