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 carrier. 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 T-Mobile One, one of the best phone cell phone plans with unlimited data.
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 has 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 call it number 1. It’s one of the best cell phone carriers in the nation, though, and rightfully earns our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award.
Coverage & Quality
T-Mobile's weakest attribute is network coverage. The company has put a lot of effort into rolling out a 4G LTE network across the country, but that rollout isn't finished, and the company's rural coverage can be untenable.
We used RootMetrics data to evaluate T-Mobile’s coverage. RootMetrics provides objective, accurate assessments of mobile network performance. The firm tests the network’s performance and reliability for data, calls and texts. It assigns scores in six categories, which is calls RootScores. T-Mobile's RootScore rankings have remained the same since the first half of 2015. Of the big four carriers, T-Mobile ranks fourth for overall reliability, call performance and text performance. It finished third in the data and speed RootScores.
With T-Mobile, you’re safe if you live in or around a major metropolitan area, but stray too far from the suburbs and you lose connectivity. Travelers looking for the best cell phone service from coast to coast are better off with a bigger carrier like Verizon or AT&T.
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.
Our sister site Tom's Guide went to six large test cities in diverse geographic locations, including: Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and New York City. At the sites, they ran Ookla's Speedtest.net app both inside buildings and outside with a Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphone activated on T-Mobile. They conducted the speed test five different times and then averaged the download and upload speeds recorded by the app. They also timed how long it took to download and install the 58MB app Pokémon Go.
It was determined that T-Mobile was the second fastest network and set the pace for average upload time, racking up speeds of 16.4 Mbps. The carrier had average download speeds of 23.5 Mbps, and it took an average of 1 minute, 51 seconds to download Pokémon Go. Our testers found the carrier didn't have strong performance indoors, leaving them with annoyingly slow speeds.
Pricing & Fees
At the moment, T-Mobile is not offering any cell phone plans with tiered data. It does have an individual Simply Prepaid plan that includes 3GB of data and unlimited talk and text for $40 per month. But for a smartphone plan with unlimited minutes, texts and high-speed data, T-Mobile charges $70 a month. A family plan with unlimited data will run about $160 for a family of four. That’s not as cheap as the cell phone plans offered by prepaid providers, but it gets you access to one of the fastest mobile networks, along with the generous Music Freedom and BingeOn plans for unlimited streaming. T-Mobile doesn't start throttling your speeds until you use 30GB; other providers start slowing things down after 22GB of use.
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.
Unfortunately, this carrier no longer includes HD video streaming with its unlimited plan, like some other carriers do. Instead, you have to pay an extra $5 each month, unless you are OK with watching 480p DVD-quality video. This additional charge also grants you access to a 10GB mobile hotspot. Previously, these two features were included in the T-Mobile One plan but now cost extra. It’s also 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.
We love that T-Mobile includes all taxes and fees in its prices, something most cell phone companies don’t do. It’s a great feeling knowing you won’t get hit with any activation fees or overage charges. T-Mobile also has a rewards program called T-Mobile Tuesdays, where subscribers can get a freebie each week like movie tickets, a coffee or pizza.
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 S8 and LG G6, while Apple fans can get a new iPhone 7 or iPhone SE. On the Windows and BlackBerry front there are only a few options, 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 $25 SIM card so your phone can access the network. If you want to add a tablet to your plan it costs an additional $20 each month. A smartwatch or other wearable costs just $5 extra each month.
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 cell phone service provider 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 in populated areas blows them away. Its Music Freedom and BingeOn programs give you practically unlimited data for comparatively low prices.
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. As long as you’re covered, its balance of price and performance is tough to beat.