When the iPhone 4S hits the streets next Friday, it will do so with a feature no previous model has possessed on launch day: competition. For years, AT&T had the iPhone all to itself in the U.S., but earlier this year Verizon joined the iPhone family and, with the iPhone 4S launch, Sprint is jumping on the bandwagon as well.
That means those looking to snap up the latest version of the iPhone have a choice unavailable to any that have gone before them. To help you make the savviest decision possible, here's our breakdown of the carriers' voice, data, and messaging plans. But be warned: These plans are constructed differently at each company, so it is sometimes difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison.
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As was already the case, AT&T and Verizon are neck-and-neck on their introductory plan for individuals, starting at $40 a month for 450 minutes and ratcheting up to $70 a month for unlimited calling.
Newcomer Sprint would seem to get the worst of this comparison, at least at first blush. The company requires the purchase of a Sprint Everything plan with an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S. Those plans start at $70 a month for 450 minutes -- the same as the unlimited minutes price on the other two carriers -- and tops out at $100 a month for unlimited minutes. But don't count the company out just yet: Sprint has advantages in other categories, as you'll see below.
There's more disparity between all three companies when it comes to the family voice plans. AT&T's family plans starts at $60 a month for 550 minutes of talk; Verizon's basic plan is $70 a month for 700 minutes of talk; and Sprint charges $130 a month for 1500 minutes. Each carrier requires two lines for the family plan, in most cases with a maximum of five lines.
Here is where Sprint starts to look less expensive. Those Sprint Everything plans that are mandatory with the iPhone purchase include unlimited texting as part of a $10-per-month fee for unlimited data.
Both AT&T and Verizon offer $20-per-month plans for unlimited texting; if you don't think that you'll be sending scads of messages, though, you can also pay as you go. AT&T recently scrapped its $5 and $10 introductory plans, which included 200 and 1000 messages, respectively; now, if you don;t pay the $20 for the unlimited plan, you'll pay 20 cents per text sent or received, and 30 cents per picture or video message sent or received. Verizon also charges 20 cents per text, and it charges 25 cents for a picture or video. In addition, Verizon offers a $5 plan for 250 messages and a $10 plan for 500 messages.
Because Sprint's texting plan falls within its broader, required data plan, it's not easy to say who wins the side-by-side matchup. If your texting falls closer to the "unlimited" side of the spectrum, Sprint might win on points, but Verizon has more options for moderate texters. Both AT&T and Verizon give you the option of not texting and not paying for it; Sprint does not.