Best & Worst Wireless Carriers: Grading the Support

AT&T Customer Service

In Store

During our first visit to an AT&T store in midtown Manhattan at 2 p.m. on a weekday, we waited a few minutes for Igor. He answered two out of our three questions accurately during a five-minute conversation. He even showed us step-by-step instructions on how to sync the iPhone’s photos with iTunes. On the battery question, Igor only recommended we turn off 3G unless performing an intensive web task. Another benefit to turning off 3G, he said, was that we’d experience fewer dropped calls.

The second store we visited wasn’t as busy. A female associate promptly asked us if she could help, but seemed impatient for us to leave and offered only vague answers. She only fully answered our photo question, describing the pop-up menu that appears in Windows when you plug the iPhone into a computer. Her answers about tethering were confusing, first telling us that we could update the iPhone’s software and get tethering for free (there is no official free tethering option), or we could pay AT&T $45 a month (technically true; customers can choose the 2GB DataPro plan for $25 a month and then add tethering capability for an additional $20). But then she incorrectly added that we could keep our unlimited data plan if we added $15 per month for tethering. When we asked if there was anything we could do to save battery life, she said, “Not really. It’s just a phone.”

Web Support

On its website, AT&T provided accurate step-by-step instructions for tethering an iPhone 3GS, though we couldn’t find steps to increase battery life or help for backing up photos.

AT&T offers live chat for wireless support Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (EST). Confusingly, AT&T offers different chat services for different products. Searching “chat” on AT&T’s site brings up an option to talk about home services such as residential voice calling and TV. For wireless support chat, we clicked on a specific support query about the iPhone, and then found a link for IM chat support if we logged in. A rep from AT&T told us that you can also get a chat going without logging in by spending a short amount of time on a shopping-related page.

Erica, from sales, gave us accurate information about tethering, but wasn’t as helpful with our question about photos. She directed us to Danielle from technical support for our battery question. Danielle asked for our account information, which took a few moments of back-and-forth to verify. She said iPhone endurance is determined by data use. “It all depends on the size of the files you are viewing and the websites that you are accessing,” she said. That wasn’t much help.

Phone Support

We first called AT&T at 5 p.m. on a weekday. After wading through automated menus and a two-minute wait, we were connected to an unidentified female associate. She partially answered our tethering query by saying it would cost $20 more per month to add the feature. As soon as we asked about getting photos from our iPhone 3GS to our computer, she transferred us to another rep.

Erica sent us picture-by-picture instructions for transferring photos to our computer. She also told us not to connect our iPhone 3GS with any other computer because we would risk wiping out our data. For our battery life question, she spent several minutes searching for answers. In the end, she read some helpful tips off of Apple’s website, including turning off location services and lowering screen brightness. She said we could turn off 3G to extend battery life, but she wouldn’t recommend it. Then she sent a text message with a link to Apple’s support page.

On the second call, at 3:30 on a weekday, Ishmael was on the line within two minutes. During the course of our 23-minute call, he often went on tangents and tried to sell additional services. On the tethering question, he correctly said that we could tether if we changed to the 2GB DataPro plan. However, he then said that tethering is too slow, and we should consider an AT&T data card on a two-year contract. He spent several minutes looking up information about the AT&T USBConnect Lightning card.

He answered our photo question accurately, but the only battery tip Ishmael offered was to back up all our data and upgrade to the latest iOS software from Apple, which would “manage applications better.”

Ishmael then wanted to return to the data card topic, but we told him we weren’t going to buy anything. He apologized for not being faster and said, “I feel so inadequate now.”


AT&T reps certainly meant well in most cases, but they often didn’t provide completely accurate or helpful answers.

AT&T Customer Service Final Grade

In Store C+
Web C+
Phone B-
Overall Grade C+

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Submit Comments

  1. DJ Smith Says:

    I tethered my Droid using the PDANet app but ended up leaving Verizon for T-Mobile and a G2 which I like much better.

  2. cm Says:

    One correction, tethering IS support on the BB Tour with Sprint. I have 200 devices using it.

  3. K De Says:

    I think you are biased in your grading of T-Mobile phone support experience. This carrier shoud have received a C or a C- grade for Phone support instead of the generous B. You said the phone tree was laborious, you got transferred to another rep for the answer to one of your three questions, one of them incorrectly told you the Cliq can be used as a modem, one of them told you to power cycle the phone regularly to conserve battery (wow!), one call took 25 minutes and the other took 16 minutes (and you said T-Mo reps were fast?), and one of them even told you to root the phone in order to tether, which would void your warranty. Are you being objective about this?

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