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The IPhone 4S On AT&T Vs. Sprint Vs. Verizon: Which Network Is Best?

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ATT SPRINT VERIZON IPHONE 4S COMPARISON
AP

The iPhone 4S went up for pre-order late Thursday night, and for the first time ever the new iPhone will be available on the three largest cell phone networks in America: Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. Perhaps, with these mobile carrier options, you're trying to decide which network to choose for your new Apple phone; the information below should help.

For Talkers: VERIZON and AT&T

Are you a talker? A recent survey suggests that you probably aren't, but if you are a chatty Cathy, the cheapest voice plans for anytime minutes are on Verizon and AT&T. For 450 minutes of talk time, Verizon and AT&T charge $39.99, compared to $69.99 on Sprint. Upping your minutes, you get the same price spreads, with Verizon and AT&T being $30 cheaper than Sprint:

Verizon: $39.99 for 450 minutes, $59.99 for 900 minutes, $69.99 for unlimited minutes
AT&T: $39.99 for 450 minutes, $59.99 for 900 minutes, $69.99 for unlimited minutes
Sprint: $69.99 for 450 minutes, $89.99 for 900 minutes, $99.99 for unlimited minutes

For Data Hogs: SPRINT

With the iPhone 4S, Sprint has famously become the only U.S. mobile carrier to offer unlimited data with Apple's smartphone. While AT&T and Verizon have canceled their unlimited data plans for new customers, Sprint recently announced its plans to keep unlimited data plans even with the iPhone 4S. Savings for those who use a lot of data--people who stream movies on their phones, download and send graphics-heavy web pages or photos, or generally do anything that requires constant web refreshing--could be huge on Sprint:

AT&T Data Plans: 2GB for $24, 4GB for $45, 5GB for $55, 7GB for $75, 10GB for $105, 12GB for $125
Verizon Data Plans: 2GB for $30, 4GB for $50, 5GB for $50, 7GB for $70, 10GB for $80, 12GB for $100
Sprint Data Plans: $10 unlimited

Fastest Network: AT&T

This is surprising, considering that AT&T is consistently ranked as the worst network in most parts of the United States by J.D. Power and Associates. But thanks to a new chipset in the iPhone 4S that only works on AT&T's HSPA+ network, the much-maligned carrier stands poised to have the fastest network of the three iPhone carriers.

Here's the thing: The iPhone 4S chipset, as noted during the Apple media event where the device debuted, can supposedly get close to 4G speeds. But that chipset only works on the HSPA+ network that AT&T has deployed (while its competitors have been building up their 4G networks). According to AT&T, this means wireless speeds that are twice as fast as those on Verizon and Sprint; according to cnet, we should believe this claim when we see it, saying AT&T still has some mechanical work to do before these speeds will be seen by their entire network. It will be interesting to see whether these HSPA+ speed claims hold true and could certainly bolster AT&T's reputation if they do.

Most Reliable 3G Network: AT&T

PCMag did some testing on mobile networks in America earlier this year, and while Verizon's 4G network defeated its competitors nationally, the iPhone 4S is not a 4G LTE device. On 3G networks, AT&T was judged to be the best in terms of "3G Success" (simply, its ability to connect to the Internet where a 3G network is present) edging out Verizon's 3G network and fairly well destroying Sprint's 3G network. Again, if these test results hold up on a national level (and, fair warning, certain cities are notorious for having poor 3G coverage from AT&T), then AT&T could be the most reliable and fastest mobile Internet network for the iPhone 4S.

Text Messaging: Sprint

The release of iMessage for Apple's new iOS 5 means that iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch owners will be able to text each other over 3G or WiFi in real-time for free, a la BlackBerry's popular BBM feature. Using iMessage will eat up data, however, rather than your monthly text messages, which is one reason to search out good text message rates when choosing a network, especially if u r a big-time txtr.

The underdog Sprint once again has the best prices, by a long shot, for text messaging plans. It's almost not even worth comparing, but here it goes:

AT&T: 20 cents per text message, and 30 cents per picture or video message; $20 for unlimited
Verizon: $5 for 250 texts, $10 for 500 texts, $20 for unlimited
Sprint: Free unlimited text messaging with voice plan

Customer Service: Verizon

According to the most recent U.S. Wireless Customer Care Performance study from J.D. Power, published in July 2011, Verizon has the strongest and most highly-rated customer service among full contract U.S. mobile carriers, defeating Sprint and AT&T handily. Verizon received 5 out of 5 "Power Circles," while both Spint and AT&T were awarded 2 each. In the February 2011 survey, Sprint and AT&T received 2 out of 5 Power Circles while Verizon got 4, losing out to T-Mobile; Verizon won the overall customer care survey for all of 2010.

Talk & Surf: AT&T

You may have seen the commercials: AT&T is the only carrier that allows you to talk and surf the web on the iPhone, and the addition of Sprint to the competition does not change that. It is one of the biggest differentiators and advantages over Verizon and Sprint.

Early Termination Fees: AT&T or Sprint, depending

If you decide you don't like the service you're getting with your iPhone, how much will it cost you to jump ship? AT&T and Sprint are the winners here, with:

AT&T is $325 minus $10 for each full month you've had your iPhone.
Verizon is $350 minus $10 for each full month you've had your iPhone.
Sprint is $350 minus $20 for each full month you've had your iPhone after four months.

***

To be very reductive, when it comes to the iPhone 4S, Sprint is the cheapest, AT&T has the best network and Verizon has the best customer care and, statistically, you're probably already on their network, as they have the most customers in the United States by a margin of tens of millions. Which network you choose should largely be decided by what you value in your phone--cost, or service, or reliability, or speed--and all of these carriers have both their pros and their cons for prospective iPhone 4S buyers. There is not one "best" network for the iPhone 4S, and you should be very skeptical of anyone who tells you otherwise.

Quick Poll

Would you rather have an iPhone 4S on Verizon, Sprint or AT&T?

Verizon.

Sprint.

AT&T

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article listed incorrect prices for AT&T's voice plans, citing prices at $20 higher than they actually were. The story has been updated.

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