AT&T Prepaid Review

Whether you're seeking a monthly or pay-as-you-go plan, AT&T Prepaid is an attractive option regardless of your budget. The company has a good selection of phones—or bring your own—and a wider range of plan options than its competitors. It possesses arguably the most comprehensive network in America, as well, so you’re likely to find coverage no matter where you wander.

The Claim

AT&T says you can “find your freedom” with its prepaid accounts. The company offers six plans with no annual contract, no credit check, and no activation fee. Prepaid plans tend to be a bit more inexpensive then regular cell phone plans, and AT&T claims has plans at your price point that will cover your needs whether you’re a hardcore smartphone gamer or use your phone once a week to call mom.

Is it true?

Yes. You can put AT&T’s extensive network coverage to work for you without the hassle of a credit check or annual contract with its prepaid plan options. Six plans are tailored to offer benefits for you whatever your cell phone habits. Although AT&T doesn’t include some of the perks you find with other companies—like the Amazon Prime and Netflix subscriptions you get with an unlimited plan from metro by T-Mobile—it offers solid coverage. Three of the six plans allow you to use your phone as a mobile hotspot, and the 8GB and Unlimited plans include talk, text, and data use in Mexico and Canada as well as the U.S. All of its plans except the per-day and per-minute plans include a multi-line discount, so you save some cash when you sign up the rest of the family.

AT&T’s rates put them solidly in the middle of the pack as far as other top providers are concerned. The Daily Plan, at $2.00 a day every day that your phone is used, can add up if you use your phone more often than not. This plan also features 100MB of data for $1 as an option, which can add even more to your monthly charges. The Pay-Per-Minute pan, at $0.25 per minute, is also on the steep side. But you can also save between $5.00 and $10.00 a month (depending on the plan) using the autopay option, and the 1GB and 8GB plans allow you to roll unused data over for a one month renewal period.

Product Overview

Best for

Those who want a broad range of plan options at a variety of prices.

Not for

Those on a budget. Other carriers offer similar plans for less, and some, like T-Mobile, feature plans for as little as $3.

Features

Price per line
$25-$85/month
$2/day
$0.25/minute
Available plans
Unlimited talk & text, 250GB data
1GB data
8GB data
Unlimited
Unlimited Plus w/ 10GB mobile hotspot
Daily plan
$0.25/minute
Available data
1GB
8GB
Unlimited
Unlimited plan data cap
22GB on Unlimited plan
States served
50, plus Mexico and Canada
Standout features
Hi-definition video
Multi-line discounts
Unused data rolls over to next month
Mobile hotspot
Talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada
Ratings
RootMetrics National RootScore of 92.8 (second place behind Verizon)

Plans for every budget

Monthly plans are available from AT&T, but so are daily and by-the-minute plans. With a daily plan, you pay a small fee only on the days you use your phone to receive unlimited talk and text for those days. If you don’t use your phone all that frequently, one of these plans will be easier on your budget.

Customize your plan with extras

If you can’t find a plan that has everything you’re looking for, you may want to choose a basic AT&T Prepaid plan and customize it with add-ons to suit your needs. For an additional fee, you can extend your monthly data and messaging limits. There are also international long-distance packages, which might be worth looking into if you frequently make calls to or from other countries. You have a few different options for each add-on package, so you can select the one that has just as much as you need.

Easy to refill your prepaid account

The simplest way to refill your account is to enroll in AT&T’s auto-refill program. You can choose whatever date works best for you, and your monthly bill is deducted from your account every month on that day. All you have to do is sign up online and enter in a credit or debit card to get started. You can also make one-time payments as needed. This can be done from your mobile phone, in an AT&T retail store, or online. Another option is to purchase a prepaid refill card and add it to your account by entering the code on AT&T’s website or from your cell phone.

Phone trade-in program

AT&T may take your old phone and credit your account in return, giving you an easy way to earn money toward a new phone. It doesn’t matter what carrier you were with before. Just go to AT&T’s website, answer some questions about what kind of phone you have, and get your quote. If you decide to make the trade, print the prepaid mailing label and ship the package to AT&T. When they receive it, they credit your account with the designated amount. You can then apply it to your next monthly bill, a new phone, or whatever you choose.

Possible Drawbacks

Hotspot not available with all plans

If you use your phone’s data to connect your other devices to the internet, be aware that not all AT&T plans allow hotspots. The company’s 1GB and 8GB plans limit your hotspot use to the plan allotments, and the otherwise-decent Unlimited plan prohibits hotspot use all together. Your best bet is probably the more expensive Unlimited Plus plan, that gives you 10GB for hotspot use, limiting it to a paltry 128Kpbs after the 10GB is reached.

Low caps

Compared to other service providers, AT&T’s data cutoff points are at the lower end. For example, its most generous (and expensive) plan, Unlimited Plus, features a data slowdown after 22GB per month. T-Mobile, by comparison, doesn’t initiate a slowdown until 35GB. To be honest, unless you’re a very heavy data user, you may never reach the cap point, but it’s something to keep in mind as you comparison shop.

The Competition

AT&T Prepaid
Metro by T-Mobile
T-Mobile
PureTalk
Our review
Number of plans
6
3
3
5
Separate data for music streaming


Talk, text, and data use in Mexico and Canada

Order online


Online chat support



AT&T Prepaid vs. Metro by T-Mobile

If you are a heavy data user, and even more, if you have family members you’d like to include in your plan, Metro by T-Mobile is worth a look. It has higher cutoffs than AT&T for deprioritization — you lose speed only after exceeding 35GB per month, as opposed to AT&T’s 22GB (and that’s at its most expensive plan). Metro uses T-Mobile’s network so you know you’ll get good coverage throughout most of the U.S., and like AT&T, offers a variety of flexible data plans. One nice perk: at its $40 high-speed plan you get something called Music Unlimited, which gives you the opportunity to tune in to more than 40 music streaming services without impacting your monthly data allotment. The biggest drawback we found with Metro by T-Mobile is that you can’t order service online—you’ll need to check with one of its 11,000 store locations to do that, which is less than convenient.

AT&T Prepaid vs. T-Mobile

One area where T-Mobile shines is in its Pay As You Go plan, which is perfect for you if you’re a very light cell phone user who is mostly interested in text and talk minutes. This plan offers 30 minutes of talk and 30 text messages per month, for as low as $3. AT&T can’t match that—its version of the plan charges you $0.25 per minute. Even if you go over your allotment, there are no over-the-top charges. You’d be hard pressed to spend more than $10 a month for your cell phone use with this plan if you’re a light user.

AT&T Prepaid vs. PureTalk USA

PureTalk USA operates on AT&T’s extensive network so you’re going to get good coverage. Its basic plan, with unlimited talk and text and limited data (500MB, to AT&T’s 250) is only $20, compared to AT&T’s $30. Its other plans are more than competitive, too, though at the highest level, the $45 a month plan only gives you 10GB of high speed data. If you’re a gamer or movie watcher, this might not work for you, but if you generally use your phone, well, just as a phone, PureTalk has AT&T-like coverage at bargain basement prices.

AT&T Prepaid FAQ

How much data do I need with an AT&T Prepaid plan?

It depends on your phone use habits. If you’re a light user, mostly making phone calls or texting, 1GB of data should be more than enough for you—or choose a daily or by-minute plan. If you spend significant time checking email and watching cute kitten videos on Facebook, AT&T’s 8GB plan should work for you. And if you want to catch the latest movie in the Marvel universe on your smartphone or you’re a die-hard gamer, one of the two unlimited plans with up to 22GB per line will keep the action happening in real time.

What are AT&T’s Next and Next Every Year plans?

These nifty plans are best if you’re the sort of person who likes the newest phone, now—but you’d rather not pay for it now. Both plans allow you to select the phone of your choice for no money down, paying in regular installments over the next 24 or 30 months with no finance charge. The Next plan gives you the option of a new smartphone every two years with a trade, while the Next Every Year offers a new smartphone—you guessed it—every year with your trade-in.

Can I use my own pre-purchased phone with an AT&T Prepaid plan?

Most likely. Your phone will work with an AT&T Prepaid plan if it is compatible with one of the company’s GSM network frequencies. If you’re concerned about the ability of your phone to work with AT&T outside the U.S., you can find out at the Will My Phone Work website.

The Bottom Line

One of the giants in the industry, AT&T has arguably the best coverage of any of its competitors. With a good assortment of prepaid plans and nice range of available phones to go with them, you should be able to find coverage that works for you whether you use your phone one a week, or are a steady consumer of data gigabytes. While you won’t find a bargain at AT&T, you will find convenience and the peace of mind that goes with knowing you’re working with the most extensive network in the business.

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