PROS / T-Mobile's low prices are very kind on your wallet.
CONS / The company's rural coverage is abysmal, a pronounced black eye on an otherwise sterling carrier.
VERDICT / As long as your town is covered, choosing T-Mobile is a no-brainer. Its prices are superb, and you can enjoy truly unlimited data on one of the fastest networks in the country.
T-Mobile is an oddball cell phone company. Led by its unapologetically brash CEO John Legere, it’s dubbed itself the uncarrier and makes regular attempts to buck carrier trends. Initially, this meant dropping contracts, a move quickly followed by the other three big names in the industry. In more recent months, it’s meant the introduction of Music Freedom and BingeOn, which let you stream music and video from a wide variety of apps without using up your monthly data allocation.
There’s no doubt T-Mobile stands out from the crowd, but it has to – its network is weaker than what Verizon or AT&T can offer. Rural coverage can always been a sore point for prospective T-Mobile customers and is the reason why, for many Americans, it isn’t even a viable option.
If you live in a city, though, it’s tough to beat. T-Mobile’s LTE speeds have the highest peaks in the nation, while its prices remain affordable. Were it not weak beyond the suburbs, we’d readily place it even higher on our lineup. It’s still one of the best cell phone providers in the nation, though, and rightfully earns our Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award.
Coverage & Quality
T-Mobile's weakest attribute is network coverage. The company has put a lot of effort into rolling out a new 4G LTE network across the country, but that rollout isn't finished, and the company's rural coverage can be untenable. You’re safe if you live in or around a major metropolitan area, but stray too far from their suburbs and you lose connectivity. Travelers looking for the best cell phone service from coast to coast are better off with a bigger carrier.
That said, if you live and work under T-Mobile’s umbrella, you can enjoy some of the fastest download speeds of any provider. Although Verizon and AT&T have better speeds on average, those numbers take into account the entire country, much of which doesn't feature decent T-Mobile coverage. In those areas where the magenta carrier offers 4G LTE service, you can't beat it for sheer speed.
Pricing & Fees
For a smartphone plan with unlimited minutes, texts and 2GB of high-speed data, T-Mobile charges $50 a month. That’s not as cheap as the cell phone plans offered by prepaid providers, but it gets you access to Music Freedom. If you want unlimited, unthrottled data – something only offered by T-Mobile and Sprint – it's $95. We recommend you split the difference, though, by getting the $65 plan. It’s pricey, but it gets you a whopping 6GB of data and access to BingeOn.
Music Freedom and BingeOn let you stream as much music or video as you want, so long as you use one of the participating apps the services support. That caveat would usually make us wary, but T-Mobile has a massive amount of buy-in from its numerous partners. At this point, every significant music or video streaming service is on board.
Music Freedom is available to all Simple Choice customers, which basically means every regular plan, from the $50 2GB option on up. iTunes, Google Music, Spotify, SoundCloud, Slacker, iHeartRadio, ESPN Radio, Bandcamp and so many more – it’s a surprise if your favorite music streaming app isn’t compatible. You can stream unlimited audio from any of these apps to your phone, over your LTE data connection, as much as you want – it never counts against your monthly cap.
BingeOn does for video what Music Freedom does for audio, and it has an equally impressive lineup of partners. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, HBO NOW, ESPN, Fox and Showtime are all here, as are dozens more, but the real coup for T-Mobile is YouTube – it’s the world’s favorite streaming platform, and you can watch as much as you want. You have to get at least the $65 plan, but between Music Freedom, BingeOn and the 6GB allocation, you’ll probably never run out of data.
It’s worth noting that we don’t know how long Music Freedom and BingeOn will continue to be available. T-Mobile doesn’t have any plans to end the services, but there’s some question as to how they fit with the FCC’s continued rulings on net neutrality. For the moment there’s no real downside to consumers, which is why the programs have been allowed to continue.
From brand new iPhones to classic flip phones, T-Mobile's device selection offers something for everyone. There are plenty of Android phones to pick from, including the Samsung Galaxy S7 and LG G5, while Apple fans can get a new iPhone 6s or iPhone SE. On the Windows and BlackBerry front there’s only one option each, but that matches how popular Windows and BlackBerry phones are these days, so no harm, no foul.
If new phones are too expensive for you, T-Mobile offers refurbished options that are easy on your wallet. You can even bring your own GSM-compatible phone to the carrier, transferring your existing number and taking advantage of T-Mobile's rates. You are only responsible for buying a new $20 SIM card so your phone can access the network.
Help & Support
T-Mobile's support has long had a bad reputation, but it has seen tremendous improvements in the last couple of years. Its customer service representatives are quick to help solve issues, and transferring both into and away from the carrier is a joy. A few years ago, if you had a bizarre phone bill come in the mail or made a mistake and owed more than you expected, T-Mobile would hold you responsible for paying it off, whatever the amount. Today, the company works with you to fix such issues, something our own staff has happily taken advantage of on more than one occasion.
It used to be the weakest of the top four nationwide cell phone companies, but T-Mobile keeps working its way up the ladder. It can't match the breadth of LTE coverage other carriers enjoy, but its speed blows them away. Its Music Freedom and BingeOn programs give you practically unlimited data for comparatively low prices – your smartphone need never face throttled speeds again, no matter how much video you stream every day.
With no contracts or termination fees and the ability to pay for your expensive new smartphone over time, T-Mobile has taken the best elements of the cell phone plans at both big carriers and prepaid phone companies and combined them. If you're looking for a new cell phone provider, it’s worth checking whether T-Mobile offers 4G LTE in your area. So long as you’re covered, its balance of price and performance is tough to beat.