The 5 Best Cheap Phone Plans (2020): Alternatives to the Big Carriers

One knock against Visible, compared to Mint, is that there’s no 5G access yet, only 4G LTE, although we don’t think it’s a big deal at all. 5G coverage is still scarce outside certain major cities—and it’s not all that game-changing in the city yet, either. You get a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot included, which is often missing from base plans among the three major carriers, though it’s limited to 5 Mbps and supports only one tethered device at a time. Video streaming is restricted to 480p resolution, and music streaming is held to 500 Kbps. Your first month is only $25.

Visible has only one plan, and it costs $40 per month for unlimited talk, text, and data.

Phone compatibility: It runs on Verizon’s network, so any ex-Verizon or ex-US Cellular phone or universally unlocked phone can be brought over. Check here to see if your phone is compatible.

Best for Homebodies (and World Travelers)

For people who use little data, Google Fi is an easy way to have access to the data you might need without the possibility of buying too much.

You pay $20 for one line, plus $10 per gigabyte of data, whether you’re in the US or traveling in one of the 200-plus supported countries. It’s also prorated, so if you don’t use a whole gigabyte, you won’t get charged for a whole gigabyte. (I recommend you turn off your mobile data in your phone’s menu at home to ensure you’re always using Wi-Fi.)

Google Fi uses T-Mobile’s and US Cellular’s 4G LTE and 5G networks. Data after 6 GB is free, so you won’t get a surprise, giganto bill if you lose track of your data use. And there’s free travel, so you don’t have to pay a daily fee overseas just to be allowed to pay again for by-the-minute phone calls. Instead, calls are a flat 20 cents per minute from outside the US and there’s free, unlimited texting. Data costs don’t change outside the US either.

It works with more than just Google phones now, including certain Huawei, Samsung, HTC, LG, Motorola, and Apple models, but its iOS support is still in beta. If you’re using an iPhone, Fi won’t switch between networks for best call quality, which is a feature that’s a big chunk of its appeal. The Unlimited plan exists, but is expennnnsive: $70 per month for a single phone line, not including taxes and fees.

Google Fi offers a $20 per line + $10 per GB of data plan and the unlimited plan for $70. If you have four or more lines, the standard plan is reduced to $16 per line (+ $10 per GB) and the unlimited plan reduces to $45 per line.

Phone compatibility: Only certain phones will work with Fi. The list of compatible phones is small compared to other providers.

If You Barely Use Your Phone

Ting is cheap. Really cheap. But it’s like going to a Dim Sum restaurant and ordering a la carte. You buy access at $6 per line and then you buy a package of minutes, a package of texts, and a package of data. If you call or text a lot, it gets stupidly expensive quickly. For example: 501-1,000 minutes of calling (one price for a range), 2,000 texts, and 3 GB of 4G LTE data costs $59 a month.

It can go up from there. If you max out the options, you’re sitting at $82 per month. There’s no option for unlimited calling and texting, which feels a decade out of date, and because of that, you have to pay for what you use beyond that. You could easily end up with a bill deep into three figures. We don’t advise using Ting if your bill would end up as high as any of the other providers on this list.

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