Choosing the Right Phone and Plan for You

Whether you're buying for a family or shopping for yourself, we can guide you to the right ones

Consumer Reports magazine: January 2013

You're buying for a crowd:

You’re a couple plus at least one child who use multiple devices (perhaps including a tablet or two) in a variety of ways.

Leading option: An array of phones—smart and basic, new and old—used with a well-priced family plan that shares data and offers ample voice and messaging for at least three users. Two-year cost for four phones and service: about $5,000 and up.

Service: Family plans from standard-service carriers are one area where cell customers get a break, and more than two-thirds of users are on such plans. Consider U.S. Cellular if you live in its service area. It offers one of the lowest-priced family plans—$190 a month for a family needing two basic and two smart phones. The plan includes 2,000 voice minutes, unlimited messages, and 4GB of data service.

Credo Mobile is another good option at the same price and limits. Although Credo doesn’t carry as many phones as the majors, it offers the Samsung Galaxy S II and S III among its 10 smart phones.

Verizon should be our example family’s third choice. It offers a plan comparable to the one above for $210 per month. The appropriate Sprint plan would be the most expensive of the six carriers we compared, $230 a month.

For $10 a month you can add a tablet to your plan with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. You may need to spring for more data as well. All three provide average or better 4G service.

Phones: The handset needs of specific family members can vary widely, so we can’t recommend one model that would suit everyone. Consult our cell phone Ratings to narrow down your choices. Consider a mix of smart and basic phones. If you’re buying more than one phone at a time, look for discounts—or simply ask, because some readers have been successful in haggling for them.

Advice for the rest of us. Are you an avid smart-phone user who wants only the best? Maybe you want what a smart phone offers but don't need all the cutting-edge features and giant screens of the newest models. Or perhaps you're find without mobile Web service and make just a few calls a day. We have plenty of tips and advice for you, too!

Editor's Note:

A version of this article appeared in the January 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine with the headline "Which Phone and Plan?"

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