PROS / In terms of value for money, Sprint stands tall, offering generous service plans and incentives at an affordable monthly rate.
CONS / It operates the weakest of the four major American networks – good enough for many but frustratingly slow in the age of streaming video.
VERDICT / If you only want affordable cell service and are willing to tolerate slow LTE speeds to get it, Sprint's value pricing is undeniably attractive.
There's a reason Sprint is one of the most recognized cell phone companies in America. The network it owns and operates is large and affordable, with features like unlimited data, family share plans and international calling. Its solid device selection sets it above lesser-known companies, offering Android phones, iPhones, tablets and hotspots. But Sprint is not without its drawbacks, chief among them a molasses-slow 4G LTE network that can struggle to stream HD video.
True, Sprint's network covers more of the United States than T-Mobile, especially in rural areas, but it can't hold a candle to the coast-to-coast omnipresence of Verizon or AT&T. The network is notorious for spotty coverage, even in major cities. You can use your phone almost anywhere you go, but you may have to deal with dropped calls, low bars or other connection issues. Over half of the cities RootMetrics tested in its independent nationwide service analysis fell beneath the 10 Mbps speed line, and in this day and age, you often need at least 10 Mbps speeds.
Speed tests conducted by our sister site, Tom's Guide's, proved that Sprint's overall performance trailed behind its Big Four rivals for download and upload speeds, with national averages of 17.7 Mbps and 7.7 Mbps, respectively. To be fair, Sprint used to be much worse and the cell phone company has greatly improved, but if having the fastest downloads and the best cell phone service is important to you, other networks are far more capable.
The best thing Sprint has going for it are its cheap cell phone plans. The company has an all-inclusive single-line plan for $60: You get unlimited talk, text and data for $20 less than AT&T. Should you not need unlimited data, you can stick with a 3GB prepaid plan for $40 or a 5GB plan for $50. Both are on par with T-Mobile's prepaid prices, though they lack T-Mobile's data rollover or free media streaming programs – everything you do on a Sprint LTE connection counts toward your data cap.
A group plan for a family of four with unlimited data will run you about $160 each month, excluding taxes and fees. These above prices assume you are enrolled in autopay, which cuts $5 off your monthly bill.
Since it's a major carrier, Sprint customers have a decent selection of flagship phones to pick from. Top-of-the-line Android devices, like the Samsung Galaxy S8 or S7 Edge and the LG V20, are available for full purchase or on installment plans, as are Apple's latest iPhones like the iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone SE. The mid-tier selection is much weaker, with just a few older-generation phones from the major cell phone carriers. If you're after a budget device, you've got a handful of phones to pick from but few smartphone options under $200.
Sprint's 4G LTE network is the weakest of the four major carriers, but when you consider price and phone selection, the value you get for your money is top tier. If staying under budget is worth slower download speeds and the potential for a few dropped calls, Sprint may well be the best cell phone carrier for your family.