AT&T Wireless vs. T-Mobile Review 2022

T-Mobile is looking like the best carrier in the industry, but AT&T may still be better for some folks.

Best Performance
  • pro
    Fastest data speeds
  • pro
    High data caps
  • con
    Worse 4G coverage
Best Coverage
  • pro
    Good coverage
  • pro
    High data caps
  • con
    Slower data speeds
Easton Smith
Mobile, TV, & Moving Expert
Read More
January 24, 2022
9 min read

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Let’s skip the long intro and get right into the meat of this article: which carrier is better, AT&T or T-Mobile?

While we can’t say T-Mobile is better for everyone, we do think it’s the more impressive company overall right now, offering the fastest data speeds, highest data caps, and cheapest prices.

But AT&T may be a better option for some, especially those that need good 4G coverage in rural areas.

T-Mobile pros and cons

pro
Pros
pro Highest data caps in the industry
pro Fastest data speeds
pro Slightly cheaper than AT&T
con
Cons
con Worse 4G coverage
con Still not super cheap

AT&T pros and cons

pro
Pros
pro Good coverage
pro High data caps
pro Great perks
con
Cons
con Slower data speeds
con Expensive
T-Mobile vs. AT&T unlimited data plan comparison

What to look for in a cell phone plan

Before we dive into the details, here are a few tips on how to choose the perfect plan.

  • Data: Your phone is a lot less smart when you run out of 4G LTE/5G data. Get a plan with a data cap high enough to support all your streaming and scrolling.
  • Price: Make sure you’re not overpaying for your cell phone plan by checking comparison tools like the WhistleOut charts we use in this article.
  • Coverage: Peep these coverage maps to see how different networks look in your area. Be sure to consider both 4G and 5G coverage.
  • Perks: There are perks, like mobile hotspot data, that may be essential for some customers. Others, like a free HBO MAX subscription, are just a nice bonus. Check the fine print to make sure your plan has all the features you need.

T-Mobile vs. AT&T plans and pricing

Winner: It’s a close call, but T-Mobile’s prices and data caps tend to be better than AT&T’s.

T-Mobile and AT&T are two of three big names in the mobile industry (Verizon being the other one). They have a ton to offer, but we’re going to focus on their most popular—and best—offerings here: unlimited data plans.

Both companies have three flagship unlimited plans that can be categorized into three tiers. We’ll look at all three tiers and figure out which company offers a better plan in each one.

What about limited data plans?
Heads Up

The main reason we’re not looking at T-Mobile and AT&T’s limited data plans is because they’re just not that great. They offer less than the unlimited plans and cost more than similar plans from competitors. If you want a great prepaid plan or limited data plan, we suggest checking out these phone carriers.

First-tier unlimited data plans

We’ll begin with the cheapest, and least powerful, cell phone plans. These are the basic models, without any bells and whistles. You’ll get unlimited talk, text, and data, but not much else. And your data is going to be on the slow side (more on that in a second).

Check out the first-tier options for yourself right here.

T-Mobile Essentials plan

AT&T Start Unlimited Starter plan

The T-Mobile Essentials and AT&T Unlimited Starter plans are very similar. Both plans get you access to the fastest mobile network of 5G. Both come with a throttle on video quality (at 480p). And both of them have the same major drawback: data deprioritization.

With a deprioritized data plan, your speeds will always be subject to slowdowns. Basically, when the network gets busy, you get kicked to the back of the line. Those who pay for pricier plans will still see 4G/5G data speeds in the 20-40 Mbps range, while yours can drop as low as 3-5 Mbps, making it hard to stream and even load web pages.

So, if you need reliable high-speed data, you might want to check out the tier two and tier three plans. If you don’t mind occasional data slowdowns, then T-Mobile Essentials is probably the better choice here, if only because it’s $5 cheaper.

How much data do you actually need?
Megaphone

We’ve written up a guide to help you figure out your data habits, and how to find a perfect plan that gives you everything you need.

Mid-tier unlimited data plans

In this middle tier we’ve got Magenta and Unlimited Extra plans. With these middle-tier plans data deprioritization is replaced with a data cap. Your data speeds are guaranteed to be fast until you reach your cap, then they can be slowed down.

And this brings us to the biggest difference between T-Mobile and AT&T’s mid-tier plans: the Magenta plan gives you a full 100 GB of high-speed 4G/5G data and the Unlimited Extra plan gives you just half that, or 50 GB. That’s not a trivial difference.

Take a look at the plans for yourself here.

T-Mobile Magenta plan
AT&T Unlimited Extra plan

Both plans come with some high-speed mobile hotspot data, but AT&T gives you more (15 GB vs. 5GB from T-Mobile). AT&T also has an edge when it comes to perks, giving you a free six month Stadia Pro Pass (for all you gamers out there).

Despite AT&T perks, T-Mobile’s Magenta plan seems like the better option in this category for two simple reasons: it’s $5 cheaper and it offers twice as much high-speed data.

What’s the deal with 5G?
Info Box

5G is the next generation of mobile technology, offering increased data speeds. But not all 5G is created equal. Some networks use “high-band” or “millimeter-wave” technology, while others use “low-band” technology.

High-band 5G can get to speeds of 100+ Mbps (probably faster than your home internet), while low-band 5G is only slightly faster than 4G data speeds. AT&T’s 5G network is almost all low-band, while T-Mobile has a mix of low and high-wave technology.

Top-tier unlimited data plans

If you’re sick of running out of high-speed data in the middle of a Zoom meeting or a game of Fortnite Mobile then it might be time to upgrade to one of these top-tier plans.

Both the Magenta MAX and Unlimited Elite plans come with truly unlimited talk, text, and high-speed data, no deprioritization, throttling, or data caps. Check it out.

T-Mobile Magenta MAX plan

AT&T Unlimited Elite plan

Obviously, the biggest perk of upgrading to these plans is the truly unlimited data. In fact,  Magenta MAX and Unlimited Elite are the only two plans in the entire industry that we know are offering unlimited high-speed data with no data cap. So, if you’re a data hog then get it while you can!

There are a few other features of note in these two powerful plans. The AT&T plan will give you a free HBO Max Subscription while the T-Mobile plan gives you a Netflix subscription. Both plans come with 40 GB of high-speed hotspot data.

If you’re sitting there thinking that these plans seem nearly identical, you’re right. They both offer truly unlimited data, 40 GB of hotspot data, and a free streaming subscription. And yes, they’re both $85 a month. So it really comes down to other factors when choosing which plan is right for you.

Do you prefer T-Mobile’s faster data speeds or AT&T slightly better 4G coverage?

T-Mobile vs. AT&T family plans

Winner: T-Mobile’s family plan deals are better, but AT&T’s are still great.

Fact #1: You want to save money on your phone bill. Fact#2: The best way to save money on your phone bill is to get a family plan. It’s that simple. So, how are T-Mobile and AT&T’s family plans?

Both companies offer significant savings on unlimited data plans when you add lines, but T-Mobile’s discounts are better at every level. Check out this chart showing the prices for different unlimited data family plans with four lines.

T-Mobile vs. AT&T unlimited data family plans

Those prices might look high (more than $100 for a phone plan!), but when you break down the savings it’s kind of ridiculous.

For example, if you get four lines on the Magenta MAX plan it will cut the cost of each line in half! Instead of paying $340 for four separate lines, you’ll pay just $170 for a family plan with four lines. Nice.

AT&T’s family plan deals are also awesome, even if they cost a bit more. So, no matter which phone carrier you decide to go with, we suggest adding additional lines.

Other than the cost savings, these plans are basically exactly the same as the individual plans we covered in detail above.

In some cases, you’ll get additional perks (like a free Netflix subscription on T-Mobile Essentials when you have 2+ lines), but these are minor details.

T-Mobile vs. AT&T data performance

Winner: T-Mobile’s speeds are simply the fastest.

We’ll cut to the chase here: T-Mobile’s data speeds are the fastest in the industry. This is true for both 4G LTE and 5G networks. Here’s a peek at the data.

According to our own speed tests from over 100,000 mobile customers, T-Mobile is comfortably in first place. AT&T comes in third (or last place), well behind Verizon Wireless.

An infographic ranking wireless networks by speed: #1 T-Mobile, #2 Verizon, #3 AT&T, Sprint unranked because it was acquired by T-Mobile in 2020

While AT&T customers shouldn’t have a major issue with basic functions—like streaming, scrolling, and browsing—they might notice more significant lag during times of deprioritization. As well, they might have a harder time streaming HD and 4K video than T-Mobile customers.

When it comes to 5G data speeds, we’ll rely on the latest 5G User Experience Report from OpenSignal. It states that, “for the first time, T-Mobile wins Opensignal's award for 5G Download Speed.

Our T-Mobile users saw average 5G download speeds of 58.1 Mbps ahead of AT&T's score of 53.8 Mbps and Verizon on 47.4 Mbps.”1

In short, if you care about having crystal clear HD streaming, lag-free gaming, and seamless Facetime video, then T-Mobile is the carrier for you.

T-Mobile vs. AT&T coverage

Winner: AT&T’s 4G coverage is better than T-Mobile’s in some rural areas, but T-Mobile’s 5G coverage dominates.

As you can see, AT&T has towers all over the country, with the exception of some gaps in New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho, and other super rural areas. Now let’s compare that to T-Mobile.

Yep, those coverage deserts are a lot bigger on T-Mobile’s map. But, if we’re being totally honest, most people don’t live in (or even visit) those areas. And in all major metropolitan areas, T-Mobile’s coverage is just fine.

Now, look back at those coverage maps and click only the box at the bottom that says “5G”. All of a sudden T-Mobile’s coverage looks a lot better, right? The company has a clear edge when it comes to 5G network infrastructure.

T-Mobile vs. AT&T customer service

Tie: let’s just say there’s room for improvement from both carriers.

We wish we had a rosy story about how we called T-Mobile and AT&T and they were so helpful. But, if we’re being honest, that’s not usually how it goes. Both companies (and the mobile industry as a whole) have issues when it comes to customer service.

It can be hard to get a hold of a real human being, and once you do they may spend more energy trying to upsell you on a new plan than on actually helping you with your issue (I speak from personal experience).

So, this is one category where both companies could improve.

That said, if you do need to contact AT&T or T-Mobile about an issue, these are the best ways to do it.

T-Mobile customer service

AT&T customer service

Recap: Which carrier is better?

In summary: T-Mobile simply has the best speeds, data caps, prices and 5G network in the industry, but AT&T may still be a good choice for those who need better rural coverage.

Here’s a quick section-by-section recap for the TLDR crowd.

  • Plans: T-Mobile and AT&T have similar plans when it comes to the features they offer, but T-Mobile’s prices are usually a bit lower while offering higher data caps.
  • Family plans: You can save money by bundling up in a family plan with both companies, but you’ll save more with T-Mobile.
  • Data performance: T-Mobile’s 4G and 5G data speeds are the best in the industry. AT&T’s are usually ranked the slowest.
  • Coverage: AT&T’s 4G coverage is better than T-Mobile’s especially in rural areas, but T-Mobile’s 5G coverage is building out faster.

Methodology

We’ve spent years tracking the prices and performance of all the major carriers, including AT&T and T-Mobile. For this review we dove deep into the current data so that we could compare these two carriers on nearly every metric.

We used our own proprietary data from over 100,000 customers to evaluate 4G speeds and we used the latest OpenSignal report to rate 5G speeds. Along with this data, we used our hands-on experience and publicly available plan information to evaluate AT&T and T-Mobile.

We appreciate you putting your trust in our analysis and recommendations, and we would love to hear any feedback you have for us in the comment section below.

FAQ

Q: Is T-Mobile cheaper than AT&T?

In most cases, yes. T-Mobile and AT&T’s plans tend to be pretty similar when it comes to features, but T-Mobile’s are usually about $5 cheaper while offering higher data caps. And you’ll save even more with T-Mobile if you bundle up in a family plan.

Q: Is AT&T better than T-Mobile coverage?

Yes, AT&T’s nationwide 4G LTE coverage is better than T-Mobile’s. This is especially true in rural parts of the west, like Nevada, New Mexico, and Idaho.

But, when it comes to 5G coverage, T-Mobile actually takes the gold medal. Ever since acquiring Sprint, T-Mobile’s 5G (and 4G) network have expanded rapidly.

Easton Smith
Written by
Easton Smith
Easton has worked as a freelance writer and researcher for several years, reviewing health, lifestyle, and technology products. He has probably read more Terms of Use contracts than any human alive. When he’s not sitting in front of a computer, Easton spends his time camping, climbing, and volunteering with humanitarian aid organizations.

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