AT&T ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of its plans. Network performance is mixed, although it's fast where good service is available. The company's phone selection is extensive and customer service has greatly improved over previous years. In early December 2013, AT&T announced reduced plan prices for those without subsidized phones.
New price breaks for no-contract phones. AT&T offers shared data plans only for new customers, with no option for talk and text only. It continues to offer two-year contracts for those who want subsidized phones at a reduced price or for free, but has also made a big play for no-contract subscribers, revamping its pricing for those willing to forgo the typical phone subsidy.
Under the company's new Mobile Share Value Plans, if you pay full retail price for your phone, sign up for AT&T's free Next phone-upgrade plan, bring your own compatible phone or go month-to-month when your conventional two-year contract expires, the device charge is $25 per month per smartphone on your account. If you want a subsidized phone with its two-year contract, the cost is a flat $40 per month per phone, although AT&T will no longer discount that price for those with larger data allotments.
On all plans, tablets cost $10 per month, while basic messaging phones, laptops and hotspots carry a $20 per month access charge. Those prices are the same regardless of whether or not you have a contract. Data pools from 300 MB (Est. $20 per month) to 50 GB (Est. $375 per month) are available. As an example, a plan with one smartphone and 2 GB of data will cost $80 per month for non-contract plans, while those who accept a subsidy and two-year contract will pay $95. For a plan with two smartphones, a tablet and an 8 GB data allotment, costs are $150 for non-contract users versus $190 for those with a two-year deal and subsidized phones. For those that only want a basic messaging phone, the monthly cost for unlimited talk, texts and 300 MB data is $40 ($20 per month access charge plus $20 per month plan price). CNET notes that while these prices are lower than previously available, and lower than what Verizon charges its no-contract customers, better no-contract deals are still available from T-Mobile and Sprint.
Fastest LTE speeds, where you can get it. J.D. Power and Associates' extensive network performance customer survey awards AT&T an average 3 out of 5 stars in most regions, peaking in the Southwest with a "better than average" rating. One issue is coverage: Top competitor Verizon simply offers service in more areas, especially for 4G LTE service. However, in areas where AT&T LTE service is available, it's the fastest choice, PCMag.com reports, based on its nationwide testing of network speeds.
Getting better. In J.D. Power and Associates' 2013 customer service and purchase experience surveys, AT&T finishes second and first, respectively, out of the four major wireless service providers. The respondents in two other large user surveys give AT&T average ratings in this area, which is an improvement over previous years. However, online user reviews detail difficulties obtaining correct information and resolution of billing disputes from the company's customer service reps.
Lots to choose from. AT&T receives several of its best scores for its selection of phones, coming in first place in a PCMag.com review. TopTenReviews.com editors praise the selection but say that despite being "certified like-new," AT&T's refurbished phones may have dings and scratches from the previous owners. AT&T has a full range of cell phones at all price points.
1. J.D. Power & Associates
In this nationwide survey of about 27,000 customers, J.D. Power and Associates polls cell phone users about network quality. AT&T swings between an average and an OK rating in all regions except for the Southwest, where it receives a "better than most" score.
Review: 2013 U.S. Wireless Network Quality Performance Study – Vol. 1, Editors of J.D. Power and Associates, March 7, 2013
2. J.D. Power and Associates
More than 7,000 wireless phone users replied to J.D. Power and Associates' Customer Care Survey. AT&T comes in second place with a slightly above average performance.
Review: 2013 U.S. Wireless Customer Care Full-Service Performance Study – Vol. 1, Editors of J.D. Power and Associates, Feb. 6, 2013
3. J.D. Power & Associates
In the 2013 J.D. Power and Associates' wireless Purchase Experience Study of full-service carriers, AT&T wins the award for the first time, decisively beating Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. Exceeding customer expectations and perceived value for price make AT&T the favorite of the survey's more than 8,500 respondents.
Review: 2013 Wireless Purchase Experience Full-Service Study – Vol. 2, Editors of J.D. Power and Associates, Aug. 15, 2013
AT&T is rated in this ConsumerReports.org poll of more than 58,000 of its subscribers. AT&T and other carriers are rated in 23 major cities and for performance nationwide.
Review: Overall Cell Phone Service Ratings, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, September 2013
AT&T comes in last place in this survey with an overall score that is "significantly worse than average." Its best rating is for its choice of handsets, where it beats Verizon Wireless for first place. Its lowest score is for fees, although it's not as low as the fees score for second-place Verizon. Note that AT&T's pricing structure has since changed.
Review: Readers' Choice Awards 2013: Smartphones and Mobile Carriers, Ben Gottesman, March 13, 2013
AT&T is found to have the fastest LTE speeds nationally, and in all regions in the country. However, its smaller LTE coverage footprint makes Verizon a better choice in many suburban and rural areas.
Review: Fastest Mobile Networks 2013, Sascha Segan, June 17, 2013
Editors of TopTenReviews.com give their Silver award for cell phone providers to AT&T, based in part on the carrier's 4G LTE speeds that they call "the fastest in America." The downside is AT&T's expensive plans and coverage, which can be "spotty" in some areas.
Review: AT&T, Editors of TopTenReviews.com, Not dated
The results of TechHive.com's "sweeping testing project of nationwide wireless speeds" show that AT&T's 3G HPSA service, along with that of T-Mobile, is faster than the CDMA speeds of competitors Verizon and Sprint. AT&T is slightly slower than T-Mobile, however.
Review: T-Mobile Wins 3G Shootout, Sprint and Verizon Speeds Fade, Leah Yamshon, Mark Sullivan, May 21, 2013
Sam Costello of About.com recommends AT&T if you're OK with being tied into a two-year cell phone contract with your iPhone; note that the company has recently expanded its not-contract offerings. AT&T is also his choice for its combination of price and service, 3G speed, and the simultaneous use of data and voice.
Review: Verizon vs AT&T vs T-Mobile vs Sprint: Which to Choose for iPhone, Sam Costello, Nov. 25, 2013
With more than 700 user reviews at Viewpoints.com, AT&T Wireless doesn't fare too well, earning a rating of 67 out of 100. Features and call quality score highly, but customer service receives mixed feedback.
Review: The Best Cell Phone Providers: Cell Phone Provider Reviews & Ratings, Contributors to Viewpoints.com, As of December 2013