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

The most important choice you’ll make when buying a new phone is what network you decide to put it on. AT&T and T-Mobile know this. That’s why the two are locked in a huge battle to win over smartphone buyers with new deals on phones and affordable plans.

These two carriers are not the same. T-Mobile has focused on offering users more data and perks for a lower price than its rivals. AT&T’s strength is its huge network and bundles cable and internet service.

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

Here’s how AT&T and T-Mobile compare based on plans, devices, pricing and extras.

  • AT&T and T-Mobile: Plans and Pricing
  • AT&T and T-Mobile: Phones
  • AT&T and T-Mobile: Coverage & What You Need to Know
  • AT&T and T-Mobile: Which Should You Buy

AT&T vs T-Mobile: Plans & Pricing

Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com

Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com

AT&T Plans

Smartphone plans and their cost set AT&T and T-Mobile apart. AT&T’s plans are more expensive, but the company’s network is reliable. The network offers two post-paid plans: AT&T Unlimited Plus and AT&T Unlimited Choice. Paying a bill with auto-pay discounts monthly charges by $5 on account with just one line with these plans.

Unlimited Plus offers unlimited talk, text, mobile data and 10GB of mobile hotspot data. Calling and texting in Mexico and Canada are included too. A single Unlimited Plus line starts at $90 and users can add a second line for $145 a month. Any extra phone lines cost $20. Adding a smartwatch costs $10 more.

AT&T Unlimited Choice includes unlimited talk, text and data. Instead of limiting the amount of data users get, it limits how fast their data is. Users can expect up to 3 Mbps per second, meaning it’s slower than the data offered in the Plus plan. It limits you to standard definition video streams and drops the 10GB of tethering. A single Unlimited Choice line costs $60. Two lines cost $115. Users can add phone lines for $20 and smartwatches for $10.

AT&T Unlimited Plans

  • Separates cost of devices from the monthly bill.
  • Unlimited calling & texting and data
  • Activation fees apply. $20 for Bring Your Own Device.
  • Upgrade fees of $20, even if you own the phone already.
  • $325 ETF with contracts.
  • 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.
  • Discounts 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.

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.

T-Mobile 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 plan for post-paid users. According to the company, it only offers this single plan because it wants to keep things as simple as possible. T-Mobile One gets users unlimited phone calls, text messaging and LTE data. It also packs unlimited music streaming, video streaming, international LTE data, and 10GB of tethering.

t-mobile-one-plan

Things aren’t as simple as the company leads users to believe. Its advertising says that it doesn’t offer contracts with termination fees. Instead of charging for contract termination, T-Mobile charges users the payments left on their smartphone, which some say amounts to a contract breaking penalty. Certainly, it’s incentive to not suddenly switch carriers on a whim. Those that consume 26GB of data or more in a month may get slowed down. According to T-Mobile, this depends on how congested the local network is. The network’s unlimited video streams are DVD quality only unless you pay more. The free tethering you get is only for 3G speeds, which are slower than 4G.

Read: Binge On Makes T-Mobile the Best Place to Buy an iPhone 6s

T-Mobile One plans start at $70. For a limited time, the company is offering two lines with T-Mobile One for $100. The KickBack promotion gets users a $10 bill credit for every line on their T-Mobile One plan that doesn’t use more than 2GB of data.

The carrier offers lots of add-ons. T-Mobile One Plus is a $5 charge on top of the $70 T-Mobile One that adds high-definition video streaming and boosts data speed. Users also get free in-flight Wi-Fi through Gogo. T-Mobile One Plus International is $25 extra a line. It unlocks international calling, faster data abroad, free Wi-fi on flights and includes Unlimited 4G LTE hotspot data.

AT.&T vs T-Mobile Phones

AT&T Next allows users to skip the Early Termination Fee and pay for their device in installments. Users get to update their devices regularly, provided that they trade-in their current one. Shorter AT&T Next terms push the monthly payments higher.

AT&T Phones

  • iPhone 7 with 32GB of storage: $0 Down Monthly Payments of $21.67 for 30 Months, $27 a month with AT&T Next Year.
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 with 32GB of storage: $0 Down, Monthly Payments of $23.17 for 30 Months, $28.96 a month with AT&T Next Year.

AT&T Next Year can require a 30% down payment from some users. These users can upgrade once half of the device is paid for. That happens within a year thanks to the payments. To keep monthly payments down, users can pay some on their smartphone upfront. The bigger the down payment, the smaller the monthly charges users can expect on top of their wireless plan.

T-Mobile’s splits things between its Jump On-Demand plans and what it calls EIP or Equipment Installation Plans.

Equipment Installation Plan examines credit scores and assigns a down payment based on that score. Regardless of down payment, what users are doing is financing the total cost of their smartphone. EIPs get paid in monthly installments with the user’s wireless bill. Once they payments end, the phone is the user’s to keep.

t-mobile-phones

With Jump On-Demand, T-Mobile owns the device that users are paying monthly payments on. When that user finishes with the monthly payments, they can pay another fee to buy the phone outright. They can trade their phone in towards a new device 3 times a year. When Jump On-Demand users cancel their service, their remaining payments become due, according to T-Mobile. As long as they’ve paid off their On-Demand lease, they get to keep their phone.

T-Mobile Phones

  • iPhone 7 with 32GB of storage: $0 & 24 monthly payments of $27.09. Save $100 with qualified trade-in and T-Mobile One plan sign up.
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 with 32GB of storage: $0 down payment and 24 monthly payments of $28.75.

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 at no additional cost. Apple Care reduces the service charge of a screen replacement to $29. Any other damage costs users $99 to repair. Apple Care for the iPhone 7 costs $129 when purchased directly from Apple.

Restocking Fees

Restocking fees long disappeared from retail stores, but they are still around in the wireless industry. Both T-Mobile and AT&T charge these fees. AT&T only charges a maximum of $45 per device. It waves the restocking fee for Apple devices that are not been opened. T-Mobile’s return policy has users 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

Both AT&T and T-Mobile unlock phones for use on the other’s network after users have paid for their device in full. T-Mobile charges $20 for SIM cards, which are what users need to get their phone working on the network. AT&T gives SIM cards away free.

AT&T vs T-Mobile What You Need to Know

To stay in the good graces of customers, both T-Mobile and AT&T are offering a few promotions.

Read: T-Mobile Tuesdays App: 5 Things to Know About Free Stuff

T-Mobile Tuesdays & AT&T Bundles

T-Mobile Tuesdays is a smartphone app and website that gives users free movie tickets, shopping discounts, magazine subscriptions and free food. The company also hands out stock to users that convince friends and family members to switch over.

Savings are available for AT&T customers too. Anyone that bundles the company’s phone, internet and cable service stand to save some cash, depending on what services they need. DirecTV Now subscription service for subscribers of AT&T Unlimited Plus plans are discounted by $25. Free HBO comes with the promotion.

Network Coverage

AT&T’s network coverage is reliable and solid. The AT&T interactive coverage map can tell you how the network performs in your area. For the best data speeds, you’ll want to make sure that your area has 4G LTE coverage.

T-Mobile’s network coverage has grown in recent years but remains a little weak in some areas. The T-Mobile interactive coverage map lets you compare how big its network is to its rivals. There are large pockets of missing coverage in the mid-west when compared to AT&T. The eastern United States still has pockets where there isn’t coverage for T-Mobile too.

AT&T Vs. T-Mobile: Which Should You Buy?

iPhone-T-MobileYou identify your priorities and get the best network for you. In situations where T-Mobile has great coverage, it’s a good choice. The network’s plans are reasonably priced and come with lots of data and international traveling perks. T-Mobile Tuesdays are cool too, though certainly not reason enough to switch alone. Frequent promotions can drive the cost of T-Mobile way down for new customers.

AT&T is still the best network for reliability and coverage. Its Unlimited Choice plans finally address data overages. Internet and cable bundles can save users cash on more than just their smartphone bill. If network reliability and savings for cable and home internet are a big concern for you, they are the best choice.