iMore compares the best pre-paid iPhone plans available on AT&T, T-Mobile, H2O, Cricket, Straight Talk, and more!
Taking your iPhone to a prepaid plan can save you quite a bit of cash and if you live in the United States, there are quite a few options these days. Whether you're a talker, texter, or web surfer, there's something to be had for everyone when it comes to moving to a prepaid plan. Some may require tweaking a few settings to get things like picture messaging fully up and running, but if you need to save some cash or just don't fancy signing contracts, prepaid is a great option.
Let's take a closer look at some options across all the major iPhone compatible prepaid carriers in the United States.
Check for coverage
The most important aspect of choosing a carrier, prepaid or not, is whether or not there's good coverage in your area. We'd suggest checking coverage maps for each respective carrier so you can eliminate ones that are sub-par or non-existent where you spend most of your time. That'll ultimately make the decision a lot easier.
- T-Mobile Coverage Map - Link
- Straight Talk Coverage Map - Link
- H2O Coverage Map - Link
- Virgin Mobile Coverage Map - Link
- Cricket Coverage Map - Link
- Net 10 Coverage Map - Link
Once you've decided which carriers actually have good coverage in your area and which ones you can immediately rule out, you can start looking at what plans are actually available to you.
Unlimited everything prepaid plans
If you're looking for a completely unlimited plan on prepaid, there are actually quite a few options out there. T-Mobile is the most expensive option for unlimited everything but is the only one that comes with WiFi hotspot functionality. If you plan on using your iPhone to tether other devices such as your iPad or computer where WiFi isn't available, T-Mobile is the only unlimited option.
Straight Talk is the cheapest option available and runs off AT&T's network, so if your area is known to have good coverage with AT&T, Straight Talk is the best option if you don't need tethering functionality. Straight Talk also offers an unlimited plus international plan that allows you to call and text to outside the United States. It'll cost you a little more but is probably worth it if you intend on calling out of the country. This obviously doesn't mean you can travel internationally, and only includes calls and texts outside the country made from within the United States.
Net 10 and Cricket Wireless also have international plans available that are about on par with Straight Talk. However, Cricket only offers the feature up for text, not voice.
For most people, choosing a carrier, even prepaid, should always depend on what coverage is like in your area. Coverage aside, T-Mobile is the best deal and the only option if you want tethering while Straight Talk offers the most value and makes the most sense for people who need international options.
Tiered prepaid plans
If you don't need unlimited data and/or talk and text, you can get off a little cheaper yet. If Net 10 is available in your area, you can get dirt cheap unlimited data for $25 a month. You'll also get unlimited text and 720 minutes. It's a pretty good deal and if you aren't a big talker, it's a nice option. Just be aware that your data will be slowed down after a meer 1.5GB according to Net 10's terms of service.
H2O doesn't have any unlimited data plans that we could find with their plans topping out at 2GB. We also couldn't find any information on whether or not they will cap speeds after using a certain amount. However, if you talk and text more than anything, H2O has some good options if you don't plan on using a lot of data.
For heavy data users who don't really care about minutes at all, Virgin Mobile offers unlimited data and text on every plan they have. For as little as $35 a month you can get unlimited data and text with the tradeoff being only 300 minutes. If you're okay with watching your minutes, it's a good option.
If you talk and text a lot, but don't need a ton of data, either H2O or T-Mobile are your best bets. If you're the opposite, Virgin Mobile is worth a hard look since all their plans come with unlimited data and text.
The bottom line
When it comes to choosing a prepaid carrier, all of the above have their advantages and disadvantages. For the most part, T-Mobile and Straight Talk will have the best nationwide coverage. Cricket, H2O, and Virgin have spottier coverage but if it's strong in the areas you'll spend the most time, it doesn't mean you should rule it out if money is an issue.
Net 10 also has its advantages since they own spectrum on both GSM and CDMA. This means they can take advantage of both networks which gives them pretty good coverage nationwide as well. Considering the price points they offer, it's worth a hard look if they have options available in your area.
If you're looking to get the most bang for your buck with the best coverage, we'd recommend Straight Talk. Not only are their plans reasonable, there are international options to be had as well. And since you can take advantage of the AT&T network, traveling within the United States with a Straight Talk phone shouldn't be an issue.
If you use your iPhone with prepaid, what carrier do you use and which ones would you recommend?