AT&T scores big points for great coverage and speeds, but are the perks worth the price?
AT&T Cell Phone Plans Review
AT&T is one of the biggest cell phone companies in the US. In fact, it’s one of the biggest companies in the world, period (#22 to be exact). So you’ve probably heard about it. But the question is, does AT&T have good cell phone plans compared to other major wireless carriers like Verizon and T-Mobile?
The short answer is yes. AT&T offers a variety of unlimited data plans with fast speeds, great coverage, and high data caps. Plus, AT&T is currently rolling out a robust 5G network. The biggest downsides are high prices and throttled streaming quality.
Strap on your scuba gear because we’re going to do a deep dive of everything AT&T: plans, performance, bundling deals, customer service, and more. But first, let’s go over a few basics.
- High data caps
- Fast download speeds
- Good 4G coverage
- Fast 5G network in select areas
- Decent perks and discounts
- Throttled video stream
How to choose the perfect plan
Choosing the perfect cell phone plan is easy if you know what to look for. Here are a few tips from some folks who do this for a living (us).
- Data: Get a plan with enough 4G LTE/5G data to support your streaming, gaming, and working needs. The last thing you need is to run dry mid-month.
- Price: The cheapest plan isn’t necessarily the best value for your money (it usually isn’t). Compare prices to be sure you’re getting the right mix of performance and cost savings.
- Coverage: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon all have darn good 4G LTE coverage in most cities and suburbs. But rural coverage and emerging 5G networks are all over the place. Check coverage maps to get on the best network in your area.
- Features: Don’t take special features—like HD streaming and hotspot data—for granted. Read the fine print on your plan to make sure it has what you need.
Pay half the price for the same coverage
Not everyone knows that you can get the same reliable cellular coverage as you would from AT&T when you sign up for a cheaper plan through an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator). MVNO carriers operate over the same cell towers, but offer simpler plans that make for big savings.
Our favorite MVNO that operates on AT&T's network is Boost Mobile. You can get an unlimited talk, text, and data plan from Boost for $25 a month, which is about $40 a month cheaper than the cheapest AT&T unlimited plan. Even better, you still get premium data speeds and mobile hotspot access.
AT&T Wireless plans and prices
What we like
We have some complaints about AT&T, but we like to start with the good stuff. And there’s actually quite a bit of good with this carrier. Here are the things AT&T does well.
High data caps
You might expect your unlimited data plan to, you know, give you unlimited high-speed data. But that’s not going to happen, no matter which carrier you’re with.
Pretty much every cell phone plan has data caps or something called data deprioritization. Basically, this means that after you use a certain amount of high-speed data, your speeds will be reduced (especially when the network is congested).
If you use your phone to game, post, stream, or work, then you want a plan with a high data cap. AT&T’s Unlimited Extra and Unlimited Premium plans fit the bill. Unlimited Extra gives you a 75 GB data cap while Unlimited Premium promises unlimited high-speed data no matter how much you use, making these plans among the best in the industry.
Solid 4G download speeds
AT&T averages a 28.9 Mbps average download speed, which isn’t quite as fast as T-Mobile and Verizon on average, but it comes pretty close. To put 28.9 Mbps in context, let’s say an Instagram story is around 15 MB—that means the story should play after waiting about a half a second, on average. Likewise, if you wanted to download Oceanhorn 2 off of Apple Arcade (2.3 GB), it would take you a little over a minute.
Powerful 5G Network infrastructure
As current AT&T customers (like myself) can report, AT&T has already rolled out its 5G network across the country. It’s still not as widespread as the carrier’s 4G network, but it’s available in many metropolitan areas (like Salt Lake City, where I live).
But this nationwide 5G network is actually “low-band” 5G, which is just a fancy way of saying it’s fast, but not that fast. Speeds on this 5G network are just a little bit faster than normal 4G.
AT&T does have another form of 5G which uses millimeter wave technology. This 5G can go very fast, like faster than your home internet connection (think 100+ Mbps). AT&T calls it 5G Plus, and it’s only available in select parts of 45 cities. . . for now.
Did you know you can get AT&T internet too?
Overall, AT&T’s 4G network covers about 68% of the country (while its 5G network covers about 15.9%).1 That remaining 32% is concentrated in rural dead zones in California, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, or Nebraska.
But for folks living in more populated areas, you can expect solid coverage. AT&T users report having reliable 4G coverage 88.9% of the time with AT&T—a solid B+.1
As someone who’s been on AT&T for years, I can say that its coverage is pretty awesome, even when I’m driving between sleepy desert towns in Utah and California.
As long as you see some heavy purple around your region on the map above, your AT&T coverage should feel reliable.
AT&T allows hotspot data on its Unlimited Starter (3 GB), Unlimited Extra (15 GB), and Unlimited Premium (50 GB) plans. Hotspot data really comes in handy when you need to get some work done on the go, and AT&T offers solid quantities of hotspot data.
Decent perks and discounts
You can get the most out of your AT&T plan by taking advantage of the company’s perks and discounts, such as:
- 6 months free Stadia Pro Pass with any plan
- Free Max subscription with Unlimited Premium plan
- Early phone upgrades with AT&T Up Next
- Free movie tickets, presale access to big events, and other little bonuses with AT&T Thanks
Also, if you’re a first responder, active military, nurse, doctor, or teacher, you can get a steep discount on an unlimited data plan. Check it out:
This Unlimited Starter Plan normally costs $66 a month, so this is a solid $16.25 discount. (Eligible customers can also save on the Unlimited Extra and Unlimited Premium plans.)
What we don’t like
The number one issue that AT&T has is its prices.
AT&T’s plans are a little too pricey for what it currently offers. Even with the company’s fast download speeds and high data caps, we would expect even better coverage and more perks for an unlimited plan that starts at $66 a month.
Let’s compare AT&T with the competition to prove its overly priced nature. Here’s a chart where we compare AT&T with other major providers’ unlimited data plans.
As you can see, AT&T is pricier than any other carrier besides Verizon. Granted, you get high data caps with AT&T, but do you really want to spend an extra $10 to $15 a month for just a little more data? Well, maybe you do, but not everyone will.
Poor streaming quality
Streaming with AT&T data gets pretty rough. Both the Unlimited Starter and Unlimited Extra data plans max out at Standard Definition (480p) video quality. You have to go as far as paying $86 a month for the Unlimited Premium plan if you want High Definition (720p or 1080p) streaming quality.
Standard Definition looks way worse than High Definition. Go figure.
If you love streaming on the go, AT&T leaves a ton to be desired as far as streaming quality goes.
Data deprioritization on Unlimited Starter plan
As we mentioned above, pretty much every unlimited data cell phone plan has a cap on 4G LTE and 5G data. This wasn’t always the case, but it’s become standard. We’re not fans, but there’s nothing we can do about it. Thankfully, AT&T’s data cap on the Unlimited Extra plan is pretty high. (Unlimited Premium doesn't have one.)
But AT&T’s Unlimited Starter plan is another story. This plan is always subject to deprioritization. That means AT&T can slow down your data whenever it darn well pleases. (The other two major providers, T-Mobile and Verizon, have done the same thing with their cheapest unlimited plans—gross.)
For a $66 plan, this is a bit ridiculous. There’s no reason that you shouldn’t go for a $40 plan from a company like Visible if your data will be deprioritized either way.
How much data do I use?
Okay, but how much GB am I using every month? Great question. For starters, about every hour of HD streaming you do on Netflix or YouTube uses up about 1 GB of your data.
Take a look at my data usage for the month. I would consider myself to be mildly obsessed with my phone, and I’ve used over 100 GB.
Even though it sounds like you’ll never hit 50 GB or 100 GB data caps, you’d be surprised how much data current apps require. Every podcast, Instagram story, and Twitter video takes up data, and it can add up over the course of a month.
AT&T family plans
As you can see in the chart of four-line plans above, AT&T family plans offer more bang for your buck than single plans.
For example, if you got four separate lines on the Unlimited Extra Plan, it would cost you $304! But if you bungle those lines together in a family plan, it’s just $164. Yes, a family plan cuts your bill almost in half!
Seriously, these family plans offer all of the same benefits of individual plans—they just cost less. I know this because I’ve been on an AT&T family plan for years (I promise to Venmo you my share of the bill soon, Dad!).
You can add up to 10 people on the same family plan. The bill might seem like a lot at that point, but divide it by 10 and you’re looking at a really affordable unlimited plan.
Are you wondering what family plans look like with other providers? Good. You should be. Let’s take a look.
AT&T family plans follow the trend we’ve seen up to this point—more on the expensive side, but not the most expensive option out there. You can certainly get a cheaper family plan with providers like T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile, but you won’t enjoy the same level of coverage and data speeds that you would get with AT&T.1
Going with an AT&T family plan will save you more money per plan than opting for an individual data plan. Honestly, if you want to use AT&T as your service provider, you’ll get the most value by hopping on a family plan.
AT&T prepaid plans
Prepaid plans offer a little more flexibility than standard, post-paid plans. However, since most companies (including AT&T) have gotten ridden of contracts, the difference isn’t as stark.
The only real advantages to AT&T prepaid plans is that you have a wider variety of plans and prices to choose from, especially if you don’t want a standard unlimited data plan. If one of the above plans looks perfect for you, go for it!
That said, if you’re going the prepaid route, AT&T probably isn’t the best carrier. Our favorite prepaid plans offer better prices, data caps, and options than what you see here–AT&T didn’t quite make the cut.
AT&T cell phones and devices
One of the major benefits of going with a big provider like AT&T is the fact that you can always get the newest devices. And if you want to take advantage of the company’s new 5G network, you’ll likely need a new phone anyways.
This chart shows some of the most popular phone deals that the company is offering right now.
AT&T customer service
AT&T wireless has the following ways to get support:
We’d like to point out that AT&T (like all the major wireless providers) doesn’t rank well with customers.2 It’s them, not you—we swear.
Like any relationship, you’ll be happiest with AT&T when you have clear communication. We see most problems arising due to lack of clarity in the bill, so make sure you know what you’re getting into and all will be good.
Users with prepaid wireless plans can’t use the live chat feature, which is unfortunate—it’s one of our favorite ways of getting an answer when we look gross and don’t want to talk to anyone.
Recap: Is AT&T good?
AT&T’s high data caps, fast speeds, and good coverage make it a great choice for those who game, work, or stream on their phone all day. Those looking for a family plan with lots of data to share will also love AT&T.
Here’s a quick recap of the plans, coverage, and performance to help you make up your mind.
- Plans: AT&T’s Unlimited Starter plan offers little and costs a lot. But the Unlimited Extra and Premium plans have high data caps (75 GB to unlimited GB), fast speeds, and some decent perks. You can save money on all these plans by bundling in a family plan.
- Coverage: AT&T’s 4G LTE coverage is pretty darn good across the continent of North America. It’s download speeds are not the fastest, but they’ll do the trick. AT&T’s 5G and 5G+ networks aren’t the biggest or fastest in the country, but they’re coming along.
- Overall: When it comes to the big three—AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon—AT&T stands out for its high or lack of data caps and good coverage. But T-Mobile still has faster data speeds and Verizon has better overall coverage.
If you’re excited to get a great family plan deal and unlimited high-speed data, then you can sign up for AT&T online. If you’re still not sure, then you might want to consider these other great cell phone plans.
We’ve been monitoring AT&T’s performance, prices, customer service, and plan structures for years. We update our reviews often using the latest sources, including customer reviews, hands-on testing, and performance data from over 100,000 mobile users.
Overall, we’ve spent dozens of hours researching, writing, and updating this AT&T Wireless review so that it reflects the latest information available. Our recommendations are based on a holistic view of the carrier, the competition, and the industry as a whole.
Please leave a comment below if you have tips on how we can improve our reviews to better meet your needs!
Paying your AT&T bill is easy. You can make a payment using the myAT&T app, website, phone line, or you can pay by mail and in-person.
You can learn more about all of the options in our article How to Pay Your AT&T Bill.