Until early 2013, T-Mobile was known for its disappointing coverage, slow mobile data speeds and poor customer service. After spending a year rolling out a brand-new 4G LTE network across the nation, its coverage is far broader than before. Its data speeds have improved dramatically, to the point that T-Mobile now boasts the fastest truly unlimited data plan of any cell phone provider. Plus, its plan prices are far cheaper than the competition, sometimes by as much as $100 a month for comparable service. It's not a perfect provider – its network is still growing, and its customer service hasn't improved very much – but for value alone, T-Mobile earns our TopTenREVIEWS Bronze Award.
Among the major carriers, T-Mobile's plans are the cheapest we've found. For a smartphone plan with unlimited talking and texting and 2.5GB of high-speed data, you'll pay only $60, compared to $70 or even $100 with competing carriers. If you want unlimited, un-throttled data, it's just $10 more per month. A family of four can get a plan with unlimited talk, text and 8GB of data for just $140 every month. That's $100 less than the closest competitor's plan.
T-Mobile can charge such low prices because it doesn't subsidize phone costs. You can still buy an expensive smartphone like a Samsung Galaxy S4 or Apple iPhone 5s, but you have pay the full price of the phone. Thankfully, you can space that cost out over two years, paying in monthly installments. Yes, this will increase your bill to something closer to what you'd find at other carriers (though it'll still be cheaper than most of them), but once your phone's paid off, your bill goes back down. And, should you choose to buy yourself a cheaper, last-generation phone, you'll start seeing savings immediately. With the other carriers we reviewed, your monthly bill always stays the same, regardless of the age of the phone you buy or how long you've owned it.
T-Mobile's biggest weakness has long been its coverage, which has a history of spottiness. Over the past year, the company has put a great deal of effort into rolling out a new 4G LTE network across the country. That rollout isn't finished, and T-Mobile still offers LTE in fewer markets that anyone else, so it's worth stopping by the company's website to check whether you have coverage. Fortunately, the network is growing every day.
The other big concern with T-Mobile's network has been its data speeds. Until this past year, it relied on an older type of 4G network, called HSPA+, which tends to get about half the speeds of 4G LTE. Ever since T-Mobile began the new rollout, however, its data speeds have increased dramatically. Even though it's still the smallest of the major carriers, the areas that do have 4G LTE coverage now enjoy mobile speeds on par with or faster than most of the other providers.
From brand-new iPhones to classic flip phones, T-Mobile's device selection offers something for everyone. BlackBerry fans can buy the company's classic Curve or its touchscreen Q10 model, while Windows Phone users can choose from two different Nokia Lumia models. There are also plenty of Android phones to pick from, including Google's Nexus 4, Samsung's Galaxy S4 and the impressive HTC One. You can buy a mobile hotspot and access the Internet from your laptop wherever you go, or purchase a Samsung tablet and use that instead.
Any device you buy can be paid for in full up front or financed over a period of 24 months. If new phones are too expensive for you, T-Mobile offers refurbished options that are easier on your wallet. You can even bring your own SIM card-compatible phone to the carrier, transferring your existing number and taking advantage of T-Mobile's rates. You'll only be responsible for buying a new $10 SIM card to put in your phone so it can access the network.
T-Mobile doesn't have a traditional early termination fee because it doesn't have traditional contracts. If you're financing your phone over two years and choose to stop service before those two years are up, the balance on your phone becomes due. However, if you've paid off your phone, bring your own or pay the full cost of it up front, you can cancel your service with T-Mobile at any time without penalty.
There are no charges for data overages or roaming with T-Mobile. Even if you don't pay for an unlimited data plan, going over your monthly limit will merely throttle your data speeds. You won't incur an extra charge, and you won't be cut off altogether. On the other hand, T-Mobile's $50 restocking fee on returned phones is the highest around, and when you start a new plan you'll have to either buy a $10 SIM card or pay a $35 activation fee, depending on the phone.
T-Mobile's support is notoriously bad. Various business-ranking services continue to rate its customer support very poorly, something our own experience confirms. Telephone operators are often outsourced, and when we spoke with service representatives through online chat, it sounded like the staff was copying and pasting canned phrased into the chat window.
It used to be the weakest of the top four nationwide cell phone companies, but T-Mobile has improved. Its coverage is still spotty in certain areas, and its customer service is quite poor, but those are the worst criticisms you can level against it. Where it's available, T-Mobile's data speeds are very fast. Its data plan is truly unlimited – your smartphone need never face throttled speeds again. With no contracts or termination fees and the ability to pay for your expensive new smartphone over time, it's taken the best elements of big carriers and prepaid phone companies and combined them, at prices far below the competition. If you're looking for a new cell phone provider and T-Mobile covers your area, consider it. You won't be disappointed.
T-Mobile offers reasonable payment plans and truly unlimited data at prices that can't be beat.
Its network is still growing, so you might have trouble finding a signal if you live in a more rural area.
Check to see if your town is covered by T-Mobile. The carrier's prices blow away the competition, and if you're covered by its 4G LTE network, you'll get speeds that are as fast as or faster than most other providers.