AT&T Cell Phone Plans Review 2020

AT&T scores big points for great coverage and speeds, but are the perks worth the price?
The AT&T internet logo featuring a globe with blue and white stripes
Overall Rating 3.75 out of 5
Fastest download speeds
Family plan discounts
Pricey individual data plans

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

Pros

  • Fast download speeds
  • Decent coverage
  • Discounts for certain groups

Cons

  • Pricey
  • 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.

Data Speeds Chart

Average download speeds for the major four wireless providers
Source: OpenSignal

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.

Strong coverage

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.

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How does AT&T divvy out its Hotspot data?
AT&T allows hotspot data on its Unlimited Extra (15 GB) and Unlimited Elite (30 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.

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.

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What perks did AT&T offer before?
AT&T used to offer TV service with its unlimited plans. You would get free video streaming on AT&T’s TV service, which certainly came in handy when the AFC championship game was on while waiting at the pharmacy.

Pricey

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&T’s data plan ends up being way more expensive than comparable plans. Granted, you get a few more GBs of data with AT&T, but do you really want to spend an extra $10 to $15 a month for just a little more data? Seriously, at the $60 price point that AT&T charges for 9 GBs of data, you can get an unlimited plan with Visible for $20 less a month.

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.

Streaming Quality Comparison

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.

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You can always rely on Wi-Fi for better streaming.
AT&T’s data plans may max out with SD-quality streaming, but you can achieve HD streaming with the help of a handy Wi-Fi connection—assuming the Wi-Fi connection offers enough speed.2

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.

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How big can my family get?
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 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 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 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.

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.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.

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Some human interaction required for prepaid users
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?

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.

Sources

  1. Open Signal, “USA Mobile Network Experience Report January 2019
  2. Consumer Affairs, “AT&T Wireless

Additional contributors

Trevor Wheelwright and Easton Smith

  • Naima Muhammed

    I purchased the cruise package last month before I went on a cruise. I spoke with about 2 different people to make sure that I was purchasing the the right package. I purchased the $100 package and I was told that I didn’t need to purchase the ship package and that there would be no overages. 1 day into the ship I received a text saying I went over my data by $300. I never used any data, couldn’t even access the internet on the cruise. But I later found out that my phone was trying to update to ICloud and that used up all the data and I should have turned off my cellular data…. Which neither of the customer reps told me when I purchased the package. I asked could they waive at least some of the $350. All the rep could do was take off $50 because I was such a loyal customer. So I was stuck with a $500 bill, which included my regular bill which is $100, then the cruise package which was $100, and then the $300. I paid the bill. But I am currently looking for a new wireless carrier. I refused to be be mislead again by At&T. And I will definitely tell everyone to be careful when purchasing extra packages from AT&T.