Consumer Reports' cell phone carrier rankings

December 6, 2011 5:42:13 AM PST
For many customers, when it comes to picking a cell phone, the carrier provider is as important than the phone itself.

Consumer Reports is looked at and rated the biggest names in the business.

The big nationwide cell phone carriers came up short when it comes to value for the money.

Sprint edged out the others.

"Sprint is the last of the big carriers to offer unlimited data plans, which can make a big difference if you surf the Web or if you download lots of apps and videos," Consumer Reports' Rosalind Tordesillas said.

If you're someone who only calls and texts, a small national carrier - Consumer Cellular - beat out the big carriers for value.

"Consumer Cellular is definitely worth considering," Tordesillas said. "When we compared plans, this company had the best rates most often, especially for the basics."

A prepaid service is another money-saving option for people who call or text occasionally.

"There's no contract with prepaid phones," Tordesillas said. "You just pay for minutes or texts as you go."

TracFone was rated among the best prepaid carriers in Consumer Reports' satisfaction survey.

Another way to cut your costs -shop for a phone in stores like Walmart, Costco, or Radio Shack. The selection may not be as wide, but you can save money - a smart move, whether you're getting a smart phone or not.

So how did the big carriers do in the New York area? Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile all beat AT&T for overall satisfaction, although T-Mobile wasn't great for data - such as getting email and surfing the web. As for AT&T, it had trouble with data, too, and with spotty service and dropped calls.