T-Mobile's uncarrier strategy is paying dividends in the form of positive critical reactions and happy customer feedback. The plan structure is straightforward, and T-Mobile loads things up with more perks than other carriers. Customer service earns compliments. However, coverage remains a weakness, with large gaps in service outside of major population centers and away from major highways. On the plus side, where service can be found, signals are usually robust and speeds are fast.
No contracts, lots of perks. T-Mobile's no-contract Simple Choice plan set the model that most other carriers are now copying. It's one of the few carriers to offer an unlimited plan, though data hogs should be aware that excessive use (over 21 GB in a billing period) can result in slower service during times of peak demand. Other plans cap LTE data to 1 GB, 3 GB or 5 GB at a lower price, but slow service (to 2G speeds) rather than hit you with overage charges if you exceed those limits. There are no shared data plans, but each additional line on your account is discounted -- $20 for the second line and $40 each for all lines after that. For lines with capped LTE data, Music Freedom streaming lets you listen to a variety of music services, such as Pandora, without that counting against your limit. For the 3 GB and 5 GB plans, any unused data at the end of the billing period is rolled over for use in future months (up to a year). Canada and Mexico are treated the same as usage in the U.S.; calls and texts are unlimited, and your LTE data can be used. You also get free 2G roaming in over 120 countries. Phones can be purchased outright or financed, and compatible GSM phones from other carriers or retailers are welcome. The Jump! early upgrade program lets you trade in your financed phone after it's 50 percent paid off: it costs an additional $10 per month, but includes handset insurance and a security software subscription that would run $12 per month if purchased separately. The new leasing program, called Jump! on Demand allows up to three smartphone exchanges per year.
Terrific performance -- at least where coverage is available. When it comes to data speeds, T-Mobile's service is typically fast in most areas that it covers, but that's the rub. Testing by RootMetrics, PCMag.com and others reveals that while service is available in many large and small cities, and along major highways, if you move off into the deep suburbs or into rural areas, coverage is often minimal to non-existent. The bottom line, all say, is that if you use your phone primarily in urban or near suburban areas, odds are you'll be satisfied, if not thrilled. But elsewhere T-Mobile has some catching up to do to match the coverage offered by Verizon and AT&T.
Getting better all the time. In previous editions of this report, we noted that T-Mobile struggled in keeping its customers satisfied. That's no longer the case. It earns the highest score in the latest J.D. Power and Associates survey that measured how satisfied users were with the customer service of their carriers. Ditto at PCMag.com, where the carrier's standing is bolstered by how happy subscribers are with T-Mobile's fees and support.