PROS / Device purchases at U.S. Cellular are very flexible: You can buy phones upfront, in installments or even on contract.
CONS / Its expense is on par with Verizon or AT&T, despite offering staggeringly limited 4G LTE coverage.
VERDICT / U.S. Cellular is the carrier you go with if you have limited options. Its regional coverage sometimes outpaces the bigger companies, but it's only worth it if you never need to travel beyond its coverage area.
U.S. Cellular is one of the oldest cell phone providers in the United States, but it's far from the best. It operates the fifth-largest independently owned network in the country, yet that network only covers a fraction of Americans. You can get 3G coverage across the country thanks to partnerships with other carriers, but U.S. Cellular's 4G LTE towers only cover Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Maine and select counties across a smattering of other states.
For those who live inside that region, U.S. Cellular is a solid carrier that offers decent plans, great call quality and some of the best customer service around. Its smartphone selection is varied, with top-tier flagships like the iPhone 6s, the Galaxy S7 and the LG G5. You can also buy cheap, good-quality feature phones and second-tier smartphones, sign up for a prepaid plan for your family, and trust that the company will treat you well.
In terms of pricing and features, U.S. Cellular's cell phone plans are comparable to what other carriers offer, though they’re not as cheap. You can get unlimited talk and text and 3GB of data for $60 a month or a four-line family plan with 10GB of shared data for $130. These plans don’t come with free music or video streaming, but they’re straightforward and let you buy new phones in either a lump sum or in monthly installments.
One feature that sets U.S. Cellular apart is contract pricing: The cell phone company still offers subsidized smartphones, if you’re willing to sign up for a two-year contract and pay a higher monthly fee. This might seem attractive because paying less for a phone upfront and never having to worry about its price again seems like a good deal. But beware: U.S. Cellular charges $20 to $25 more for identical service on contract than they do off contract. Not only do any savings you experience upfront get wiped out; you end up paying more for an on-contract phone in the long run.
Assuming you live within U.S. Cellular's primary coverage area, the company provides a solid alternative to some of the bigger names in mobile. It doesn't have the best cell phone plans or service around, but it's well known for customer service and satisfaction. If you want to sign up with a sizable cell carrier that still has a small-town feel, U.S. Cellular is a decent choice.