AT&T vs. T-Mobile: All The Things That Matter

Choosing the right wireless carrier can impact your life in ways you don’t fully appreciate until you’ve made the wrong decision. That’s why you need this AT&T vs T-Mobile guide. You don’t want to realize you’ve chosen the wrong carrier after it is too expensive to undo your mistake.

No two carriers are the same, and America’s two largest GSM carriers are a perfect example of that. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. AT&T has a well-stocked line-up of new devices and bundles can save you money on cable and internet. T-Mobile has a slim selection of phones and a smaller network footprint. It makes up for that smaller footprint with faster speeds and customer-friendly perks, like free Netflix and T-Mobile Tuesday.

Here’s how AT&T and T-Mobile compare based on plans, devices, pricing and perks. Use all this information to decide which of them is your next wireless carrier.

  • AT&T vs T-Mobile: Who Has the Best Plans & Pricing?
  • AT&T vs T-Mobile: Who Has the Best Phones?
  • AT&T vs T-Mobile: Who Has the Best Coverage?
  • AT&T vs T-Mobile: Who Has the Best Perks?
  • AT&T vs T-Mobile: Which Should You Buy?

AT&T vs T-Mobile: Who Has the Best Unlimited Plans & Pricing?

AT&T Unlimited Plans

The key to a great smartphone experience on any network is a solid unlimited plan. There are two AT&T Unlimited Plans for you to choose from, each with their own take on what unlimited really means.

With AT&T, you pay for a plan and pay a Device Access Charge to use that plan. Smartphones have a Device Access Charge of $20, and smart watches have a $10 fee.

Everyone that signs up for automatic payments saves $5 with an AutoPay discount.

Expect AT&T to slow these plans down if you use more than 22GB of data in a billing cycle.

Here are the reasons to switch to AT&T and the reasons not to leave your current carrier. Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com
Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com

AT&T Unlimited Plus – $70 with AutoPay Discount

Unlimited Plus offers unlimited talk, text, LTE mobile data and 10GB of mobile hotspot data. It includes calling and texting in Mexico and Canada. You can turn off AT&T’s StreamSaver you to stream HD quality video with this plan.

A single Unlimited Plus line costs $70 a month after AT&T’s AutoPay discount.

AT&T Unlimited Choice – $40 with AutoPay Discount

You get unlimited talk, text and data with AT&T Unlimited Choice, but know that this plan has some important limitations over AT&T’s more expensive offering.

This $40 plan limits your video streaming to 480p. So, the video you stream from Netflix and other services will look less crisp and clear. In fact, this plan limits you to slower wireless data speeds altogether, so expect music and websites to take longer to load with this plan too. Finally, you can’t share your internet connection with your PC or tablet with this plan because it doesn’t come with mobile hotspot tethering.

AT&T Unlimited Plans

  • Separates cost of devices from the monthly bill.
  • Unlimited calling & texting and data.
  • $30 Activation Fee. $20 for Bring Your Own Device.
  • Upgrade fees of $20, even if you own the phone already.
  • Device Access Charges can add up.
  • Slows down after 22GB of data usage.
  • Have to turn Stream Saver feature off to get HD video with Unlimited Plus.
  • Discount with auto-pay and paperless billing.

AT&T Unlimited plans keep monthly prices predictable. Users have to remember that “unlimited” doesn’t mean without all limitations. Subscribers that blow past 22GB of data usage will find themselves slowed down big time. Here’s more on how the AT&T unlimited plans compare.

AT&T has Early Termination Fees of $325 for users that are still on contracts. This fee decreases by $13.54 each month users pay their bill. Those that take advantage of AT&T Next aren’t charged an ETF. They do need to pay the remaining balance left on their phone purchase.

AT&T Mobile Share Flex Plans

AT&T’s Mobile Share Flex plans let you purchase a block of high-speed data and share that data with family members. That’s as well as unlimited calling and texting in the United States. If you go over your high-speed data, AT&T slows you down instead of charging you overage fees. Any unused high-speed data from the previous month rolls over to the next.

  •  1GB for $35
  • 5GB for $60
  • 10GB for $85
  • 20GB for $110

Don’t forget to factor in the Device Access Charge for every phone you add to these plans Mobile Share Flex Plans. For a smartphone, that’s another $20 on top of the plan’s base price. Expect a $10 discount if you use AutoPay and Paperless Billing with a Mobile Share Flex plan.

T-Mobile Unlimited Plans

T-Mobile Times Square store opening, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016.
T-Mobile Times Square store opening, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016.

T-Mobile One is T-Mobile’s single unlimited plan for post-paid users. The price you see for these plans is the price you pay because they include taxes and fees. You can save $5 by signing up for AutoPay.

T-Mobile One Unlimited – $70 with AutoPay Discount

T-Mobile One gets users unlimited phone calls, text messaging and LTE data in Canada, the United States and Mexico. You only get unlimited calling and texting internationally though. Each plan also comes with 10GB of free 3G tethering for your tablet and an hour of in-flight Wi-Fi with GoGo.

t-mobile-one-plan

T-Mobile One has some important catches of its own. If you use more than 50GB of data, that data must be on your smartphone and not through a tethered device. Also, you can stream as much video as you want, but only if you like DVD quality video streams. The free tethering you get is only for 3G speeds, which are slower than LTE.

T-Mobile One plans start at $70 with an AutoPay discount, but can rise quickly thanks to two adds-ons that fix the base plan’s issues.

T-Mobile One Unlimited Plan

  • Unlimited Talk, Text & Data in North America.
  • International Calling & Texting Internationally.
  • 10GB of 3G Tethering.
  • 1 Hour of Free GoGo In-Flight Wi-Fi.
  • Base Plan Only Includes Unlimited DVD Quality Video.
  • Save $5 with AutoPay.
  • Taxes & Fees Included.
  • No activation fees. Requires $25 SIM Starter Kit instead.

Pay an extra $10 a month for T-Mobile One Plus and you get unlimited HD video streaming and international data that’s twice as fast in a different country. You also get 10GB of faster LTE hotspot data, unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi, an app that transcribes voicemail messages and caller ID.

T-Mobile One Plus International costs $25 extra each month. You get unlimited international calls to landlines in 70 countries and unlimited calling to mobile phones in 30 countries. This upgrade also unlocks unlimited LTE data in all of North America, unlimited HD video streaming, unlimited LTE mobile hotspot data, unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi and double the data speeds in countries outside of North of America. You also get the voicemail to text app and caller ID.

It costs $10 to add a smartwatch to a T-Mobile One plan and $20 to add a tablet.

T-Mobile Family Plans

T-Mobile’s family plans build on T-Mobile One. In fact, they’re the same, just with a sliding discount. Two lines cost $120 a month, and three lines cost $140 a month. You pay $140 a month for four lines, but this is a limited time offer that could disappear at any time.

AT&T vs T-Mobile: Who Has the Best Phones?

The Apple iPhone X.

AT&T Next & Next Every Year

AT&T has a pretty impressive line-up of smartphones. They include everything from the Samsung Galaxy S9 to Apple’s iPhone X. AT&T also sells smartphones from smaller firms, like LG and Motorola. All told, they offer a well-rounded line-up of high-end and mid-range phones.

You buy an AT&T phone with an AT&T Next plan that’s added to your monthly bill. AT&T Next lets you skip the Early Termination Fee and pay for your phone in installments. You also get to update your device regularly, provided you trade-in your current one. An AT&T Next term lasts for 30 months. The shorter your AT&T Next term, the more your monthly payment for your phone is.

AT&T Next Every Year lets you pay for your phone in 24 monthly payments. You can upgrade phones once half of your device is paid for if you are willing to trade it in. That happens within a year thanks to the payments.

Use AT&T’s down-payment system to pay a large chunk of your device off early. The bigger the down payment, the smaller the monthly charges.

AT&T Phones

  • Apple iPhone X with 64GB of storage: Monthly payments of $33.34 for 30 months. Monthly payments of $41.67 for 24 months with AT&T Next Every Year.
  • Apple iPhone 8 with 64GB of storage: Monthly payments of $24.34 for 30 months. Monthly payments of $29.17 for 24 months with AT&T Next Every Year.
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 8: Monthly payments of $31.67 for 30 months. Monthly payments of $39.59 for 24 months with AT&T Next Every Year.
  • Samsung Galaxy S8: Monthly Payments of $25 for 30 months. Monthly payments of $31.25 for 24 months with AT&T Next Every Year.

T-Mobile Jump

The Samsung Galaxy S8.

T-Mobile splits things between its Jump On-Demand plans and what it calls EIP or Equipment Installation Plans.

You are financing the total cost of your smartphone with an Equipment Protection Plan. The company does a credit check and decides how much of a down-payment you require. EIPs get paid in monthly installments with your wireless bill. Once they payments end, the phone is yours to keep.

With Jump On-Demand, T-Mobile owns your device. After you finish with the monthly payments, you can pay another fee to buy the phone outright or trade the phone in for another model. You can do this three times a year.

Cancel your service and your Jump On-Demand balance comes due, according to T-Mobile. Pay the rest of the monthly payments plus the buy-out payment to keep your device. Return the device and you pay just the remainder of the monthly payments.

T-Mobile Phones

  • Apple iPhone X with 64GB of storage: $279.99 down payment and 24 monthly payments of $30.
  • Apple iPhone 8 with 64GB of storage: $0 down payment and 24 monthly payments of $29.17.
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 8 with 64GB of storage: $150 down payment and 24 monthly payments of $30.
  • Samsung Galaxy S8 with 64GB of storage: $0 down payment and 24 monthly payments of $29.

Restocking Fees

Both T-Mobile and AT&T charge restocking fees. AT&T charges a maximum of $45 per device. It waves the restocking fee for Apple devices that are not opened. T-Mobile’s return policy has shoppers paying more for what it calls “advanced devices.” Buy a smartwatch, tablet or netbook and you can expect a $75 restocking fee. Smartphones have a $50 restocking fee.

Bring Your Own Device

You can use your unlocked smartphone on AT&T and T-Mobile. All you need is a SIM starter kit and an account. T-Mobile charges $25 for SIM cards. AT&T gives SIM cards away free to account holders.

Apple Care at No Additional Cost

As of March 2017, T-Mobile includes Apple Care insurance with its $12 a month Premium Headset Protection plan. Apple Care reduces the service charge of a screen replacement to $29. Any other damage costs you $99 to repair. Apple Care for the iPhone X costs $299 directly from Apple.

AT&T vs T-Mobile: Who Has the Best Coverage?

AT&T’s coverage map tool.

It’s always hard to determine who has the best network coverage. T-Mobile and AT&T have vast networks with strengths and weaknesses. The only way to see how each network will perform in your area is to use the AT&T interactive coverage map and T-Mobile interactive coverage map to see how strong their networks are in the places you spend your time.

Here are two things to keep in mind as you look at each network’s coverage map. Traditionally, AT&T has network coverage in more places than T-Mobile. That is, it’s easier to get a signal in rural areas and highways with AT&T. That being said, OpenSignal’s 2018 State of the Network declares T-Mobile’s network the fastest of all the mobile carriers. If you have coverage on T-Mobile, music, video and web pages should load a little faster.

AT&T vs T-Mobile: Who Has the Best Perks?

Wireless carriers are turning to promotions and add-on savings to help lure you to them. Right now, these deals focus mainly on video subscriptions and bundles.

Free Netflix with T-Mobile

You get a free Netflix subscription if you have a T-Mobile One plan with two or more lines. This saves you $10.99 a month if you already have a subscription to the service anyway. Single T-Mobile One lines don’t qualify for Netflix on Us.

T-Mobile Tuesdays

T-Mobile Tuesdays is a smartphone app and website that gives subscribers free movie tickets, shopping discounts, magazine subscriptions and food. Any T-Mobile subscriber can take advantage of T-Mobile Tuesdays.

AT&T Bundles

Savings are available for AT&T customers thanks to AT&T bundles. DirecTV cable service and an Unlimited Plus wireless plan cost $110 with an AT&T Bundle, for example.

Free HBO for AT&T Unlimited Plus

Sign up for an AT&T Unlimited Plus plan and you receive free HBO access. HBO Now costs cord-cutters $14.99 a month.

AT&T vs T-Mobile: Which Should You Buy?

The iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy S8.

Choosing the right wireless network is a process. Now that you have all the information you need, it’s time to figure out which network is right for you and your family.

Start with wireless coverage. Remember, T-Mobile works well in cities and has faster speeds, but AT&T has solid coverage in more places. Use the coverage maps to get a sense of each network’s reception in your area. Pay attention to activation fees and SIM card costs because they add up.

Next, consider each network’s plans and promotions. Look for the features you want and the extras that are important to you. For example, if you don’t travel, T-Mobile’s international talk, text and data aren’t worth as much to you as free HBO Now and the solid reception on AT&T’s network. On the other hand, T-Mobile’s free in-flight Wi-Fi, international calling and texting and Netflix might be better for frequent travelers.

Finally, choose a smartphone. Examine how that carrier’s buying options will change your wireless bill each month.

The network with the best coverage, cheapest phone price and most perks you care about is the network you should join. For some people, that network is AT&T. Others will find T-Mobile is what’s best for them.

Best Android Smartphones Under $200 (2018)

Moto G5 Plus

Moto G5 Plus

The Moto G lineup has made our list of the best cheap Android phones every year since it was first released. Each year it gets a little better too. For 2017 the company released its best Moto G yet, the 5th generation. The only downside to the improved Moto G5 Plus is the smaller 5.2-inch screen, compared to 5.5-inches on earlier models from the past few years. But that might not be a bad thing for some. 

The Moto G5 Plus comes with a 5.2-inch 1080p display, fingerprint scanner, premium metal design and an extremely capable camera considering the price. Those are a new faster 12 Megapixel rear and 5MP front camera setup. You'll also get 32GB of storage, 2GB of RAM and a microSD slot for storage expansion. There's a big 3,000 mAh battery and even a 64GB model with 4GB of RAM if you want to spend a little more money. 

Buy it Now on Amazon for $200

This phone is often available for under $190 if you find it on sale. You can also get the older Moto G4 with a 5.5-inch screen and no fingerprint scanner if you're after a bigger screen. It's the same price, $179.

19 Comments

  1. mharris

    12/12/2015 at 9:05 am

    How do you go over the plan costs and gloss over the access fees for AT&T? How much does it cost for a smart phone to access there network + plan cost?

    Reply

  2. Sumpter Carter

    12/12/2015 at 4:45 pm

    Guys, this is a pretty poor comparison, particularly when it comes to price. For some reason, all the T-Mobile devices on EIP are listed as requiring a down payment, which isn’t true, for well-qualified customers. The Galaxy S6, and the V10 are also JUMP! On Demand eligible, although this isn’t listed.

    AT&T Next 24 is a 30-month installment plan as well, which is why the prices monthly are cheaper. This is a very poor comparison, as T-Mobile’s plan is 24 months, or 18 months with a residual amount at the end. A better comparison would be the AT&T Next 18 plan, which is a 24-month financing option.

    Reply

  3. Brett Schulte

    12/12/2015 at 5:06 pm

    T-Mobile is the obvious choice if you can get it… if you live in a major market. Also if you travel internationally, or use a lot of data. They’re a no brainier. For truck drivers, farmers, or people who live in rural areas areas they’re not a good choice…

    Reply

    • Christopher Selph

      12/12/2015 at 11:03 pm

      I think it could be good for truck drivers. I get LTE and 4G on pretty much all highways except in WV. With the unlimited plan, they could stream netflix in their vehicle when stopped, have 14GB to tether to their laptop and unlimited music streaming which always works well when I travel from NC to Moon the highway. Farmers not a good idea, but some rural places in MO actually had decent mobile LTE service. They have upgraded like crazy in Missouri.

      Reply

  4. Robertrsilvia

    12/13/2015 at 5:23 am

    good

    Reply

  5. Robertrsilvia

    12/13/2015 at 5:24 am

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  6. marque2

    12/13/2015 at 11:54 am

    T-Mobile wasn’t going to charge me anything down for any phone. The down payment depends on your credit rating. Of course the less you put down, the higher the monthly payment. For instance you can get the V10 for a bit less than $22 per month, nothing down with good credit, or buy it up front for $524.

    Reply

  7. matt

    12/13/2015 at 6:45 pm

    the article should of also mentioned that if you already have an unlocked gsm phone , you could switch back and forth between at&t and t-mobile all you want , without having to finance a phone.

    Reply

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    04/18/2016 at 9:22 am

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  9. fuzzyhead1

    05/20/2016 at 8:56 pm

    I’m a ATT retiree and get a 30% discount for unlimited talk and text and 2GB data, with tax and surcharges $47.23 with a 30 day roll over on the data. T-Mobile offered me unlimited talk and text, 3GB data with no throttling (LTE) and a 12 month rollover for $40. Period. It’s a no-brainier. Bye bye ATT.

    Reply

  10. robnhud

    06/20/2016 at 3:02 pm

    I have a 20 gig plan and still paying over $400 a month with AT&T for only two phone lines. We’re are data hogs that usually go over more than a few gigs a month ($15 for one additional gig) so all things considered, it’s definitely a no brainer. Screw you AT&T!

    Reply

  11. Robert

    07/26/2016 at 5:24 am

    Im getting sim of AT&T…I don’t I over my data which is 30gig for 4 device and my bill is $324 a month…and no one there can tell me why…

    Reply

  12. Nick

    08/27/2016 at 6:24 am

    I have at&t got locked into the 30gb plan when it was 130 a mo I have 8 lines 4 on the next program and my bill is 423 a mo that don’t seem to bad everyone pays 53$ a mo

    Reply

  13. Will Turner

    09/05/2016 at 6:23 pm

    Keep it simple goto Tmobile pay cash $800 for the phone chose a plan then JUMP in your car and go. Pay your bill $40 a month. All that other crap is just sales upgrade.

    Reply

  14. Orry Bennett

    12/18/2016 at 8:39 am

    I’m kinda up in the air on this one see I pay roughly after taxes and fees about 240 ish for 2 lines with 40 gigs of shared data for the price of 20 gigs (yes I jumped on that double data deal they had going on at the time) one of my phones are paid off. I like my coverage…but I’m not too find of the dent it puts in my pocket. I may end up making the switch…I don’t know.

    Reply

  15. Srinivas

    12/18/2016 at 10:11 am

    Only my concern with T-Mobile poor service in Raleigh/Cary/Durham areas. Several times I contacted carrier to address the issue but no resolution even after 8 months.

    Reply

  16. Alex

    03/21/2017 at 5:28 am

    I was on Sprint and switched to T-Mobile a year ago. At the very beginning (say, the first two months or so) I was a very happy customer. My download speeds were blazing fast everywhere I went. Then, suddenly, I could barely use the internet on my device. Download speeds turned <1Mbps almost 24hr. I've heard some other folks who switched to T-Mobile and experienced the same thing. I don't want to think this is how they're getting customers…

    I ditched T-Mobile and switched to AT&T a month ago and so far, I can't complain. It's true, it is way more expensive than T-Mobile, but I'm one of those consumers willing to pay more for a service that is consistent and reliable.

    Reply

  17. cshaw

    05/12/2017 at 8:46 am

    The phone is then there’s to keep.
    theirs*

    Reply

  18. Gerald Scartiong

    09/11/2017 at 8:05 am

    Who cares? Any normal people who value their time and nerves use Sprint!

    Reply

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