What combination of device, carrier, and plan is best for you? Consumer Reports offers some advice.
You’re buying for a crowd
You’re a couple plus at least one child who use multiple devices in a variety of ways.
Leading option: An array of phones — smart and basic, new and old — used with a well-priced family plan that shares data and offers ample voice and messaging for at least three users.
Service: Family plans from standard-service carriers are one area where cell customers get a break. If you live in its service area, consider US Cellular, one of the top carriers in the Consumer Reports National Research Center annual survey, which covered 23 metro areas.
Phones: The handset needs of specific family members can vary widely, so Consumer Reports can’t recommend one model that would suit everyone.
You want the best
You’re an avid smartphone user, perhaps the owner of an iPhone or a leading Android model who is eager to upgrade to a newer version and wants service that makes the most of it.
Leading option: A top-scoring smartphone to use with 4G LTE service from a carrier with top scores, especially for data satisfaction.
Service: With its superior scores and wide array of marquee phones, Verizon is your best bet among national carriers. AT&T, though it rates lower than Verizon in most respects, is also worth considering because of its top 4G network rating and lower pricing for individuals who have lighter data, voice, and messaging needs.
Phone: The Apple iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III are available from Verizon and AT&T starting at $200.
Smart but not fancy
You want what a smartphone offers, but don’t crave the cutting-edge features and can settle for OK service, especially if forgoing extras saves you money.
Leading option: Buy a smartphone that performs well, maybe an older model. Use it with an inexpensive unlimited voice, texting, and data plan from a no-contract carrier with standout scores for data service.
Service: A leading nationally available option is prepaid Straight Talk, which received data scores on a par with Verizon and scored highly for value.
Phone: You might pay more for a smartphone bought without a contract, but you should recoup the price difference within a matter of months through the lower monthly service fees. Straight Talk has the Samsung Galaxy S II, a 4G phone for $350.
Just the basics
You are among the 29 percent of Consumer Reports readers who get along without mobile Web and the 59 percent who make no more than a few cellular voice calls a day.
Leading option: An inexpensive voice-and-texting arrangement from a no-contract carrier, for use with a basic flip, slider, or keyboard phone.
Service: Consider Consumer Cellular, a highly rated national carrier catering to simpler wireless needs that bills monthly, even though there is no contract commitment.
Phone: For Consumer Cellular, consider the Doro PhoneEasy 410 ($60), which has large buttons that make it easier for seniors to use.