If you don’t plan to buy an iPhone directly from Apple but want to pay for in on installment, you have two decisions to make: 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. Before you decide on Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, or AT&T, examine their strengths and weaknesses in important areas.
Costs and Lease Contracts
Apple tightly controls the pricing of its products, especially flagship ones like the iPhone. As a result, 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 up front. With these plans, you can buy a 64GB iPhone X at differing terms, all of which end up to be about the same price. As of early 2018, the lease prices and contracts are:
- AT&T: $33.34/month for 30 months, $0 up front
- Sprint: $41.67/month for 18 months plus balance due at the end of the term, $0 up front
- T-Mobile: $30/month for 24 months, $279 up front
- Verizon: $41.66/month for 24 months, $0 up front
Different devices cost different amounts, and your credit history can affect your price. There are time periods for buying phones that can change the price, too. Pricing can be complicated, so shop around.
Cost of Monthly Plan
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. All have unlimited data plans available, but AT&T and Verizon charge you extra when you use more than your monthly data if you chose a plan with a limit, while Sprint and T-Mobile offer unlimited data but slow your speed when you exceed your limit on a data-limited plan. AT&T and T-Mobile roll your unused data over to future months. There are a lot of differences to factor in here, and prices and services frequently change, so it pays to do your research.
If you’re over 55, T-Mobile’s plan has an advantage because of special pricing for seniors. For everyone else, Sprint’s low price sets it apart.
Length of Contract
All companies offer about the same length deal these days – a two-year contract or an installment plan with a two-year term (or longer in some cases). 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, no matter which one you choose.
Service, Network, & Data
AT&T has been notorious for its spotty service in major cities like San Francisco and New York, while Verizon is heralded for its combination of network coverage and speed. T-Mobile has made huge strides in expanding coverage and speed, while Sprint has relatively little 4G LTE 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.
Raw speeds aren’t the only thing that matters, though. Coverage is just as important, so make sure to take coverage into account.
Use Data/Voice Simultaneously
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 beginning with the iPhone 6 series and some changes to its network, now Verizon users can, too. With the Sprint iPhone, beginning with iOS 11, iPhone 6 and newer phones can use voice or data at the same time.
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 high prices although most reduce their ETFs a little every month. 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.