The iPhone 4S, for the first time, will be on three U.S. networks. Is AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon best for you?
For the first time since its launch in 2007, a new version of the iPhone will be on more than one network--three in fact. The questions is, which network will be the best value for you? AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon will all have the iPhone 4S, but each carrier has different pricing for voice, text, and data.
This assumes, of course, you aren't under contract right now and are free to hop networks. If you bought a 3GS when it came out, that would describe you. If you purchased an iPhone 4 in 2010 and you are under a two-year contract, it really doesn't make much sense to upgrade unless you have money to burn. The iPhone 4S is one of the smallest incremental updates yet for the iPhone.
The phone itself is the same price on all three networks with a two-year contract. Prices range from $199 to $399 depending on the memory capacity. That is where the similarity ends, though.
To keep this simple, let's look at individual plans only. Family plans would greatly complicate matters. All three carriers offer 450- and 900-minute voice plans. Since voice seems to be taking a backseat to data, let's go with 450 minutes. AT&T charges $39.99 a month, which includes 5,000 night and weekend minutes and rollover minutes. There is a one-time activation fee of $36. Sprint also charges $39.99. That includes unlimited night and weekend minutes, but there is no activation fee. Verizon has the same price, unlimited night and weekend minutes, and unlimited calling to other Verizon customers. Verizon seems to have the best features for voice.
Texting gets a bit more complicated. AT&T offers a $20 unlimited plan, or a $0.20 per message plan. Sprint adds unlimited messaging for $10. Verizon has four messaging plans, but like AT&T it is $20 per month for an unlimited plan.
Data is where it is at though. AT&T doesn't offer unlimited data. A middle of the road plan will cost $25 and allow 2 GB per month. Sprint does have unlimited data and it is only $20 per month. Verizon is the most expensive at $30 per month, and like AT&T, it is limited to 2 GB per month.
Overall, Sprint is the least expensive. For $69.99 you get 450 minutes with unlimited nights and weekends, unlimited texts, and unlimited data. Over two years, you'll pay $1,679.76, plus the cost of the phone. AT&T will cost $84.99 per month with similar features to Sprint, but it only allows 2 GB on the data plan. That clocks in at $2,075.76, including the activation fee. Verizon is the most expensive. It has the most flexible calling plan, but it also has the most expensive data plan. The monthly cost is $89.99, or $2,159.76.
You cannot just go by the cost though. For example, both AT&T and Verizon have tethering plans. AT&T charges $45 for a 4 GB plan and lets you use your phone as a hotspot. Verizon does the same but charges $50. Sprint has no such plan.
There is also the coverage. Verizon is often considered to have the best overall, but it may vary depending on what city you are in. You'll still have to buy the phone, too. If you don't need a lot of memory and can do without Siri, you can pick up an 8 GB iPhone 4 for $99 on all three networks.
Whatever choice you make, make it wisely. You are stuck with it until your contract is up in 2013, when either the iPhone 5S or iPhone 6 will be available.
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