Verizon Wireless (*Est. $40 per month and up for basic phones; $100 and up for smartphones) sweeps nearly every award in nearly every test and survey listed in Our Sources. It outclasses all other nationwide carriers in terms of call quality (J.D. Power and Associates), 4G data speed (PC World, Computerworld and Laptop Magazine) and coverage (PCMag.com). U.S. Cellular is the only cell phone carrier that outperforms Verizon, and that's only in U.S. Cellular's home region of the North Central United States.
Calling Verizon Wireless's high-quality service the "Cadillac of cellular" and "the best cell phone service that money can buy," reviewers highlight that it doesn't come cheap. For basic phones, there's a $40 plan providing 700 talk minutes per month. U.S. Cellular and AT&T each offer 450 minutes for the same cost, and Sprint charges $30 per month for 200 minutes. However, if you have a smartphone, Share Everything plans -- in which multiple devices can share the same talk, text and data pool -- start at $100.
New subscribers must enroll in a Share Everything plan, even if they have only one device. Current subscribers who purchase a discounted smartphone through the carrier must also enroll; if you pay full price, you can stay on your current plan for the time being. For full pricing information, see our blog post on Verizon's Share Everything plans.
Verizon Wireless wins speed and reliability tests for both its 3G and 4G networks, sometimes with significant differences. In a test by ComputerWorld in and around New York City, the Verizon Wireless 4G network posted a speed of 13.3 Mbps for data downloads, compared to Sprint's 4.1 Mbps. Paired with Verizon's impressive performance is an extensive and attractive selection of phones, which reviewers agree is "top-notch." As Verizon uses CDMA technology, many of its phones cannot be used overseas. However, Verizon does offer special hybrid CDMA/GSM phones for global use, including the Samsung Galaxy S III.
In the past, Verizon Wireless phones did not have removable SIM cards, but now all 4G LTE smartphones come with SIM cards that can be swapped between different 4G Verizon smartphones. This way you can swap the SIM card between different devices, and when you upgrade all your cell phone data comes with you.
According to reviews, Verizon Wireless's weak point is its customer service. While several large customer surveys award Verizon above-average scores for customer service, others give it a low rating. User complaints include long wait times and condescending service.
Verizon Wireless is our Best Reviewed pick for its consistently high-quality plans and its fast, widespread 3G and 4G networks.