PROS / AT&T's 4G LTE average data speeds are, hands down, the fastest in America.
CONS / Its plans are quite a bit more expensive than many of the alternatives we've reviewed, and its network is a little spotty in some areas.
VERDICT / AT&T is an excellent phone provider that's well worth your consideration, thanks to its diverse selection of phones and plans, its broad coverage, and its blisteringly fast data speeds.
AT&T is one of the two biggest cell phone providers in the country. Its network features the fastest mobile broadband that's available in the United States. It offers single-line, family and business plans to satisfy every mobile need. And its device selection is excellent: You can buy tablets, mobile hotspots and any new or last-generation phone you could want, all at subsidized prices. AT&T isn't our top carrier – its network isn't quite strong enough, nor is its customer service as consistently dependable as we'd like – but it's very much deserving of our Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award.
Coverage & Quality
When compared with other major carriers, the prices of AT&T's plans are about average. You can pick from a wealth of options, including different tiers of voice minutes, text messages and data allocations. If you almost never text, for example, you could forgo a dedicated plan and instead opt to pay for text messages on a per-use basis. If you always need to be connected to the Internet no matter how far away you are from a computer, you could sign up for the company's sizable 5GB data plan. Unfortunately, AT&T doesn't offer an unlimited data plan, so be sure to keep an eye on your downloads and take care not to incur any overage fees.
If you're a heavy phone user, paying for your phone services a la carte can get expensive. AT&T's Mobile Share plans come with unlimited talk and text by default. They're designed for multiple users, but you can sign up for one with just a single phone and take advantage of their savings. On a regular individual plan, for example, a single line with unlimited talk and text and 3GB of data would cost you almost $120 a month. With the mobile share bundle, you could get a similar plan with 2GB of data for $95, or with 4GB of data for $110. Either way, you'd save money over the individual option.
All contract-based AT&T plans are significantly more expensive than comparable plans at no-contract providers, but signing up for one lets you buy a new phone at subsidized cost. Generally, this will save you about $400 up front. Keep in mind, however, that over the course of a two-year contract, the amount you'd initially save will be eclipsed by the extra you'll pay over those two years.
Pricing & Fees
AT&T's coverage isn't the best in the nation, but it comes very close. The carrier has 4G LTE from coast to coast and in many rural areas in between. It offers LTE service in more than twice as many markets as the next largest provider. It also features the fastest data rates of any cell phone company in America. The average AT&T user can expect to get download speeds of 18.7Mbps – fast enough to stream crystal-clear HD-quality movies and have video chats with ease.
As much as the company has tried to improve its network, it still suffers from the occasional poor connection or dropped call, problems that are compounded the further you get into rural areas. There aren't many places in the United States that lack some sort of AT&T signal, but depending on where you are, it might not be particularly strong or dependable.
As one of the top carriers in the country, AT&T is no slouch when it comes to device selection. Every major operating system, brand and model of phone is available, from heavyweights such as Apple's iPhone 5s and Samsung's Galaxy S4, to less common models such as the BlackBerry Q10 and Nokia's Lumia 1020. You can buy a wide selection of tablets from manufacturers like Apple, ASUS and Samsung, or purchase mobile hotspots so your laptop can connect to the Internet without Wi-Fi.
AT&T offers both new and refurbished devices. Despite being called "certified like-new," its used phones aren't necessarily free of dings or scratches from previous owners; rather, they've been put through a series of intense benchmarking tests to ensure they can hold up to rigorous use. In return for buying refurbished, you can get these devices for about $50 less than their normal, subsidized cost.
As does every contract-based phone provider, AT&T charges a number of fees to its users. If you sign up for a two-year contract and want to opt out early, you'll have to pay a termination fee that can get as high as $325. The company will charge you a $36 activation fee for every line you add to an account, and returning a phone will incur a $35 restocking fee. Finally, for every gigabyte of data you use that hasn't been factored into your plan, you'll be charged a $15 overage fee.
Help & Support
AT&T's service and support team is perfectly helpful, though with its lack of a general customer service phone number, you may find yourself navigating long telephone menus as you try to find the right person to talk to. Fortunately, you can always hop online and consult with one of its specialists over live chat, or ask a quick question using Facebook or Twitter.
AT&T may not be the best cell phone provider in America, but it's a great option nonetheless. It matches superb phone selection with solid customer service and a broad nationwide network that covers the vast majority of Americans. If you want to enjoy the fastest mobile broadband in the country, look no further.