The best deals on smartphone data plans in the US right now (single lines and families)

As many of us are spending more time at home, we’re also spending a lot more on our Wi-Fi networks, avoiding much drain on our mobile data plans. Equally, as financial uncertainty rises in America for many millions, it’s entirely understandable that some of us are looking at cutting down our monthly wireless bill from our current unlimited plan to something a little more economical. Fortunately, there are plenty of options available for every budget, and from multiple carriers.

The best, cheapest single line data plans (low data use)

T-Mobile Connect

  • Cost: $15-25/mo
  • Data: 2GB-5GB (hard cap)
  • Talk/text: Unlimited
  • Network: T-Mobile
  • Network speed: Full (subject to congestion throttling)
  • Video: Throttled (480p), can be disabled
  • Hotspot: Yes (full speed, full cap)

T-Mobile’s new Connect plan is pretty straightforward: 2GB or 5GB of data per month, unlimited talk and text, and a $15 or $25 prepaid bill. T-Mobile promises to increase that 2GB cap by 512MB every year for five years, as well, meaning it will eventually top out at 4.5GB per month by 2025.

The big downside to T-Mobile’s plan is that the 2GB or 5GB cap is a hard one. Once you hit it, your device will only be able to connect to the internet via Wi-Fi unless you purchase a data pass to increase your cap. Based on the information I can see, it looks like that will cost $5 for a 500MB 24-hour pass or $10 for a 1GB that’s good for a week. You get unrestricted tethering speeds, too, they just count against your total data cap.

AT&T Prepaid / Cricket 2GB promo plan

  • Cost: $15/mo
  • Data: 2GB (soft cap)
  • Talk/text: Unlimited
  • Network: AT&T
  • Network speed: 8mbps max (subject to congestion throttling), 128Kbps after cap
  • Video: Throttled (480p), can be disabled
  • Hotspot: Yes (8Mbps, full cap)

Cricket and AT&T Prepaid both have a promotional offer on a $15 per month plan offering T-Mobile’s above, but they’re meaningfully different from TMo’s. AT&T won’t be offering unlimited data speeds, instead throttling connections to 8Mbps max, and down to 128Kbps once you hit the 2GB cap. I believe Cricket offers the option to add an extra 1GB of data for $10 any given month for this plan, and probably AT&T Prepaid, as well.

Tethering is included on these plans, and video stream throttling can be disabled in the services’ respective apps.

Why these plans?

Right now, T-Mobile and Cricket/AT&T’s new ultra-low-cost prepaid plans by far are better values than any MVNO provider out there, including Google Fi and Ting from an absolute cost floor basis, as well as bundle providers like Mint Mobile from a commitment basis. These are no strings plans with very few perilous downsides: the hits you’re taking are more than acceptable given the bill you’ll pay. Just know that AT&T and Cricket’s plans are a limited time deal, while T-Mobile pledges to keep its Connect plan around for the next five years.

Why not a Verizon option in here? Frankly, there isn’t a Verizon-based prepaid we recommend that comes close to this level of value for this low level of data consumption. We’ll have some Verizon options in other parts of this list, though.

The best cheap single line data plans (high data use)

Visible

  • Cost: $40/mo
  • Data: Unlimited (subject to throttling during congestion)
  • Talk/text: Unlimited
  • Network: Verizon
  • Network speed: Unlimited (for a “limited time,” allegedly, but it’s been that way almost a year now)
  • Video: Throttled (1-3Mbps)
  • Hotspot: Unlimited (officially: 5Mbps speed cap, but most customers report full speeds)

We like Visible as a high data use individual plan not just because it’s priced well, but because it’s dead simple. $40 a month, unlimited data (subject to congestion throttling), unlimited tethering (at 5Mbps, but again: most customers report full speeds), and unlimited talk and text. Visible runs on Verizon’s extremely broad network, meaning the vast majority of Americans are covered. The only downsides? Video is throttled to 480p (around 3Mbps), and device compatibility outside iPhones is fairly limited. Here is the full list of supported Android phones right now:

  • Google Pixel 3
  • Google Pixel 3 XL
  • Google Pixel 3a
  • Google Pixel 3a XL
  • Google Pixel 4
  • Google Pixel 4 XL
  • LG G8 (Only if you are bringing an unlocked model from Verizon.)
  • LG Stylo 5/M7 (Only if you are bringing an unlocked model from Verizon.)
  • LG V40 (Only if you are bringing an unlocked model from Verizon.)
  • Motorola Moto G7 Power
  • Motorola moto Z4
  • OnePlus 7 Pro (Models from T-mobile are not compatible.)
  • OnePlus 7T (Models from T-mobile are not compatible.)
  • Samsung Galaxy A50 (Select models only.)
  • Samsung Galaxy S8 (Models unlocked by Samsung are not compatible.)
  • Samsung Galaxy S8+ (Models unlocked by Samsung are not compatible.)
  • Samsung Galaxy S9 (Models unlocked by Samsung are not compatible.)
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+ (Models unlocked by Samsung are not compatible.)
  • Samsung Galaxy S10e (Select models only.)
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 (Only models from Verizon.)
  • Samsung Galaxy S20+ (Only models from Verizon.)
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra (Only models from Verizon.)

This is, admittedly, a very limiting factor for the service, and one which will leave many people ineligible. But we still put it high on our recommendation list simply because most Verizon-powered prepaid options (including Verizon’s own prepaid plans) suck. Not everyone is covered by T-Mobile (or even AT&T), and when you need service that works in a less populated area, Verizon can often be one of two major providers available. Even absent Verizon’s network, Visible is a strong option in the prepaid space and has relatively few downsides as long as you have a compatible device.

T-Mobile Unlimited Plus Prepaid

  • Cost: $60/mo
  • Data: Unlimited (may be throttled after 50GB of usage)
  • Talk/text: Unlimited
  • Network: T-Mobile
  • Network speed: Unlimited
  • Video: Throttled (1080p max)
  • Hotspot: 10GB (soft cap, throttled to 512Kbps after 10GB)
  • Bonus: Netflix HD (2 screens, 1080p) included, unlimited GoGo in-flight Wi-Fi

The same pick we have for high data use for families, T-Mobile Unlimited Plus Prepaid isn’t quite as economical in single line form, but the extra $20 a month you pay versus Visible above includes perks that I think make it the better overall value for higher data usage consumers. Allow me to explain.

T-Mobile Unlimited Plus includes Netflix HD, which is a value of $13 a month. If you don’t want or need Netflix, I understand this isn’t the Free Money the plan implies, but for many, many Americans Netflix is pretty much a sunk cost, and T-Mobile’s plan offers to give you that service for free. Bonus number one.

Number two: no questions about whether your data speeds are going to get throttled until you hit a fairly staggering 50GB of usage. Visible throttles based on existing network conditions, and strictly limits video streaming speeds to in-effect 480p. T-Mobile’s video streaming is limited to a vague “1080p,” but that probably means speeds of 6-10mbps if you want reliable 1080p streaming on services like YouTube or Netflix, which is more than acceptable for mobile data.

Finally, number three: truly unlimited data unless you blow through a staggering 50GB in a month and live in a congested area. Given T-Mobile’s speeds are on average much higher than Verizon’s in areas where coverage is available (the downside being T-Mobile’s coverage is substantially less widespread), that’s a pretty big perk. $60 a month may not strike you as “cheap,” but for what this plan gives, especially if you’re paying for Netflix already, it’s kind of a no brainer for the data hogs.

Why these plans?

We like Visible and T-Mobile because both have strings that, for prepaid plans, we consider pretty acceptable given the overall value they provide. Both have in-effect unlimited data, unlimited hotspot (even if it may be soft capped or speed limited), and both published prices ($40 for Visible, $60 for T-Mo) include all taxes and fees in those figures.

We’re aware of plans from the likes of Mint, Ting, Republic, Google Fi, and US Wireless that may offer better per-gigabyte value depending on your usage, but if you want to manage your data use down to the day, this guide probably isn’t for you. We like these plans because they’re simple enough for anyone to understand and come with a predictable bill, and their annoying limitations are a worthy trade-off considering their overall value.

The best cheap data plans for families (4 lines)

Low data use: Google Fi (Flexible)

  • Cost: $65/mo +$10/GB (up to 14GB, then no add’l cost)
  • Additional lines: $20-15/mo, scales with number of lines
  • Data: 15GB (soft cap)
  • Talk/text: Unlimited
  • Network: T-Mobile/Sprint/US Cellular
  • Network speed: Unlimited, 256Kbps after cap
  • Video: Throttled (480p), cannot be fully disabled
  • Hotspot: Yes (full cap)

The math for Google Fi works out best if you’re a relatively large group with relatively small data needs. At $65 per month for a group of 4 subscribers ($~17/line) if each subscriber keeps under 1GB of usage in a month, you have a bill that’s going to be hard to beat. However, things don’t scale well once you start drinking down the gigabytes, with the plan maxing out at $205 per month (>$50/line) if you utilize the whole 15GB, before throttling down to 256Kbps via the soft cap. Additional users are $15/line.

Fi is a great choice if you trust (or can use device limits to control) the data usage habits of everyone on your plan. If you can’t, there are definitely better options.

Medium data use: Consumer Cellular

  • Cost: $105/mo
  • Additional lines: $15/mo
  • Data: 25GB (soft cap, split across 4 lines), currently 55GB till end of April 2020 (because of COVID-19)
  • Talk/text: Unlimited
  • Network: AT&T or T-Mobile (user-selectable when ordering SIM)
  • Network speed: Unlimited, unknown throttle speed after cap
  • Video: Not throttled (unverified)
  • Hotspot: Yes* (*may need to call customer service to enable)

Consumer Cellular is a long-standing and well-trusted prepaid MVNO in the US, and markets largely to seniors and the older set. But, they offer what is easily one of the best deals for a four-line (or more) smartphone data plan out there.

Right now, Consumer Cellular will give you 25GB of data split across your four lines for just $105 a month, with a soft data cap, no speed caps, and no video throttling. Tethering is allegedly included if you call customer service and verify it’s enabled for your account: Consumer Cellular’s T&C  does still technically forbid it, but tons of subscribers report it works just fine and have had no issues.

You can also bring down the cost of the plan by another $5/month if you don’t plan on using more than 250 minutes of voice calls, and by 5% total if you’re an AARP member. The 25GB plan is also temporarily being boosted to 55GB during the month of April, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumer Cellular’s plans can be expanded to even more lines, at $15/line, though the scaling of the data package at that rate become a little less favorable the more people you add.

High data use: T-Mobile Unlimited Plus Prepaid

  • Cost: $150/mo
  • Additional lines: $30/mo
  • Data: Unlimited (may be throttled after 50GB of usage per line)
  • Talk/text: Unlimited
  • Network: T-Mobile
  • Network speed: Unlimited
  • Video: Throttled (1080p max)
  • Hotspot: 10GB per line (soft cap, throttled to 512Kbps after 10GB)
  • Bonus: Netflix HD (2 screens, 1080p) included, unlimited GoGo in-flight Wi-Fi

There’s really no getting close to T-Mobile’s Unlimited Plus Prepaid plan in the current wireless landscape for sheer value. You get essentially unlimited data (there’s a soft cap at 50GB if you’re in a congested area) for all lines, 10GB of full-speed hotspot data per line, a free Netflix HD subscription, and no data speed caps. At $150/mo, that works out to $37.50 a line for a family of four, and includes taxes and fees (unlike most other plans in this list).

Really, I mean it when I say there’s no competition here: T-Mobile’s prepaid plan is just an unbelievably good value if you’re a group of big time data consumers. There’s just no one worth putting this plan up against.

High data use alternative: Visible Party Pay

  • Cost: $100/mo
  • Additional lines: N/A (max 4 lines)
  • Data: Unlimited
  • Talk/text: Unlimited
  • Network: Verizon
  • Network speed: Unlimited (may be congestion-throttled)
  • Video: Throttled (480p max)
  • Hotspot: Unlimited (5mbps speed cap, but many report no such limit)

While Visible Party Pay is cheaper than both Consumer Cellular and T-Mobile Unlimited Plus on a per-line basis, we think the device restrictions (see our high data use individual plan section for the list) on Visible make it a less practical option for most families. But, if you all do you have compatible phones and like the idea of a Verizon prepaid option that won’t break the bank, Visible Party Pay could be perfect for you.

The other downside of Visible Party Pay is that, so far as we can tell, it’s limited to a maximum of four lines. Pricing is most favorable at that level, though discounts are offered for two and three-party plans, as well.

The same restrictions that apply to the Visible individual plan apply here: very limited video streaming speeds, potential hotspot throttling, and general throttling during times of high network congestion. So do the benefits, though, meaning unlimited data, talk, text, and no data caps on tethering. All in all, it’s a more limited crowd that’s going to be able to use this plan, but if you find you’ve got the right mix of devices and coverage needs met by Verizon, it’s definitely worth considering.

Why these plans?

We chose these plans because each represents a different family use case. We think Google Fi remains the best option for families who plan to enforce usage of Wi-Fi (or can control data use on all devices on their plan), but still want voice, texting, and mobile data for general convenience when it’s needed. Consumer Cellular is definitely a great option for those who want a pretty normal amount of data at an extremely good value, but if you need tethering, you might have to do a little legwork to get it enabled. T-Mobile’s Unlimited Plus plan is by far the best choice for intensive data users, and the free Netflix HD plan is some seriously enticing gravy on top of an already industry-beating plan. Finally, we like Visible Party Pay for the audience it suits: people who have devices compatible with the service and for whom Verizon coverage is preferable to AT&T or T-Mobile.


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