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The Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans You’ve Never Heard Of

Plans That Pay

While most Americans are signed up with one of the major carrier brands—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, or Verizon Wireless—there are many more choices available to US cell phone customers looking for a bargain. Known as MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators), these low-cost carriers piggyback on the four major networks and can deliver lower prices, especially for individual users who aren't looking to be part of a family plan.

All the major carriers have low-cost spinoffs, and their deals are worth checking first. AT&T runs Cricket Wireless. Sprint has Boost and Virgin. T-Mobile owns GoSmart and MetroPCS. And Verizon, well, Verizon just has prepaid plans. If you're looking for a wide range of stores and solid customer service, these brands have excellent prices and should be your first shopping stops.

Depending on your needs, even one of the big four networks could have a plan that works for you. For the best carrier service where you live, check out our results for the Fastest Mobile Networks.

How Much Do You Want to Spend?

We've been doing this guide for a long time, so we thought we'd shake things up this year. This time, we're ordering our picks by how much you want to spend per month, to give you the best value at every price level.

We also get a lot of comments from people who wonder why their phone service isn't listed, so at the bottom we put the plans we didn't choose, and why they didn't make the cut. You may disagree! If you do, make sure to explain why in the comments.

Which Phones Work With These Networks?

Many of these smaller carriers don't sell their own phones, or if they do, they sell an oddball selection. Your best bet, almost always, is to buy a new unlocked phone, or to buy a used phone that's compatible with the right network. They may also work with your old device from your previous carrier.

Most unlocked phones are compatible with the AT&T and T-Mobile networks, and with any carrier that uses those networks. If you're looking for an unlocked phone that works on all four major US systems, look at the iPhone 6s/7/SE, the Samsung Galaxy S7/S8/Note 8, the Google Pixel, or the Moto E4, G4, or G5. Or take a look at our list of The Best Unlocked Phones.

The Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans You've Never Heard Of

I Want to Spend $10 or Less Per Month

Yes, it's possible to get quality cell phone service in the US for $10 or less.

There have been a few companies that advertise "free" wireless service. RingPlus is gone now, and we don't recommend FreedomPop because of our experience with its aggressively nickel-and-diming sales tactics. The absolute cheapest plan we haven't gotten a lot of complaints about comes from Scratch Wireless, which sells a year's worth of service for $69, or $5.75/month.

There's a catch with Scratch, of course. It only works on an $89 low-end Android phone, the Coolpad Arise, and that $69 pays only for Wi-Fi calling and cellular texting. If you want cellular calls or data on Sprint's network, 100 minutes costs $7.99 extra, while unlimited calls costs $14.99. At that point, you're better off with MintSIM.

TracFone has a lot of different deals, but I've never liked its gimmicky, gamified system of always-changing double- and triple-minutes cards. With Tracfone, I think the best deal is the simplest: a $99.99, 800-minute airtime card that lasts a year, coming to $8.22 per month.

For more than talk, look at the Red Pocket $10 Essentials Plan, which has 500 minutes, 500 texts, and 100MB of LTE data per month on any of the four major US networks. Yes, that includes Verizon.

The Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans You've Never Heard Of

I Want to Spend $10-$20 Per Month

Consumer Cellular gets great reviews from our readers for being an easy-to-use, senior-focused system with excellent customer service. It runs on the AT&T network. Its lowest-cost, sweet-spot plan has 250 minutes, 300 texts, and 30MB of data for $17.50 per month, although it can scale up from there.

MintSIM has a wonderful gimmick: It sells you 3 to 12 months of service on T-Mobile's network at a time, in exchange for deep discounts. It often has some amazing limited-time promotions, but even the standard rates are great. A 12-month pack with unlimited talk, text, and 2GB of data runs $180, or $15 per month. The company also has 5GB and 10GB plans.

Republic Wireless is beloved for its customer service. Its best deal is probably its $20 plan, which has unlimited talk, text, and 1GB of data on the Sprint or T-Mobile networks.

Several carriers offer "custom" plans where you can fit together different amounts of talk, text, and data to taste. The best deals on those custom plans right now come from US Mobile for talkers, or Twigby for texters and data users. US Mobile gives you 500 minutes, 500 texts, and 300MB of data per month for $17 on T-Mobile's network. Twigby gives you 200 minutes, unlimited texts, and 1GB of data for $19 on Sprint's network. (Ting and Tello, which have similar business plans, also have their fans, but we didn't find them to be the best service plans at this price level.)

The Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans You've Never Heard Of

I Want to Spend $20-$30 Per Month

If you need data on the AT&T network, H2O Wireless has the best deal right now. It gives you 3GB of AT&T data for $27 (with autopay), with unlimited calling and texting to 50 international destinations. I suspect that 3GB will drop to 1.5GB after a promotional period, but it's still a good deal for the AT&T network. If AT&T doesn't float your boat, Red Pocket has $30/3GB plans on all four major networks.

Ultra Mobile is an alternative for international callers who prefer T-Mobile's network. Its $29 plan includes 2GB of LTE data, 2GB of HSPA+ data, and unlimited calls to 60 different countries.

The Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans You've Never Heard Of

I Want to Spend $30-$40 Per Month

Verizon charges premium rates for its network. If you're looking for moderate-to-heavy use, Walmart's Total Wireless offers the best deal. The company has a $35, 5GB plan that can't be beat for Verizon value, as well as a $45, 8GB plan and a $60 family plan.

Frequent international callers who want more data than Ultra Mobile's plan provides can step up to Lyca Mobile's $35, 5GB plan, which has similar terms to the Ultra Mobile plan above, but 5GB of 4G LTE data.

The Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans You've Never Heard Of

I Want Unlimited Data

If you're going to pay more than $40 per month, per line, you should be getting unlimited (or nearly unlimited) data. If you're a Comcast Cable subscriber, Xfinity Mobile gives you unlimited data for $45/month on Verizon's network, with speeds reduced after 20GB. For non-Comcast subscribers, there's ROK Mobile, which does unlimited data on Sprint, also throttled after 20GB, also for $45.

Both MetroPCS (owned by T-Mobile) and Boost Mobile (owned by Sprint) currently have $50 monthly unlimited data deals. (MetroPCS will de-prioritize you, but not throttle you, after 30GB/month; Boost does it after 23GB.) That's the least you'll pay for unlimited LTE data. Both also have (somewhat) discounted family plans. AT&T's subsidiary Cricket is a little more expensive.

Best Cheap Cell Plans political

I Want to Align My Beliefs With My Mobile Plan

Do you want to put your money behind your social or political beliefs? There are wireless carriers that let you do just that. We don't consider any of these to be a good deal, though. They charge higher rates than many of the other carriers we're listing, and donate a relatively small percentage of your bill.

The People's Operator (TPO) donates 10 percent of your bill amount to charity. In general, these are relatively politically neutral charities—things like the ASPCA, the Special Olympics, and the Cure Alzheimer's Fund. Of its several plans on the Sprint network, I'd spotlight its $25 per month (with autopay), 2GB unlimited talk and text as the best deal.

Credo Mobile donates a small, but unstated percentage of your bill to left wing causes; it may be as little as 1 percent. The carrier runs on Verizon's network and charges $40 for a 3GB plan, which is undercut by Total Wireless.

On the right wing of the spectrum, we prefer Charity Mobile over Patriot Mobile. Charity Mobile donates 5 percent of your bill to pro-life charities and groups associated with the Catholic church. It also runs on Verizon's network, but prices are quite high: $59.95 for 2GB. Patriot Mobile contributes to right wing groups such as the Tea Party Patriots and the NRA. It's the most expensive of this set, at $65/month for 3GB on Verizon's network.

Patriot also misrepresents how it spends its money. Celebrity endorsements on its site imply that none of your bill goes to the mainstream cell phone carriers, while Patriot does pay Verizon to supply service. Charity's pitch is more honest. But with all of the options above, you'd be better off signing up for Total Wireless and throwing a 10-spot at your favorite charity.

The Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans You've Never Heard Of

Who Didn't Make the Cut?

These carriers aren't necessarily bad, but their plans weren't the best this time around, though that might change, since we update this story several times each year. Here's how each one compares with similar carriers.

Read more

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Google Play Movies & TV becomes a one-stop shop for everything that streams

With the explosion of streaming services now available, it’s becoming more difficult to figure out not just what movie or TV show to watch next, but where you can actually watch it. Google today is rolling out its solution to this problem with a significant revamp of its Google Play Movies & TV app and an update to the Google Play Store itself that will show you which streaming services have the content available, in addition to whether it’s available for rent or purchase, as before. The end result is something that’s similar to Apple’s own TV app, which combines users’ own library of movies and TV with the ability to seek out what’s trending and available in the world of online video. In the updated Google Play Movies & TV app, you’ll now find three tabs in the new bottom navigation bar which will direct you to your Home, Library or your Watchlist. The watchlist is a feature the app recently gained as well, but now it has a much more prominent position. As you browse through the app, you can click on titles to read more about them, as before, but now you’re also able to see where the item can be streamed. At launch, Google is working with 28 streaming services whose content libraries are now integrated in Google Play Movies & TV. That’s fewer than Apple’s TV app supports, which is currently over 60. But it will find content even if it’s an exclusive to the streaming provider, and not necessarily something Google has for rent or sale. That means you can find original programming – like Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” – and then start watching it on the streaming service that hosts it. “We deeplink right into playback for that [third-party streaming] app,” explains Ben Serridge, the product manager for the Movies & TV app at Google. “So if I wanted to start watching ‘The Good Doctor’ pilot, I press the play button and it goes into the ABC app and start playback.” Beyond the big names, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, the app also pulls in content from ABC, CBS, FOX NOW, NBC, HBO NOW, HBO Go, Showtime, Showtime Anytime, Max Go, Starz, Disney Now, HGTV, BET Now, Comedy Central, A&E, Cooking Channel, Crackle, DIY Network, Food Network, History, Lifetime, MTV, The CW, Travel Channel, Tubi TV and VH1. Notably missing is Netflix, whose content is searchable in Apple’s TV app. Serridge didn’t explain why it’s missing, saying only that “we would very much like to have all the apps that distribute this kind of content on Play participating” – effectively tossing the ball back to Netflix’s court. Even without Netflix, the feature is useful if not comprehensive. It will show you the services hosting the content, whether it’s freely available to stream, if you need a subscription (as with HBO Now), the associated costs, or if you need to login with pay TV credentials to watch. This is especially helpful because some of the network TV apps offer a teaser of a show with a few free episodes, but not complete seasons. The Google Play Movies & TV app will help you track down the rest elsewhere, if need be. The app will also now help you narrow down searches thanks to a robust filtering system that lets you click on tags by genre, mood, decade, and more. For example, you could click on “Family,” “Drama,” Award winning,” Highly rated,” Comedy,” and other filters. In addition to helping you find content, stream it, or add it to your Watchlist, the app includes personalized recommendations. These will be partly based on items you’ve previously watched, but you can also explicitly signal your interest or distste as well, by clicking on the thumbs up or thumbs down button. The thumbs down will remove the item from your suggestions entirely. Outside the app itself, the Play Store is being updated to show you the same information about content availability. Solutions like the new Google Play Movies & TV app and Apple’s TV app are handy in the cord cutting era where content is spread out across networks, services, and other over-the-top offerings. But even these apps aren’t enough. Not only is Netflix missing from Google’s app, so is its own YouTube original content – and that’s the same company! Also not addressed by either Apple or Google’s app are which shows may be available to stream or record via live TV services like YouTube TV, Hulu Live TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, and Sling TV. (Although, to be fair, that’s not only a different set of services, it’s also a much larger challenge given that broadcast network availability varies by market. A dedicated solution like Suppose.tv or Fomopop’s live TV finder may work better.) Meanwhile, there are other tools for finding and tracking favorite shows, like Reelgood or TV Time (or a jailbroken Fire TV stick we should admit), but they don’t have the the benefit of matching content from a rent-and-buy marketplace like Google Play, or being available across phone, tablet, and desktop web, like Google Play. Google says the new features will roll out to Android phones and tablets in the U.S. over the next few days.

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