AT&T Cell Phone Plans Review 2020
AT&T recently restructured its unlimited plans, which means it’s time to restructure our AT&T wireless review. The new unlimited plans cost around $5 less than they used to but don’t come with the same perks. The only perk that remains is the free HBO, but you have to sign up for the pricey Unlimited Elite to get it.
AT&T’s perks fall behind the competition, but it makes up for it with the fastest data speeds in the west.1
AT&T data plans
Reliable data plans that still leave something to be desired
- Fast download speeds
- Decent coverage
- Discounts for certain groups
- Poor streaming quality
What we like
There’s a reason why AT&T ranks among the most popular wireless providers in the country.2 AT&T has consistently delivered reliable coverage and decent data speeds for years now. It’s like the old ham-and-cheese sandwich you have for lunch every day—a dependable staple.
Best download speeds
AT&T tops the wireless charts with a 27.5 Mbps average download speed.1 To put that number 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.
Average download speeds for the major four wireless providers
In other words, your download speeds should generally feel responsive and quick. Sure, you’ll encounter moments where your data suddenly takes a dive, and you can’t even refresh Twitter (especially in a big crowd), but those moments should be rare.
Overall, AT&T covers around 58% of the country.2 The remaining 42% of the country that remains uncovered are largely rural in pockets of 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
I’ve been using AT&T for years, and the coverage has generally had my back. My Google Maps app has navigated me through Yellowstone and Yosemite, I was able to make a call after being stranded on the side of the road on the 91 Freeway in Southern California, and I can (usually) play Hearthstone whilst my wife spends many hours at The Gap.
As long as you see some heavy purple around your region on the map above, your AT&T coverage should feel reliable.
Discounts for certain groups
Points to AT&T for adding discounts for military, senior citizens, and first responders on its unlimited wireless plans. It’s a really significant discount too—you can save around $15–$20 a month if you happen to fall into these categories.
These discounts are so good that you can pretty much ignore all the negative things we’re about to state about AT&T. If you are part of the military, a senior citizen, or a first responder, you should seriously consider hopping on an AT&T deal.
AT&T still offers a few other perks
AT&T recently stripped down its perks, but it still offers a few things that sweeten the deal:
- AT&T Next Up: AT&T allows you to upgrade your phone early, even if you haven’t finished paying off your current device.
- AT&T Thanks: AT&T occasionally sends out free movie tickets, presale access to big events, and other little bonuses from time to time.
- Free overnight shipping: When you get your new device through AT&T, it will be shipped overnight.
What we don’t like
AT&T used to score much higher for us because of the free streaming offers, but now that that’s off the table, AT&T is at an all-time low. Hopefully, AT&T will get its act together and start offering more perks or cheaper rates to get back in customers’ good graces.
AT&T’s plans are a little too pricey for what it currently offers. The fact that it offers the fastest download speeds certainly softens the blow, but one would hope for even better coverage and more perks for an unlimited plan that starts at $65 a month.
Let’s compare AT&T with the competition to prove its overly-priced nature. Let’s look at the limited data plans first.
At first glance, it looks like AT&T is on the cheaper end of the spectrum, but you’re not getting much bang for your buck. For starters, Sprint offers an unlimited data plan for $15 less than AT&T’s 3 GB plan.
On the other side of the spectrum, Verizon (which has a better network and faster data speeds too) offers a 5 GB plan for only $5 more a month. Or you can pay an extra $10 a month to get an unlimited plan with T-Mobile (which also offers a better network and faster data speeds).
Now let’s take a look at AT&T unlimited plans and see how they compare.
AT&T unlimited plans end up on the more expensive side too. What’s wild is that T-Mobile offers an unlimited plan for $5 cheaper than AT&T on a network that’s just better. No matter how you slice it, AT&T data plans aren’t a great deal for most folks.
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 $85 a month for the Unlimited Elite 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.
Low data caps and deprioritization with unlimited plans
To make matters worse, AT&T unlimited plans suffer from deprioritization and data caps. Let’s take a look at each plan:
Unlimited Starter: With this plan, your data may be deprioritized during busy times. Translation: your data can slow down because other AT&T users are using their data at the same time. This happens to me at sporting events all the time.
Unlimited Extra: Once you use 50 GB of data, your data will start to slow down. If you use your phone often, you could easily hit 50 GB in any given month. For reference, I hit 60 GB last month.
Unlimited Elite: You won’t hit your data cap until you surpass 100 GB of data. You’ll have a harder time using that much data, but if this plan was truly “elite,” why does it have a data cap at all?
Some less intensive users won’t find issues with deprioritization and data caps, but for the rest of us, it’s kind of annoying.
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
AT&T family plans give you much more bang for your buck. The above prices you see are based on a three-line family plan. Now compare what you see to the individual unlimited plans.
Honestly, if you’re on AT&T, but not on a family plan, you should probably get on that. Take this as your permission to pop the question to your significant other if you haven’t yet. (Kidding! Unless . . . ?)
Each additional line you add to your family plan costs almost half as much as a stand-alone AT&T unlimited plan. If you’re thinking of signing up for AT&T, call up your sister, your uncle, or your in-laws and convince them to join in on the family.
Are you wondering what family plans look like with other providers? Good. You should be. Let’s take a look.
AT&T family plans comparison
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 Sprint 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 much 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
You can save some money by going with one of AT&T prepaid plans. Your options range from limited data plans to unlimited data with HD streaming. Are you the type of person who occasionally checks Twitter for sports highlights or do you plan on regularly streaming shows?
Prepaid plans help cut down cost a little bit, but you could find a better deal with another prepaid provider.
AT&T cell phones and devices
You can count on AT&T to have all the latest 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. Whether you’re a fan of the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy S10+, or Pixel 4 XL, you can get it through AT&T.
Here are the top five most popular phones on AT&T right now:
What’s up with AT&T customer service?
You can get ahold of AT&T pretty easily, but that doesn’t make it all easy.
We’d like to point out that AT&T (like all the major wireless providers) doesn’t rank well with customers.3 It’s them, not you—we swear.
Like any relationship, your relationship with AT&T is all about clear communication. Where we see most problems arising is lack of clarity in the bill, so make sure you know what you’re getting into, and all will be good.
Recap: Is AT&T good?
As it stands today, AT&T just doesn’t justify the price tag for individual data plans. AT&T family plans offer more value, but other unlimited providers can give you more bang for your buck. Here’s hoping that AT&T gets its act together soon and either reduces its prices or serves up more perks. As you can tell, I’m still not over losing my free HBO with my AT&T family plan.
- Plans: AT&T offers a variety of data plans that range from 3 GB a month to unlimited data with a 100 GB data cap. There’s not a lot of value with any of the data plans unless you are in the military, a first responder, or a senior citizen.
- Coverage: AT&T will always have decent coverage and speeds, but it doesn’t quite keep up with T-Mobile and Verizon. But for the most part, you can rely on AT&T coverage.
- Overall: AT&T needs to reexamine its data plans and up the ante a little bit. Though AT&T nails the basics of wireless coverage, the market is too competitive to be offering too little.
Do you have any thoughts on AT&T wireless? Has your experience been better than ours? Let us know in the comments below our AT&T review.
Trevor Wheelwright and Easton Smith