How to choose your smartphone data plan

Features Marin Perez 16:00, Nov 01 2010

We take a look at all the price plans on offer and try to make sense of what's the best for you

Well, it's clear that the era of tiered data plans for smartphones is here, as three of the four major carriers now offer multiple ways to supply data for your handset. But, which plan is right for you?

I still think that the biggest inhibitor to widespread smartphone adoption is the price of the mandatory monthly data plans. I mean, the average person was looking at paying at least $100 a month to power their iPhone and that doesn't even come with unlimited texting or calls.

The times are changing now though, as carriers are introducing cheaper data plans which can put that monthly service fee around the $70 to $80 range. That's still a lot of money (especially over the long-term contract) but it's becoming palatable because of what these devices enables users to do on the go.

Of course, these cheaper plans also come with a tradeoff: you have to be vigilant on your monthly data usage or face some steep overages. This can mean adjusting how often your phone fetches its mail and having discipline to not mindlessly surf the web on your phone while waiting in line. The good news is that many people have WiFi networks at home, work and in multiple locations offer free hotspot access – just be prepared to toggle your WiFi on and off and you should be fine.

T-Mobile

The nation's fourth-largest carrier has just unveiled mobile data plans that could be very appealing to first-time smartphone users. Potential customers will be able to plop down $10 a month for 200 MB of data or about $30 a month for unlimited access. That initial pricing is the cheapest data plan you can get from a major U.S. carrier and T-Mobile is

The cool thing about T-Mobile's offerings is that if you already have a compatible 3G phone, you'll be able to get 200 MB of data a month for $15 without a long-term contract. If you're on the unlimited plans, you'll also be able to add tethering and WiFi hotspot options for an additional $15 a month.

T-Mobile is also offering some cheap smartphones like the Comet and Optimus T. I do have to you warn you though: the carrier's HSPA+ 3G network can be smoking fast in some markets, so it could be quite easy to blaze through your monthly allotment.

Verzion

Verizon Wireless has a reputation for having the most consistent voice and data network but it also has a reputation for being one of the most expensive. I know this first hand, as my Motorola Droid has been costing about $100 a month for the last year and my BlackBerry Storm cost about the same before that.

That's why it's nice to see the carrier offer cheaper data plans for devices like the DROID X. Users can pay $15 a month for 150 MB of data or pay $30 for unlimited access. I'd hate to micro-manage my data usage to stay within that 150 MB cap but cutting my data bill in half is very tempting.

AT&T

The nation's second-largest carrier got the ball rolling with tiered data plans when it killed off its unlimited data plans earlier this summer. Instead, it now offers 200 MB of data for $15 a month or 2 GB of data for $25. The company said that about 65% of its subscribers should be satisfied with the entry-level offering and heavy mobile data users can pay an additional $10 to get an extra 1 GB on top of the high-end plan.

Sprint

Sprint is the only carrier that isn't offering these entry-level data plans but I'm still convinced that this carrier has the best deals for smartphone service. The Everything Data plan costs about $70 a month for 450 minutes and unlimited data and text messages. The best thing about this is that it comes with unlimited mobile-to-mobile calls, which essentially gives this plan unlimited voice calls depending on how you communicate with people.

If you don't want to worry about which phone you're calling, there's a $100 plan for unlimited everything. It's kind of expensive but at least you don't have to worry about counting minutes, texts or data.

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