Verizon is the undisputed king of cell phone providers, and it's for good reason. The company colloquially known as Big Red has the largest cellular network in America, covering a whopping 98 percent of all Americans. Its 4G LTE infrastructure has been installed in over 500 markets and today covers 95 percent of the country's population. It's earned a reputation for reliably strong connections, superb customer service and a selection of phones that will excite any buyer – including brands like Droid that you won't find anywhere else. You'll pay for those benefits, though: Verizon's plans are the most expensive around, and its data speeds aren't quite as fast as we'd hope to see from such a large carrier. But if you can work it into your budget, you're pretty much guaranteed a solid mobile experience, which is why it earns our TopTenREVIEWS Gold Award.
Compared to much of its competition, Verizon's pricing model is refreshingly simple and straightforward. It's also very tough on the wallet. Whether you're looking for one line or several, the company's Share Everything plan charges a flat $40 per month, per smartphone, for unlimited talk and text. You can then add onto that plan a data allocation that's shared among all your phones. 1GB costs $40 a month, 2GB costs $50 and it goes up from there.
The average smartphone user will need about 2GB of data per month, so budgeting your use with that metric makes pricing things out easy. If you just need a plan for yourself, it will cost you $90: $40 to add a smartphone to the plan, and $50 for the 2GB of data. If you have a family of four average users, it'll cost you $250 per month: $160 for the four phones, plus $90 for an 8GB data plan. Of course, if someone in your family uses his or her phone less or more often, you can adjust your plan's data allocation to match.
While buying a subsidized phone with the Share Everything plan will lock you into a two-year contract, Verizon also offers an early upgrade option that's contract-free. Verizon Edge lets you exchange your phone for a new one as often as every six months. Edge splits the full retail (i.e., non-subsidized) cost of a new smartphone into 24 monthly payments, which are added to your bill in addition to your usual Share Everything plan. After at least six months have passed and you've paid down half the price of your phone, you can trade it in for a new one. You can also leave Verizon at any time and only be responsible for paying off the remaining cost of the phone.
Verizon Edge sounds like a good deal at first, but as we discovered when we examined it and early upgrade plans at other carriers, it's a disguised rip-off. Edge essentially charges you twice over for your phone: once as part of the monthly payment you make on the program, and once again as an integrated charge in your regular payment plan, which is already inflated with the price of a subsidized phone.
Without question, Verizon's nationwide network is the best, most comprehensive in America. Its basic 3G coverage serves 98 percent of Americans, including every major city and town in the country. Its 4G LTE coverage, meanwhile, serves 95 percent of all Americans – again, more than any other network at any other carrier. Verizon is also rightfully proud of the fact that its 4G network is entirely LTE-based, which means its customers can consistently get about 14Mbps download speeds when they're on the go. It's not the fastest you can find, but it's more than adequate for most folks.
If there's a phone or other mobile device you want to own, chances are good it's available with Verizon. Samsung's Galaxy line is here, including the Galaxy S4, the Galaxy Note 3 and older models. If you're an Apple fan, you can find iPads and the new iPhone 5s or 5c. The HTC One and HTC's Windows Phone 8X are available, as is the Nokia Lumia series and the entire line of Verizon-exclusive Droid phones from HTC and Motorola. Windows Phones, BlackBerrys, feature phones, keyboard phones, global-ready phones – Verizon's selection has just about everything you could want. And if you need to take your laptop on the road, you will find cheap or even free mobile hotspots that can link to your Share Everything plan and the data allocation you've set.
Like its prices, Verizon's fees are steep. If you sign a two-year contract and elect to back out early, you'll owe as much as $350 in termination fees. Adding a new phone to any line requires a one-time $35 activation fee, and if you don't like the phone you picked, returning it costs another $35. Finally, if you go over your Share Everything plan's data allocation, you'll be charged $15 per gigabyte. That's three times the normal price of a gigabyte of data if you budget your usage out ahead of time. Remember, it's always a good idea to be liberal with your initial data estimates and then pull them back after the first month or two – you'll save yourself money in the end.
A number of different business comparison and ratings organizations have consistently given Verizon the highest marks for its customer service and satisfaction, and based on our own experiences, we're inclined to agree with those assessments. Where other carriers outsource their customer service, Verizon has numerous localized hubs across the nation with friendly service agents and helpful support teams. If you're more of an online type, you can take advantage of Verizon's live chat, send a question over email, or hop onto your favorite social media network and contact the support team that way.
Verizon is a pricey carrier. Depending on the plans you get and the phones you buy, you could spend anywhere from $50 to $100 more every month over a smaller provider. Even if you're very careful and budget your usage properly, you'll still end up paying a little more for Verizon than you would with anyone else.
That said, choose Verizon and you can count on a level and quality of service that justifies its monthly bill. Verizon's coverage is phenomenal; its customer service unbeatable. Competition between carriers may sway things in the future, but for now, Big Red still leads the pack.
Verizon's network coverage is monumental. If it doesn't cover you, chances are nobody does.
You'll pay more every month for Verizon than you would for service through any other cell phone provider.
If you can afford it, buy it. Verizon's cellular service is fast, dependable, well supported and far-reaching, with coverage in all but the most remote corners of the country.