Phone Upgrade Plans: Sprint vs. AT&T vs. Verizon vs. T-Mobile

early upgrade carriers lead

Sprint has finally joined the rest of the Big Four carriers in offering an early device upgrade program with its cleverly named One Up service. Now that the nation’s biggest carriers have followed T-Mobile’s suit in offering users the ability to upgrade their handsets more frequently, let’s look at their plans to see which early upgrade plan is the best. 

Carrier AT&T Next T-Mobile JUMP! Verizon Edge Sprint One Up
Plan Details 450 mins, no texts and 5GB data (and hotspot) at $85/mth Unlimited talk, texts and 2.5GB data (and hotspot) at $60/mth Unlimited talk, texts and 2GB data at $100/mth Unlimited talk, text and data at $65/mth
Phone Galaxy S4 / iPhone 5s (16GB) Galaxy S4 / iPhone 5s (16GB) Galaxy S4 / iPhone 5s (16GB) Galaxy S4 / iPhone 5s (16GB)
Handset full cost $639.99 / $549 $603.99 / $649 $599.99 / $649 $649 / $649
Down payment None $99 / $99 None None (for limited time)
Monthly installment $27 / $27 x 20 mths $21 / $22.91 x 24 mths $25.22 / $27.15 x 24 mths $27 / $27 x 24 mths
Enrollment fee None $10 a month None None
Activation fee None $10 (Sim Starter Kit) $35 $36
Upgrade fee None None None None
Cost of device over two years $540 / $540 $843 / $888 $605 / $651  $648 / $648
How soon can you upgrade? After a year After six months, up to two times every 12 months After six months if 50% of device fee is paid After a year, annual upgrades 
4G LTE Markets 396 154 500 185
Cost with plan over two years $2700 / $2700 $2293 / $2338 $3040 / $3086 $2244 / $2244 

AT&T Next

AT&T’s Next stands out as the early upgrade plan to offer the best value on devices, with each device cost coming up to just $540 over two years of installments compared to the full handset costs of $639 for the Galaxy S4 and $549 for the iPhone 5s. On Next, you can also upgrade your device within a year of getting it. With 396 4G LTE markets covered, the network also provides great speeds and coverage for your device. The only thing holding back AT&T’s package is the expensive cost of adding minutes and texts to your plan, which could add up to $50 to your monthly bill. 

MORE: iPhone 5s: Which Carrier Has the Best Plans?

Sprint One Up

Sprint may be late to the party, but it is definitely giving all the other carriers a run for their money. Not only is the plan’s overall cost over two years the cheapest out of the four, but you also get unlimited talk, text and data on Sprint’s Unlimited, My Way plan with One Up. At just $2,244 over two years for either the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the iPhone 5s, Sprint takes the trophy for offering the best value for your money. The carrier also turned on its 4G networks in some 30 markets earlier this month, bringing its total LTE footprint to 185 markets. Sprint still lags behind market leaders AT&T and Verizon, but it hopes to bring its LTE network to 200 million people by the end of 2013. 

T-Mobile JUMP!

T-Mobile offers unlimited talk, texts and 2.5GB data for the Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5s on JUMP! at an overall cost of $2,293 and $2,338 over two years. Enrolling in JUMP! adds an extra $10 to your monthly bill, but T-Mobile’s wireless plans are so competitively priced that it still offers packages cheaper than AT&T and Verizon even with the enrollment fee.

The carrier also allows you to upgrade your handset more frequently than any of the other carriers — as often as every 6 months — so if you’re a fickle phone-owner, JUMP! may be your best bet. Of course, the carrier has the smallest 4G footprint of the big four carriers, so if your neighborhood still isn’t covered by the carrier’s LTE network, you won’t be able to fully utilize your 4G LTE device. 

MORE: 7 Reasons Android Beats the iPhone 5s 

Verizon Edge

At a two-year cost of $3,040 for the Samsung Galaxy S4 or $3,086 for the iPhone 5s, Verizon’s plans may be the costliest, but the network has the nation’s largest 4G LTE footprint with 500 markets covered. With Verizon Edge, you can upgrade also your phone within six months of enrollment – sooner than you can with AT&T and Sprint. If your biggest concern is being able to access 4G LTE speeds wherever you go, Verizon’s wide coverage should provide you peace of mind, although we have noticed slower speeds on the network compared to AT&T in various New York City locations. 

Bottom Line

If you are in a region covered by Sprint’s 4G LTE network, One Up is the best early upgrade deal in town with unlimited talk, text and data at just $92 a month (including handset installment). But if you’re a hardcore commitment-phobe, T-Mobile’s affordable no-contract plans and more frequent handset upgrade options may allay your concerns. For great coverage and speeds, AT&T’s Next is a smart choice that allows you to get the handset over 20 months for less than its full retail price. 

Cherlynn Low
Cherlynn Low
Cherlynn joined the Laptopmag team in June 2013 and has since been writing about all things tech and digital with a focus on mobile and Internet software development. She also edits and reports occasionally on video. She graduated with a M.S. in Journalism (Broadcast) from Columbia University in May 2013 and has been designing personal websites since 2001.
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