The no-contract smartphone market is the fastest growing segment in the wireless industry. As such, each of the biggest players in the space, including Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless, Metro PCS, Straight Talk Wireless and Virgin Mobile, are constantly looking for ways to gain an edge over their competitors. Most recently, Cricket Wireless combined with Aio Wireless and announced a host of new plans riding on AT&T’s 4G LTE network.
With so much competition in the no-contract market, it can be difficult for the average consumer to figure out which carrier offers the best value for their needs. To help, we’ve broken down plans from Boost, Cricket, Metro PCS, Straight Talk and Virgin based on what they offer within a specific price ranges to help see which are the best and which should be avoided. We’ll also compare the 4G LTE networks of these carriers, along with their smartphone selection, to help you make the right call.
|Price Range||Cricket Wireless||Metro PCS||Boost Mobile||Straight Talk Wireless||Virgin Mobile|
|$25 – $35||$25: unlimited talk and text. No data||N/A||N/A||$30: 1,500 minutes of talk, unlimited text, 100MB of high-speed data||$35: unlimited messaging, 300 minutes of talk, 2.5GB high-speed data,|
|$40 – $45||$40: unlimited talk and text, 500MB of high-speed data||$40: unlimited talk and text, 500MB of high-speed data,||$40: unlimited talk and text, 500MB of high-speed data||$45: unlimited talk and text, 3GB high-speed data||$45: unlimited messaging, 1,200 minutes of talk, 2.5GB high-speed data|
|$50 – $55||$50: unlimited talk and text, 2.5GB of high-speed data||$50: unlimited talk and text, 2.5GB of high-speed data||$50: unlimited talk and text, 2.5GB of high-speed data||
|$55: unlimited talk and text, 2.5GB high-speed data|
|$60 – $65||$60: unlimited talk and text, 5GB of high-seed data||$60 : unlimited talk and text, unlimited high-speed data||$60: unlimited talk and text, 5GB of high-speed data||$60: unlimited nationwide and international talk, unlimited text, 3GB high-speed data||N/A|
Of the five biggest no-contract brands, Cricket offers the cheapest plan at $25 for unlimited talk and text, but no data is included. Straight Talk Wireless gives you 1,500 minutes of talk, unlimited text and 100MB of data for $30, while Virgin Mobile offers unlimited messaging, data and 300 minutes of talk for $35.
Cricket and Boost both offer the same basic plans in the $40 to $60 range. The two carriers give you unlimited talk and text, as well as an ever increasing pool of data ranging from 500MB to 5GB. And while Metro PCS matches Cricket and Boost in the $40 to $50 range, Metro is the only one to offer unlimited high-speed data with no throttling restrictions as part of its $60 plan. Cricket and Boost cut you off at 5GB of high-speed data, while Straight Talk lowers your speed at 3GB. Virgin Mobile’s high-speed data cuts off at 2.5GB regardless of your plan.
If you’re less interested in making calls than texting and surfing the Web, then Virgin Mobile’s $35 plan might be for you. At that price, the carrier gives you 300 minutes of talk, but compensates by also including unlimited messaging and 2.5GB of high-speed data.
Traditionally, one of the biggest drawbacks to choosing no-contract carriers was that they didn’t have access to LTE networks. That has largely changed, with the Big Four national carriers either purchasing their no-contract rivals, or opening up their networks to them for a fee. Unfortunately, no-contract carriers aren’t the most transparent when it comes to what networks they use and how much LTE coverage they offer.
Thanks to its recent acquisition by AT&T, Cricket Wireless offers the largest LTE footprint with 577 LTE connected cities. Straight Talk Wireless, which has contracts with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, also gives users access to AT&T’s LTE network, but only if you have an AT&T LTE compatible smartphone. Boost Mobile and Virgin are subsidiaries of Sprint, however, while Boost Mobile gets LTE connectivity in 443 cities, Virgin only has access in 340 cities. We’ve also seen sluggish data rates on Sprint’s network in major cities. Metro PCS, which is owned by T-Mobile, has the smallest LTE footprint of the five carriers with just 230 cities connected to LTE.
When purchasing a smartphone through a no-contract carrier, you might experience some initial sticker shock. That’s because, instead of a signing a two-year contract and getting your new device for a subsidized price of $99 or $199, you’re going to have to shell out for the handset’s full price. The important thing to keep in mind that is that opting for a no-contract provider will save you a bundle over a couple of years, because the monthly service cost versus the Big Four (especially AT&T and Verizon) will be substantially less.
Not every no-contract carrier has today’s latest and greatest devices. To determine which carrier had the best selection, we checked to see which of the five offer today’s most popular phones, including Apple’s iPhone 5s and Samsung’s Galaxy S5. We then determined how many smartphones each carrier sells to get a sense of the depth of the offerings.
|Carrier||Apple iPhone 5s||Samsung Galaxy S5||Total Smartphones|
|Boost Mobile||Yes||Yes||34 phones|
|Cricket Wireless||Yes||No||9 phones|
|Metro PCS||No||Yes||11 phones|
|Straight Talk Wireless||Yes||No||32 phones|
|Virgin Mobile||Yes||Yes||16 phones|
Out of the five carriers, only Boost Mobile and Virgin offer the iPhone 5s and Galaxy S5. Cricket Wireless and Straight Talk Express sell both iPhones, but don’t carry the Galaxy S5. Metro PCS only sells the Galaxy S5 currently.
In total, Boost Mobile has the largest selection of smartphones with a whopping 34 available devices, ranging from iPhones to Windows Phones. Straight Talk is a close second with 32 handsets, while Virgin Mobile is a distant third. Metro PCS and Cricket have the smallest number of smartphones, offering just 11 and 9 devices, respectively.
Out of the five no-contract carriers, Boost Mobile offers one of the better deals. Not only does Boost have the most smartphones — including the iPhone 5s and Galaxy S5 — it also provides consumers with 5GB of high-speed data on Sprint’s 443-city strong LTE network for $60 per month. On the other hand, we’ve seen performance issues with Sprint’s network.
If you simply want the most data for your money, take a look at Virgin Mobile’s $35 2.5 GB plan (even though it includes only 300 minutes) and Straight Talk’s $45 plan, which includes 3GB of high-speed data and unlimited talk and text.
If you don’t want an iPhone, Metro PCS is also a good value. T-Mobile’s underlying network offers fast speeds, but its high-speed coverage is limited outside of urban areas. Cricket Wireless doesn’t have the Galaxy S5, but it has AT&T’s strong 4G LTE network as a backbone, which is a very important advantage. We expect the smartphone lineup to improve quickly, as the carrier just re-launched.