What Phone Company Is Best for the iPhone?

iPhone 6S Series
The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. image credit: Apple Inc.

You have two decisions when buying an iPhone: which model do you buy and which phone company do you choose?

While the four major carriers sell the same iPhones, they don't offer the same plans, monthly prices, or experiences. To help you decide between the Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T, this article compares the companies on a number of key issues. The chart at the bottom provides the same information in an easy-to-compare format.

RELATED: How to Pick the Best iPhone For You

Costs and Contracts

Cost of Phone: Apple tightly controls the pricing of its products, especially flagship ones like the iPhone. As a result, all four phone companies charge the same amount for the iPhones they sell. Where they differ, though, is in installment plans that let you pay for the phone over years, rather than upfront. With these plans, you can buy a 64GB iPhone 6S over 24 months at the following prices:

  • AT&T: US$25/month, $0 upfront
  • Sprint: $27.09/month, $100 upfront
  • T-Mobile: $27.09/month, $99 upfront
  • Verizon: $31.24/month, $0 upfront.

Different devices cost different amounts and your credit history can affect your price. There are other time periods for buying phones that can change the price, too. Pricing can be pretty complicated, so shop around.  
Advantage: At first blush, AT&T has the lowest price, but there are so many ways to buy these days, and so many factors that affect your price, it's hard to declare a single winner.

Cost of Monthly Plan: These days, all monthly iPhone plans are basically the same in terms of what they offer. They feature unlimited calling and texting, and charge you based on how much data you want and how many devices are included in your plan. AT&T and Verizon charge you extra when you use more than your monthly data, while Sprint and T-Mobile offer unlimited data, but slow your speed when you exceed your limit.

AT&T and T-Mobile roll your unused data over to future months. There are a lot of differences to factor in here, so it pays to do your research, but Verizon generally takes the top spot in many cases.
Advantage: Verizon for the combination of price and service; Sprint on price alone

Length of Contract: All companies offer about the same deal these days: a two-year contract, or an installment plan with a two-year term. Unless you buy an unlocked phone or pay more in your installment plan, you're likely to be with your phone company for at least two years.
Advantage: Even

 

Service, Network, & Data

Coverage: AT&T is notorious for its spotty service in major cities like San Francisco and New York, while Verizon is generally heralded for its combination of network coverage and speed. T-Mobile has made strides in expanding coverage and speed, while Sprint has relatively little 4G LTE coverage as of this writing.
Advantage: Verizon

4G Coverage: Despite what the other carriers claim, Verizon has the largest and most robust 4G LTE network of all the major iPhone carriers. AT&T has the second-largest 4G LTE network, with Sprint and T-Mobile bringing up the rear. 
Advantage: Verizon

4G Speed: Another area that is influenced by the robustness of a phone company's network is the speed at which its users can surf the Internet over 4G LTE, the fastest wireless standard available in the U.S. In this area, T-Mobile has recently jumped to the front of the pack, with Verizon close behind.

(Source: OpenSignal). AT&T is plenty fast, too, but a bit slower than the leaders. Raw speeds aren't the only thing that matters, though; coverage is just as, if not more, important, so make sure to take the prior item into account.
Advantage: T-Mobile

Use Data/Voice Simultaneously: This is a major differentiator. Imagine needing to look something up online using a maps app or email program while talking to someone on a phone call. Users of the AT&T and T-Mobile iPhones can do this—and thanks to the release of the iPhone 6 series and some changes to its network, now Verizon users can, too (until Sept. 2014, iPhone users on Verizon could only use voice or data, but not both). Sprint customers are still locked out of simultaneous use, unfortunately. With the Sprint iPhone, you can use voice or data, but not both at the same time.
Advantage: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon

 

Other Costs

Insurance: Since it's a somewhat pricey device, you may want to insure your iPhone against theft, loss, or damage. If so, AT&T is the clear the winner. Its iPhone insurance costs $7.99/month, while Verizon charges $9/month (though there are many other options for iPhone insurance, too). T-Mobile charges $12 for its premium insurance. Sprint charges $9-11/month. AT&T and Sprint offer Asurion insurance, which readers of this site strongly dislike. You can also purchase Apple's $99 AppleCare Plus extended warranty for more protection.
Advantage: AT&T

RELATED: Six Reasons You Should Never Buy iPhone Insurance

Early Termination Fee: Every cell phone company charges customers an early termination fee, or ETF, if they leave the company before their commitment ends. All companies charge pretty high prices (though most reduce their ETFs by $10 every month. If you break your contract after two months, your ETF is reduced by $20). AT&T's ETF is $325, a small savings compared to Sprint and Verizon's $350. If you buy your phone on an installment plan and haven't paid off the phone, you're likely to face an additional fee there, too.
Advantage: AT&T

 

AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint iPhones Compared

 AT&TSprintT-MobileVerizon
Monthly Plan Costs
(Price for 1 device +
Unlimited Calls +
Unlimited Texts +
5 or 6 GB Data)
$90.00$60.00$80$80.00
Service Coverage   Advantage Verizon
Network Quality   Advantage Verizon
4G Speed  Advantage
T-Mobile
 
Data & Voice Use SimultaneouslyYesNoYesWith iPhone 6 and up
Early Termination Fee$325,
reduces by
$10/month under
contract
$350,
reduces by
$10/month under
contract
None$350,
reduces by
$10/month under
contract
Insurance$7.99/month$9-11/month$11/month$9/month

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