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As more people opt for smartphones over feature phones, it’s essential to choose your service plan with as much vigilance as you choose your phone.Voice coverage and reliability aren’t enough any more. Smartphone users also demand fast data service and fair messaging plans.
We took a look at Consumer Reports surveys and deals from the four major carriers to rank the best and worst in the following categories: smartphone plan value, voice coverage, data service, and phone selection.
For just $79.99 per month, T-Mobile will power your smartphone with 1,500 minutes of talk time, unlimited text messages, and unlimited data. A comparable plan on Verizon or AT&T will run you over $100 per month, so this is a bargain.
AT&T and Verizon have pricey voice and data plans, but at least Verizon gives you unlimited data. AT&T's highest tier data plan costs $25 per month for 2 GB of data. If you go over 2 GB, you are automatically charged $10 and given one more gigabyte, whether you use it or not. With more people using their phones to stream video and download files, 2 GB may not be enough for users soon.
Your only other option is a 200 MB data plan for $15 per month, which is only good if you use your phone to check for e-mail and nothing else.
A Consumer Reports survey shows more Verizon customers approved of their voice coverage than customers on any other carrier. The ratings were based on dropped calls, call quality, and connection in 26 major metropolitan areas.
Here's a shocker: The same Consumer Reports survey ranked AT&T worst in dropped calls and voice quality in major metropolitan areas.
Speed and coverage are the top priorities for a carrier's data service, and Verizon is the best in both. Customers surveyed by Consumer Reports consistently gave Verizon's data service high marks.
AT&T has great coverage, but that does little good when the network isn't reliable or delivers slow 3G data service. As expected, AT&T customers gave the company the lowest marks when surveyed by Consumer Reports.
AT&T has it all when it comes to smartphone selection: BlackBerry, Android options from Samsung and HTC, two Windows Phone 7 devices, and of course, the iPhone. The chances are pretty good you'll find a smartphone that suits your needs.
Sprint has some big-name devices like the HTC EVO and Hero (both are great phones). But many of the other smartphones aren't heavy hitters. There's the usual lineup of BlackBerrys (Bold and Curve) and a few more Android phones, but you still have more diverse options with AT&T and Verizon.
Verizon was consistently rated the best in Consumer Reports surveys in all categories from data to voice to customer service. It has an amazing selection of Android phones (with iPhone and Windows Phone 7 to come sooner than later), and a fast and reliable data network with unlimited plans. You won't get the cheapest smartphone plan from Verizon, but you'll get the best.
Sprint plans are a great value. For $99 you can get unlimited voice, text, and data. (That's about $20 cheaper than the same plan on Verizon or AT&T). But customers surveyed told Consumer Reports that voice and data service was just so-so. That, coupled with the unimpressive phone lineup (HTC EVO, Hero, and Samsung Epic excluded, of course), makes Sprint the worst option for your smartphone carrier.
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