AT&T Wireless vs. T-Mobile

  • No gotchas—taxes and fees included
  • High data deprioritization cap
  • Limited TV and streaming perks
  • Budget-friendly family plans
  • Perks for TV lovers
  • Speeds that fall behind T-Mobile

Ready to save some money on your phone bill or finally get off your parents’ phone plan? (Hey, we’re not judging.)

Choosing a new cell phone provider can be a real headache. They’ll all tell you they’re better than the other guys, but which one actually is? If you start snooping around, you’ll find some real differences that will help you make the choice that’s right for you.

Update:

HBO® Max is AT&T’s flagship streaming service. It just launched on May 27, 2020, and AT&T customers who are signed up for the AT&T Unlimited Elite plan can sign up for a free subscription to the service. This gives viewers access to HBO’s catalog along with content from Warner Entertainment and a bunch of new titles as well.

Bottom line

T-Mobile offers some amazing extras for frequent travelers, including in-flight Wi-Fi and international texting and data. But the fact that most of its prices include taxes and fees up front is the best—what you see is what you pay.

AT&T family plans come at a good price if you don’t need a lot of data. And if you love TV, you’ll love its WatchTV app and premium channel extras.

Compare T-Mobile vs. AT&T

AT&T

Unlimited Plans*

$60–$85/mo.

Unlimited Plans*

$65–$85/mo.

Family Plans*

$28–70/mo. per line

Family Plans*

$30–$35/mo. per line

Coverage

Best for most

Coverage

Best for most

Speed

Faster than AT&T

Speed

A close second to T-Mobile

Phones and Devices

iPhone, Samsung

Phones and Devices

iPhone, Samsung

View plansView plans

Unlimited Plans*

$60–$85/mo.

AT&T

Unlimited Plans*

$65–$85/mo.

Family Plans*

$28–70/mo. per line

AT&T

Family Plans*

$30–$35/mo. per line

Coverage

Best for most

AT&T

Coverage

Best for most

Speed

Faster than AT&T

AT&T

Speed

A close second to T-Mobile

Phones and Devices

iPhone, Samsung

AT&T

Phones and Devices

iPhone, Samsung

View plans
AT&T View plans

Pro tip:

Ever wondered if it’s your phone or your wireless plan that’s slow? There’s one way to find out. Test your mobile data speed.

AT&T vs. T-Mobile unlimited plans

When it comes to cell phones, unlimited plans are king of the hill. These plans usually net you the best perks—including a whole boatload of data. Here’s how AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s basic unlimited plans compare.

AT&T Unlimited Starter vs. T-Mobile Essentials

T-Mobile EssentialsAT&T Unlimited Starter
Price*Starts at $60/mo.Starts at $65/mo.
Data DeprioritizationData speeds can be throttled during network congestionData speeds can be throttled anytime
Video Streaming Quality480p480p
Mobile Hotspot DataUnlimited 3GNone
InternationalUnlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada plus 5 GB of 4G LTE data; unlimited texting and data (128 Kbps) in 210+ locationsUnlimited talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada
View plansView plans
Price*
T-Mobile EssentialsStarts at $60/mo.
AT&T Unlimited StarterStarts at $65/mo.
Data Deprioritization
T-Mobile EssentialsData speeds can be throttled during network congestion
AT&T Unlimited StarterData speeds can be throttled anytime
Video Streaming Quality
T-Mobile Essentials480p
AT&T Unlimited Starter480p
Mobile Hotspot Data
T-Mobile EssentialsUnlimited 3G
AT&T Unlimited StarterNone
International
T-Mobile EssentialsUnlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada plus 5 GB of 4G LTE data; unlimited texting and data (128 Kbps) in 210+ locations
AT&T Unlimited StarterUnlimited talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada
T-Mobile EssentialsView plans
AT&T Unlimited StarterView plans

For a basic unlimited plan, we have to recommend T-Mobile Essentials. It’s not that we don’t like AT&T’s Unlimited Starter; it’s just that T-Mobile Essentials gets you that mobile hotspot data and doesn’t deprioritize your data until you’ve hit 50 GB in a month.

We’re not huge fans of AT&T Unlimited Extra’s policy of slowing your data at any time. We like to know when we’ll have fast data speeds and when we won’t. Playing a game of cat and mouse with the buffering icon? No thank you.

That said, AT&T’s Unlimited Extra plan is more our style. It still has standard definition video but there’s hotspot data and it won’t deprioritize your data speeds until you’ve used 50 GB.

What does “data deprioritization” mean?

We hate to break it to you, but there’s no truly unlimited plan out there. Every cell phone plan provider has a data deprioritization cap.

But while they all deprioritize (slow) your data, not every wireless provider does it at the same point. Most T-Mobile plans won’t slow your data until you’ve used 50 GB of data. AT&T, on the other hand, will either slow it during high-traffic hours or after you’ve used 22 GB of data, depending on your plan. Not cool.

AT&T Unlimited Extra vs. T-Mobile Magenta

T-Mobile MagentaAT&T Unlimited Extra
Price*Starts at $70/mo.Starts at $75/mo.
Data deprioritizationAfter 50 GBAfter 50 GB
Video streaming quality720p480p
Mobile hotspot data3 GB of 4G LTE, then unlimited 3G15 GB per line
InternationalUnlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada plus 5 GB of 4G LTE data; unlimited texting and data (256 Kbps) in 210+ locationsUnlimited talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada
View plansView plans
Price*
T-Mobile MagentaStarts at $70/mo.
AT&T Unlimited ExtraStarts at $75/mo.
Data deprioritization
T-Mobile MagentaAfter 50 GB
AT&T Unlimited ExtraAfter 50 GB
Video streaming quality
T-Mobile Magenta720p
AT&T Unlimited Extra480p
Mobile hotspot data
T-Mobile Magenta3 GB of 4G LTE, then unlimited 3G
AT&T Unlimited Extra15 GB per line
International
T-Mobile MagentaUnlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada plus 5 GB of 4G LTE data; unlimited texting and data (256 Kbps) in 210+ locations
AT&T Unlimited ExtraUnlimited talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada
T-Mobile MagentaView plans
AT&T Unlimited ExtraView plans

Pay a little more each month, and you’ll get a boost to your plan’s features. That’s usually how it goes. In this case, you get better video streaming quality and more hotspot data from both AT&T and T-Mobile.

Also, we poked fun at AT&T’s warning that it might slow your data speeds at any time with the Unlimited Starter plan earlier. That’s just how it is. Luckily, the Unlimited Extra plan gives you more breathing room—instead of slowing it at any time, it won’t slow your data until you’ve used 50 GB.

T-Mobile Magenta Plus vs. AT&T Unlimited Elite

T-Mobile EssentialsAT&T Unlimited Elite
Price*Starts at $85/mo.Starts at $85/mo.
Data deprioritizationAfter 50 GBAfter 100 GB
Video streaming quality1080p720p
Mobile hotspot data20 GB of 4G LTE, then unlimited 3G 30 GB per line
InternationalUnlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada plus 2G data; unlimited texting in 210+ locationsUnlimited talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada
View plansView plans
Price*
T-Mobile EssentialsStarts at $85/mo.
AT&T Unlimited EliteStarts at $85/mo.
Data deprioritization
T-Mobile EssentialsAfter 50 GB
AT&T Unlimited EliteAfter 100 GB
Video streaming quality
T-Mobile Essentials1080p
AT&T Unlimited Elite720p
Mobile hotspot data
T-Mobile Essentials20 GB of 4G LTE, then unlimited 3G
AT&T Unlimited Elite30 GB per line
International
T-Mobile EssentialsUnlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada plus 2G data; unlimited texting in 210+ locations
AT&T Unlimited EliteUnlimited talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada
T-Mobile EssentialsView plans
AT&T Unlimited EliteView plans

If you need to add more than one line to your plan, those unlimited prices can get out of hand quickly.

T-Mobile’s Magenta Plus plan dishes out the goods, letting you stream with 1080p video quality and hooking it up with 20 GB of mobile hotspot data over the 4G LTE network.

But AT&T Unlimited Elite takes it one step further by offering twice the amount of data before throttling kicks in. You also get 10 GB more of data for mobile hotspots and tethering.

Despite the lack of features, T-Mobile Essentials is a good plan if you’re not bothered by slower data speeds or the surprise addition of taxes and fees at the end of your purchase, and want the freedom of unlimited talk and text.

AT&T vs. T-Mobile family plans

Family plans are often a great way to save money if you need more than two or three lines. For T-Mobile, you can turn all of its unlimited plans into family plans simply by adding on extra lines.

The price goes down per line with each line you add. And you get some perks as well—having two lines or more on T-Mobile’s Magenta and Magenta Plus plans gets you free subscriptions to both Netflix and Quibi, the new, smartphone-oriented streaming service. (You get both for the first 12 months and then can pick one after the year is up.)

But, hey, AT&T also has family plans! And they can be a good deal if you don’t need unlimited data. Here’s what you get with AT&T’s Mobile Share Plus plans.

AT&T Mobile Share Plus plans

3 GB9 GB
1 Line$30/mo.$35/mo.
2 Lines$60/mo.$70/mo.
3 Lines$90/mo.$105/mo.
4 Lines$120/mo.$140/mo.
5 Lines$150/mo.$175/mo.
View plansView plans
1 Line
3 GB$30/mo.
9 GB$35/mo.
2 Lines
3 GB$60/mo.
9 GB$70/mo.
3 Lines
3 GB$90/mo.
9 GB$105/mo.
4 Lines
3 GB$120/mo.
9 GB$140/mo.
5 Lines
3 GB$150/mo.
9 GB$175/mo.
3 GBView plans
9 GBView plans

When you don’t have an unlimited plan, you have to mind the data cap. With AT&T, you’ll share 3 GB or 9 GB with everyone else on the same plan. So, go easy on downloading all those mobile games when you’re not on Wi-Fi, ok?

Another difference between the AT&T Mobile Share Plus plan and the AT&T unlimited plans is the line access fee. We’ll get more into the not-so-great details below—hold onto your seats.

AT&T Mobile Share Plus plan line access fees

DeviceLine access fee
Tablets, connected car, and cameras$20/mo.
Laptops, netbooks, and hotspots$20/mo.
Wearables$10/mo.
Owned Phone$20/mo.
Leased phone*$40/mo.

What even is this? No, really. We’re as dumbfounded as you are because line access fees just don’t make sense. Shouldn’t this be covered in our normal plan payment? You’d think so.

Real talk: You shouldn’t be too alarmed by line access fees (however unjust they are) because they’re tacked on by pretty much every cell phone provider out there. But at the same time, maybe we all should be alarmed because what the heck are they charging us for anyway?

T-Mobile family plans

EssentialsMagentaMagenta Plus
2 Lines$45/mo.$60/mo.$70/mo.
3 Lines$35/mo.$40/mo.$47/mo.
4 Lines$30/mo.$35/mo.$43/mo.
5 Lines$27/mo.$32/mo.$40/mo.
6 Lines$25/mo.$30/mo.$38/mo.
7 LinesN/A$29/mo.$37/mo.
8 LinesN/A$28/mo.$36/mo.
2 Lines
Essentials$45/mo.
Magenta$60/mo.
Magenta Plus$70/mo.
3 Lines
Essentials$35/mo.
Magenta$40/mo.
Magenta Plus$47/mo.
4 Lines
Essentials$30/mo.
Magenta$35/mo.
Magenta Plus$43/mo.
5 Lines
Essentials$27/mo.
Magenta$32/mo.
Magenta Plus$40/mo.
6 Lines
Essentials$25/mo.
Magenta$30/mo.
Magenta Plus$38/mo.
7 Lines
EssentialsN/A
Magenta$29/mo.
Magenta Plus$37/mo.
8 Lines
EssentialsN/A
Magenta$28/mo.
Magenta Plus$36/mo.

Coverage and availability

T-Mobile coverage map

t mobile coverage map

AT&T wireless coverage map

T-Mobile vs. AT&T coverage scores

RootMetrics Score: 4th

OpenSignal Score: 1st

RootMetrics Score: 2nd

OpenSignal Score: 3rd

If you average the scores from both RootMetrics and OpenSignal, T-Mobile and AT&T are about tied for coverage.

The drastic difference in T-Mobile’s score from RootMetrics and OpenSignal likely has to do with how its coverage was tested. Regardless, it’s safe to assume that both providers will have better coverage in urban areas. Sorry, rural folks.

T-Mobile vs. AT&T speeds

When it comes to data speed, T-Mobile gets glowing marks from Speedtest and OpenSignal. But RootMetrics rated it third—just above Sprint and a close second to AT&T. Our money’s on T-Mobile for faster speeds, but AT&T is close behind.

RootMetrics Score: 3rd

Speedtest Score: 1st

OpenSignal Score: 1st

RootMetrics Score: 2nd

Speedtest Score: 3rd

OpenSignal Score: 3rd

AT&T vs. T-Mobile phones and devices

As far as cell phones go, both AT&T and T-Mobile offer mostly the same models. That includes that new trio of iPhones, Samsung phones, and more.

AT&T top cell phones

  • iPhone XS, iPhone XR, iPhone X, and more
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+, Note9, and more

T-Mobile top cell phones

  • iPhone XS, iPhone XR, iPhone X, and more
  • Samsung Galaxy S9, Note9, and more

Other devices

Google Pixel fans, don’t get too bummed out. While neither AT&T nor T-Mobile sells Pixels, you can grab an unlocked one elsewhere and bring it with you to either wireless provider. Nice.

T-Mobile vs. AT&T bundles and extras

Sure, you’re signing up for a cell phone plan. But you wouldn’t say no to a few extras, would you? AT&T and T-Mobile didn’t think so.

AT&T unlimited plan perks

Sign up for AT&T’s Unlimited Elite plan, and you’ll get access to HBO Max, the new streaming service that includes content from HBO and the WarnerEntertainment empire. That means you can watch Friends, The Big Bang Theory, the films of celebrated Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, and much more. Soak it in.

 

T-Mobile unlimited plan extras

EssentialsMagentaMagenta Plus
Netflix and QuibiNoYes, for plans with 2+ lines. You get 12 months with both subscriptions and then can choose one of the two after the year is up.Yes, for plans with 2+ lines. You get 12 months with both subscriptions and then can choose one of the two after the year is up.
In-flight perks*NoIn-flight texts plus 1 hr. of dataIn-flight texts plus unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi
Netflix and Quibi
EssentialsNo
MagentaYes, for plans with 2+ lines. You get 12 months with both subscriptions and then can choose one of the two after the year is up.
Magenta PlusYes, for plans with 2+ lines. You get 12 months with both subscriptions and then can choose one of the two after the year is up.
In-flight perks*
EssentialsNo
MagentaIn-flight texts plus 1 hr. of data
Magenta PlusIn-flight texts plus unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi

Not to be outdone, T-Mobile offers a free Netflix and Quibi subscription if your Magenta or Magenta Plus plan has two or more lines. You’ll get both for 12 months and then you can choose to continue with a subscription to one after. Streaming Chill with Bob Ross and Black Mirror on T-Mobile? Yes, please.

And T-Mobile’s second set of perks is what makes it a favorite of frequent travelers. If your flight has Gogo® Wi-Fi, you get free in-flight texts and either one hour of Wi-Fi data or unlimited Wi-Fi data, depending on your plan. (P.S. You can see if your airline uses Gogo before takeoff.)

Our verdict

This is a close one, and the winner really depends on what you’re looking for.

For families who don’t stream videos or play games on their cell phones, the AT&T family plans are a good bet. But if you do love to watch TV and movies on your phone, you should still check out the Unlimited Elite plan for the HBO Max account.

If you find yourself on a plane a lot, T-Mobile’s unlimited plans can help you get comfortable—even if your seat-back is in the upright position. It gives you the gift of in-flight Wi-Fi and texting as well as some of the most extensive international calling and texting abilities we’ve seen. Even if you don’t travel a lot, its unlimited plans are some of the cheapest out there—and Magenta and Magenta Plus plans include taxes and fees in the price.

FAQ about AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile

What are T-Mobile’s and AT&T’s early termination fees (ETFs)?

Is it time to pull an NSYNC and say “bye, bye, bye” to your cell phone plan? Go for it. Just be aware you may end up paying an ETF. (Breakups are messy.)

T-Mobile’s return and early termination policy:

  • Returned/exchanged within 14 days after purchase: up to $75 restocking fee
  • Returned/exchanged more than 15 days after purchase: no credit on your purchase price, plus any charges made to your account before cancellation
  • Read the full T-Mobile return policy here.

AT&T’s return and early termination policy:

  • Returned/exchanged within 14 days after purchase: up to $45 restocking fee
  • Returned/exchanged more than 15 days after purchase: up to $325 early termination fee
  • Read the full AT&T return policy here.

Can I bring my own phone to AT&T or T-Mobile?

You can definitely bring your own phone to AT&T or T-Mobile—they both run on the Global System for Mobile (GSM) network, so that makes things a little easier.

Still, we recommend checking your phone’s compatibility before you fully commit. You can do this by checking out each carrier’s bring-your-own-device policy.

Can I keep my phone number if I switch to T-Mobile or AT&T?

Technically, your current wireless provider can’t keep you from carrying your phone number over to your new carrier. But your new wireless provider doesn’t have to let you keep your old number, so it’s best to ask before you sign a contract.

Author -

Peter Holslin has spent more than a decade writing for Rolling Stone, VICE, BuzzFeed, and countless other publications. He graduated with a BA in liberal arts and journalism from New York City’s The New School University in 2008. Since then, he has roved from city to city and lived overseas, mastering his craft as an editor, staff writer, and freelancer while also acquiring ninja-like skills to address feeble Wi-Fi speeds and other internet challenges.

Editor - Cara Haynes

Cara Haynes has edited for HighSpeedInternet.com for three years, working with smart writers to revise everything from internet reviews to reports on your state’s favorite Netflix show. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your life span (buffering kills). With a degree in English and editing and five years working with online content, it’s safe to say she likes words on the internet. She is most likely to be seen wearing Birkenstocks and hanging out with a bouncy goldendoodle named Dobby, who is a literal fur angel sent to Earth.

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