MONEY Tech

Apple vs. Microsoft in 11 Slides

On Tuesday, both Apple and Microsoft released their quarterly earnings reports, with Apple showing a 12.3% profit jump—and Microsoft showing a 7.1% loss. How do they compete on other measures? Here's a look at how the two tech giants stack up.

MONEY Tech

3 Smart Ways to Protect Your Smartphone Data

201407_FSA_1
Yasu + Junko

Yikes. One in 10 Americans has had a smartphone stolen, according to a new study by mobile security firm Lookout.

This is a double bummer: Replacing a phone can be expensive, and the personal information we keep on these gadgets is often priceless. Here, tips for keeping your device (and data) safe—and what to do when a thief strikes.

Lock it down. Protect your info by setting a security pin. Only 36% of people do, found a Consumer Reports survey. Avoid serial or repeated numbers (e.g., 1234 or 1111) and pins based on a recent year, says Gary Davis, of security firm McAfee.

Back it up. Use a free cloud service such as Dropbox or iCloud to make copies of your most important data. Get (and remember to turn on!) an app that can locate, lock, and wipe your phone remotely, says CNET.com’s Bridget Carey. Find My iPhone and Android Device Manager are two good options.

Wipe it clean. If your phone is stolen, fire up your anti-theft app right away. Next, call the police, then your carrier. If you don’t recover the device within 30 minutes, erase your data remotely, says Robert Siciliano, personal security consultant. “If you get the phone back, simply restore it.”

MONEY Tech

How Amazon’s New E-book Subscription Service Stacks Up

Amazon Kindle in front of a bookshelf
JHPhoto—Alamy

The Seattle retailer just announced Kindle Unlimited, which will go head to head with existing reader subscription services Oyster and Scribd.

Updated July 18th

This morning, Amazon announced Kindle Unlimited, a new e-book subscription service. But while Amazon is now the biggest name in the “Netflix for books” business, it’s not the only option. So, how does Kindle Unlimited compare with Oyster and Scribd, it’s best-known competition? Here’s the rundown:

Price

At $9.99 per month, Kindle Unlimited is slightly more expensive than the competition. Scribd is priced at $8.99 a month, and Oyster at $9.95. All three offer a trial month for free.

Selection of books

Not surprisingly, Amazon comes out on top in terms of the sheer number of e-books included. The company says Kindle Unlimited includes more than 600,000 titles, plus “thousands” of audio books. Oyster says it has more than 500,000 titles. Scribd, for it’s part, has more than 400,000.

When it comes to the question of which service offers the “best” books, things get a little muddy. Kindle Unlimited includes popular series like the Harry Potter books and the Hunger Games trilogy, as well as a a number of best-sellers, like Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, and some new titles such as Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis. But, as noted by GigaOm, the service does not include books from the “Big 5″ publishers Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin Random House.

Scibd and Oyster, on the other hand, both offer books from HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. In additon, each has a few notable deals with smaller publishers: Oyster has books from McSweeney’s and Rodale, while Scribd offers Lonely Planet guides and reference books from Wiley.

Device compatibility

Kindle Unlimited works with all Kindle devices (obviously!), and, via the Kindle app, can be used on most smartphones, tablets and computers. Scribd has apps for the iPad, iPhone, Android, and Kindle Fire. Oyster users can access the service on Apple and Android devices, Kindle Fire and the Nook HD.

The takeaway

Kindle Unlimited isn’t a book lover’s silver bullet. Indeed, as noted by Gizmodo, the books offered by the service aren’t that different from what Amazon Prime subscribers can already access. However, if Amazon is able to get the Big 5 onboard, that could change. At this point, the decision about which service is best for you depends largely on which provider’s library you prefer. So, since all three offer a free month trial, why not give each a spin?

A previous version of this story stated that Oyster is available only on Apple and Android devices. It has been updated to reflect the fact that Oyster may also be used on Kindle Fire and Nook HD.

 

 

 

MONEY Tech

Should You Snap Up a (Cheap) Plasma TV Before They’re All Gone?

A visitor looks at a Samsung ultraslim plasma flatscreen television.
Jochen Eckel—Bloomberg

First Panasonic. Now Samsung. With the big makers dropping plasma, now could be a smart time to buy a TV.

Plasma TVs are going the way of the floppy disk, Walkman, and VCR. This month, Samsung announced that it would stop making plasmas by the end of November. Panasonic got out of the game last year. That leaves just LG to carry the plasma torch—and that probably won’t last. Indeed, by 2016, research firm IHS says plasma TVs will be completely vanish from the U.S. market.

So, with plasma on the way out, should you expect to start seeing killer discounts on TVs that use the technology? And, if you do spot a plasma bargain, should you buy it, or will you just end up with a 60-inch doorstop?

Plasma Prices

Let’s start with prices. No need to hotfoot it to Best Buy right now, according to industry watchers. Panasonic’s exit from the market didn’t have a significant effect on prices, says Ty Pendlebury of CNET.com, and Samsung’s move is expected to be similarly uneventful, at least in the short term. However, that may change “at the very end,” Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for the NPD Group. Eventually, retailers will be looking to move those last few plasmas to make room for newer stock and the markdowns will shift into high gear.

The average selling price for a plasma is currently $878, expected to drop 14% to $752 in 2015, according to IHS. On paper, plasmas seem more expensive than LCDs, which have an average price of $735. (A note: Some types of LCD TVs are often referred to LEDs. In this story, “LCD” refers to both types.) That’s misleading, though, because LCDs come in a range of sizes, while plasmas are only made in large (and thus expensive) sizes. When comparing TVs of similar size and quality, says Will Greenwald, who covers consumer tech for PCMag.com, plasma is cheaper.

The takeaway: If you’re in the market for a big TV, plasmas are a good deal and will likely get even cheaper. Just don’t expect to see fire-sale prices.

Is Obsolescence Really So Bad?

People who love plasmas–and they definitely exist–love them because they have great color contrast, a clear, sharp picture, and a wider “viewing angle” than LCD models, meaning you can sit further to the side of the screen without seeing a distorted image. However, they’re also massive energy hogs, and aren’t as thin or bright as other technologies.

The reason so many companies are dropping plasma has little to do with the technology itself. Rather, as LCD models have gotten better and cheaper to produce, it’s become less logical for manufactures to build and maintain factories capable of building only large, pricey plasmas.

Still, if you’re buying a technology that you know is headed for extinction, it’s worth considering what will happen if you need to get a new part for your plasma or have it repaired. Consumer Reports argues that TVs from the top brands are reliable and will continue to support their products. A Samsung rep echoed this, saying the company “will continue to provide support for our plasma TVs and our customer service policy will remain the same as before.” That said, it’s difficult to predict what repair options you’ll actually have.

So You Want to Buy

If you think a plasma could be the right buy for you, check out the Samsung F8500, which CNET dubs “the last great plasma TV.” Starting at $1,800 for the smallest 51-inch model, down from $2,700, “this TV is a very good value and will easily beat any LCD under $3,000 for picture quality,” says Pendlebury.

 

TIME Business

5 Secrets to Dealing With the Comcast Customer Service Rep From Hell

Cable Giant Comcast To Acquire Time Warner Cable
A Comcast sign is seen at one of their centers on February 13, 2014 in Pompano Beach, Florida. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

A former call center manager on how to circumvent the tricks of the trade of a "retention specialist."

Poor Ryan Block. He and his wife Veronica thought they would simply make a phone call to cancel their Comcast service when they switched providers. Instead, they went through a hellish 18-minute ordeal with an abusive “retention specialist” who browbeat both of them to keep their service. The result was a Kafka-esque conversation with a rep who continually held his powers of cancellation far out of reach.

When Block, an AOL employee and former technology journalist, decided to record the last several minutes of this seemingly endless call and post it online, the result was a PR disaster for Comcast. And what made many people angriest is that Block did just about everything right: he kept his cool, set appropriate boundaries and calmly kept stating his case. This call has quickly become an online rallying cry against corporate arrogance and sales pressure.

But most of the time, you have more power in these situations than you think. As a former call center manager turned psychotherapist, I’d like to share some tricks you can use the next time you’re on the line with the rep from hell.

  1. Hate the sin, love the sinner. Comcast claimed in a written apology that they don’t train their customer service representatives this way. Technically, they are probably correct. However, most companies strongly reward – and penalize – their retention reps around whether they keep reluctant customers. So first, be aware this is probably a low-paid employee whose job may be on the line, and realize that empathy will usually get you further than threats.
  2. Watch for “bracketing.” This is what I call a technique I see commonly in politics. Do you like family values? Of course. Should people learn to speak English in America? Golly, my English teacher always thought so. What is happening here is that people ask stupid questions with only one good answer, and then use your answer as proof that you should do what they want. Cable reps, salespeople and clerks selling extended warranties use bracketing because it leverages the power of influence, and it works. So stop their rhythm and don’t ever answer their questions. When someone asks, “Don’t you want the fastest Internet available?,” respond by politely redirecting them to your request.
  3. Repetition, repetition, repetition. One call center rep posted that their workplace had a policy of “three nos and a go” – when a customer says no three times to upselling, let them go. And when I teach people how to communicate in crisis situations, I also teach them to calmly repeat their request three times. Unless your rep is a bully like Mr. Block’s, your solution is often one more “no” away.
  4. Use the magic word. There is one thing most reps hate more than not closing the sale: getting called out in front of their supervisors. In call center lingo, the word for this is “escalate.” Politely tell the rep that you would like to escalate the call to a manager or supervisor, and often you will find yourself magically cancelled.
  5. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Finally, realize that none these techniques may work with a determined rep who is tone-deaf to anything but winning. Instead of suffering through a lengthy ordeal with people like this, simply hang up and try your luck again with another representative.

Sadly, there is one more option: wait a few years. Sociologists have long talked about “the tragedy of the commons” where, for example, farmers over-graze open land into oblivion as long as their cows get there first. Retention policies are a modern-day tragedy of the commons: by hassling their customers now, cable companies may be improving their short-term bottom lines as they chase people away to options like Hulu and Netflix. And for many, that may ultimately be the best revenge of all against the customer service rep from hell.

Rich Gallagher, LMFT, heads Point of Contact Group, a communications skills training firm in Ithaca, NY. His books include What to Say to a Porcupine and The Customer Service Survival Kit. Follow him on Twitter at @GallagherPOC.

TIME Tech

Google Joining With Pharma Company to Build its Smart Contact Lens

The lenses would be a breakthrough in diabetes management, allowing diabetics to monitor blood sugar levels without drawing blood

+ READ ARTICLE

Pharmaceutical company Novartis announced Tuesday that its eye care division, Alcon, will license Google’s smart contact lens technology, creating a tool to monitor diabetics’ blood sugar levels through tear samples.

Alcon will collaborate with Google[x], Google’s secretive lab for major technological advances which also designed Google Glass. The two will join forces to develop contact lenses that wirelessly connect to mobile devices to report blood sugar in near-real-time. The technology may also provide accommodative vision correction for those with impaired eyesight.

“Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturization of electronics to help improve the quality of life for millions of people,” said Google C0-Founder Sergey Brin in a statement. “We are very excited to work with Novartis to make this dream come true.”

A marriage between a medical juggernaut and a tech powerhouse, the agreement will benefit both companies by allowing Google to merge biology with its miniature electronic efforts and Novartis to leverage technology to manage disease, according to Novartis’ press release. The partnership remains subject to anti-trust approvals.

“This is a key step for us to go beyond the confines of traditional disease management, starting with the eye,” said Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez.

The partnership announcement arrives shortly after Babak Parviz, one of the Google[x] pioneers behind the smart lens and Google Glass, wrote on Google Plus Saturday that he will leave Google for Amazon. Parviz, who debuted in 2011 a smart lens prototype with a red LED light indicating glucose at or below certain thresholds, is expected to contribute to Amazon’s wearables and technological advancements.

Google announced its smart contact lens project in January.

 

 

TIME Tech

Report: One-Third of New York Residents Were Data Breach Victims Last Year

New York Record Number of Data Breach Last Year
A New York City Target during the period of December 15, 2013, to December 17, 2013, when the credit card information of 40 million customers who shopped at the retailer were stolen. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Millions have been exposed without knowledge or consent

Secure data of 7.3 million out of roughly 20 million New Yorkers were breached in 2013, breaching also the record for the highest number of information attacks per year in the state.

Private and public institutions in New York were hit by an unprecedented 900 data breaches exposing personal and financial information last year costing $1.37 billion, according to a new report released Tuesday by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. The report discloses historical statistics of New York data breaches between 2006 and 2013.

“With today’s report, we are proud to be taking a first-of-its-kind, multiple-year glance at information we’ve collected, so that we’re looking not only at the direct impact on New Yorkers, but also at trends in the data. This is an important step toward ensuring that everyone, from businesses to consumers, is better protected from these intrusions,” Schneiderman told TIME in an email.

From 2006 to 2013, 22.8 million personal records of New Yorkers were exposed in nearly 5,000 data breaches, with many victims unaware. Hacking is responsible for over half of personal information exposures; the number of hacking breaches have tripled since 2006. This chart shows the full breakdown:

New York Data Breach by Cause 2006 - 2013
Source: Office of the New York State Attorney General

Data breaches per year, while a volatile statistic, have trended upward since 2006 — it’s not just that the public eye has just begun to zero in on these information security attacks, a thriving practice largely driven by the black market. (TIME’s July 21 cover story dove head first into the rise of the data breach market.) This graph shows the number of New York records exposed by year, with dotted lines representing the total number of records exposed:

New York Data Breaches by Year
Office of the New York State Attorney General

The up-and-down nature of the graph is precisely due to mega-breaches, according to the report. These massive information spills are increasing, with half of the 10 largest mega-breaches affecting New Yorkers occurring after 2011, including Sony’s in May 2011 and Target’s in December 2013. Other recent, smaller breaches like P.F. Chang’s have demonstrated that no one is truly safe.

Of course, it’s not just New York. California, the first state to mandate a data breach report system in 2003, three years before New York, has previously released a data breach report, chronicling the Golden State’s dark rise of information attacks. But nationwide the upward trend is less clear, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), which collects data under a stricter definition of data breach over a subset of high-risk industries: finance, business, education, government and medicine. The ITRC’s findings suggest that for these industries, data breaches since 2006 had only doubled by 2013, versus tripled for New York.

Number of Data Breaches Nationwide
Identity Theft Resource Center

Regardless, New York officials are warning the broader public to make themselves aware that every transaction comes an inevitable risk.

“It’s clear that a broad, concerted public education campaign must take place to ensure that all of us – from large corporations, to small businesses and families – are better protected,” Schneiderman said.

 

TIME Military

U.S. Military Takes Robotic Mule Out for a Stroll

The world's most frightening pet showed off its tricks at a military event for 22 nations and roughly 25,000 people

+ READ ARTICLE

Meet Legged Squat Support System (LS3), a robotic mule capable of carrying up to 400 pounds of cargo for 20 miles without refueling.

The U.S. Marine Corps showed off LS3—nicknamed Cujo—on Saturday at Hawaii’s Kahuku Training Area during the Advanced Warfighting Experiment portion of RIMPAC 2014, a biennial multinational maritime exercise, according to a statement. Cujo can traverse rocky terrain with its lifelike gallop, and is programmed to follow an operator and detect surrounding objects with its swiveling head of sensors. Marines demonstrated Cujo’s tricks by using it to conduct resupply missions across terrain difficult to traverse by normal vehicles.

The RIMPAC demonstration is the latest effort in LS3′s platform-refinement testing, which began in July 2012, after 5 years of LS3′s concept development by Boston Dynamics under DARPA. Recent tests have afforded the $2 million robotic mule a tour of military bases in California and Massachusetts, and of course, much pampering and TLC after intense combat simulations on difficult terrain wore it down.

“I was surprised how well it works,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon Dieckmann, who watched YouTube clips of LS3 before joining the infantry and being randomly selected to operate the robot during RIMPAC. “I thought it was going to be stumbling around and lose its footing, but it’s actually proven to be pretty reliable and pretty rugged. It has a bit of a problem negotiating obliques and contours of hills.”

Indeed, like all pets, Cujo has a few issues. It makes loud noises while moving, currently limiting the robot to logistical uses like resupply missions and cargo carrying, instead of tactical maneuvers. Cujo also can successfully cross only 70-80% of all terrain traversable by Marines. It has no set date for deployment, as engineers continue to improve the robot.

But the lack of an official timeline isn’t something the Marines are too worried about, as commanding LS3 “feels like playing Call of Duty.” Even better, to them, Cujo has become “like a dog.”

MONEY Tech

QUIZ: What’s Your Perfect Cellphone Plan?

Fed up with your cellphone carrier? There's most likely a better, cheaper plan than the one you have today. Take our quiz to find the right one.

Check out all of MONEY’s Best Cellphone Plans of 2014. Thinking about switching cellphone carriers? Do these four things first.

MONEY Tech

The Best Cellphone Plans of 2014

No matter what type of cellphone user you are, MONEY found a mobile plan that's right for you.

201407_CEL
Paul Windle

Haven’t shopped for phone service recently? You’re in for a shock. “In the past year plans have changed more than in the previous five,” says ­Logan Abbott of comparison site Wirefly.com.

Forget choosing among the Big Four and their handful of offerings: Today’s market is made up of an overwhelming mob of carriers and options. And as if that isn’t confusing enough, the recent news that the Federal Trade Commission is accusing T-Mobile of “cramming,” or billing customers for unauthorized services, may have you wondering if your provider is ripping you off. (The short answer: It may have in the past, but these days, probably not. For more, read Time’s story on cramming and how to spot it.)

Perhaps the biggest change to the industry is the shift away from two-year service contracts. Now you can choose a contract plan, with a discounted phone and high monthly rates, or a cheaper option that requires you to pay upfront for a new phone or bring your own. (Phone compatibility varies.) We found that noncontract plans came out on top in nine of 10 categories. Plus, the longer you keep your phone on a noncontract option, the better the deal gets.

The rise of smaller carriers also looks like good news. These firms have finally become a viable option, with access to the newest phones and reliable coverage, thanks to arrangements that let them use big companies’ nationwide networks. One potential downside is that the larger firms usually prioritize their own users, so the little guys’ customers may have to contend with less coverage or slower data speeds, says Mike Dano of cell news publication Fierce Wireless. Unless you use a ton of data, though, it’s not much of an issue.

Overall, cell coverage has improved. Verizon and AT&T still generally have the broadest networks, though “everyone has gotten better in the last six to 12 months,” says Bill Moore, president of service-rating firm Root Metrics. To see which carriers’ networks have the best performance where you live, go to Rootmetrics.com and enter your address.

For cellphone users, this all boils down to one thing: There’s probably a better, cheaper plan than the one you have today.

To help you find it, MONEY parsed more than 75 options from a range of carriers. We started by grouping plans into categories based on features such as talk, text, and data packages. Next, we added up the price of two years of service, plus the cost of a 16GB iPhone 5s for each plan member for all 75+ option. We used the phone price offered by the carrier (full price for non­contract plans and subsidized prices for contract options), then sorted these results by price. Finally, we factored in phone choice, as well as network quality and customer service scores from Root Metrics and J.D. Power.

All family plans are for four people. We consider up to 1GB of data per person light use, 2GB to 3GB average, and 5GB or more heavy. All plans are chosen based on domestic use. For information about international use, read our story on using your cellphone abroad.

Best for Light Callers

If you only use your phone for calls, texts, and occasional web surfing, you likely don’t need more than 1GB of data. Cricket offers you the best price.

Individual Plan:
Cricket Basic
Family Plan:
Cricket Basic
Monthly bill $40* $100*
Two-year cost with phones $1,610* $5,000*
Can you bring a phone? Yes Yes
Minutes Unlimited Unlimited
Texts Unlimited Unlimited
Data 500MB 500MB per person
Data overage? Speed slows Speed slows
Network AT&T 4G LTE AT&T 4G LTE
Comment Smartphone options start at $50 Includes the option to
pay off new phones over time

Best Individual Plan: Cricket Basic

Sign up for auto bill pay, and this plan drops to $35. Cricket, now owned by AT&T, offers a range of phones, and, like many noncontract options, lets you bring your own. Go over your data limit? The carrier will slow your service rather than charge you extra.

Glitch: Cricket taps into AT&T’s network, but its data speed is slower than that of the larger carrier.

Best Family Plan: Cricket Basic

For a family that doesn’t use that much data, Cricket’s price is a head-turner—especially when you consider that it includes taxes and fees. The carrier’s use of AT&T’s cell towers gives it greater reach than many providers in this price range.

Glitch: Unlike the majority of family options, you cannot add tablets or other devices to this plan.

Best for Typical Users

Do you use your phone to post on social media, browse the web, and get directions when you’re on the move? Chances are you still only need 2GB or 3GB a month. These plans will offer you the best value.

Individual Plan:
Straight Talk Unlimited
Family Plan:
T-Mobile Simple Choice 3 GB
Monthly bill $45 $140
Two-year cost with phones $1,730 $5,952
Can you bring a phone? Yes Yes
Minutes Unlimited Unlimited
Texts Unlimited Unlimited
Data 3GB 3GB per person
Data overage? Speed slows Speed slows
Network Multiple 4G LTE T-Mobile 4G LTE
Comment Sold at Wal-Mart and online Will pay your termination fee
if you switch carriers

Best Individual Plan: Straight Talk Unlimited

This plan is just $41.25 a month if you pay for a year upfront. Straight Talk uses all four big carriers; the network you’ll use depends on your phone and area, says Dennis Bournique of PrepaidPhoneNews.com.

Glitch: Like most low-cost carriers, Straight Talk may not allow you to tap into another provider’s network if you venture out of its service area.

Best Family Plan: T-Mobile Simple Choice 3GB

At this price point, it’s a duel between Cricket and T-Mobile, and for those who seek faster data speeds, T-Mobile wins out. Does someone in your clan have a tablet? You can add it, and 1.2 GB of data to use with the device, free through 2014.

Glitch: This network is fast in many metro areas, but it isn’t as broad as those of Verizon and AT&T.

Best for Bargain Hunters

Users who want a ton of data at the lowest possible price should check out these options.

Individual Plan:
Metro PCS Unlimited
Family Plan:
T-Mobile Simple Choice 5G
Monthly bill $60* $180
Two-year cost with phones $2,089** $6,912
Can you bring a phone? Yes Yes
Minutes Unlimited Unlimited
Texts Unlimited Unlimited
Data Unlimited 5GB per person
Data overage? None Speed slows
Network T-Mobile 4G LTE T-Mobile 4G LTE
Comment Top customer service marks from J.D. Power T-Mobile’s network speed has improved recently

Best Individual Plan: Metro PCS Unlimited

This affordable offering from T-Mobile-owned Metro PCS is one of the few true unlimited plans still available today. “Their data isn’t throttled at all, and it is fast,” says Bournique.

Glitch: The carrier doesn’t sell iPhones, but does offer the popular Samsung Galaxy S 5.

Best Family Plan: T-Mobile Simple Choice 5GB

Finding a competitively priced plan that combines a boatload of data with a fast network isn’t easy. Simple Choice, however, is a good pick, particularly in cities, where T-Mobile is at its fastest. The plan also includes a perk for international travelers: free data when abroad.

Glitch: T-Mobile can be patchy in rural areas.

Best for Power Users

If you’re willing to pay more for the most reliable networks, buy one of these plans.

Individual Plan:
Verizon More Everything
Family Plan:
AT&T Mobile Value Share
Monthly bill $120 $210
Two-year cost with phones $3,080 $7,640
Can you bring a phone? No Yes
Minutes Unlimited Unlimited
Texts Unlimited Unlimited
Data 6GB 20GB shared
Data overage? $15 per GB $15 per GB
Network Verizon 4G LTE AT&T 4G LTE
Comment iPhone 5s is $200 Option to pay off phones
over two years vs. upfront

Best Individual Plan: Verizon More Everything

The only contract plan in our guide, this More Everything option costs the same as AT&T’s competitive plan (and less than other high-end Verizon options). Given the choice, we recommend the speed and reliability of Verizon’s widespread 4G LTE coverage for heavy phone users.

Glitch: Watch those hefty overage fees.

Best Family Plan: AT&T Mobile Share Value

Though similar in price and features to Verizon’s noncontract plan, AT&T noses ahead because more phones are compatible with its network. Also, note that AT&T bested its big rival in J.D. Power’s wireless customer care survey.

Glitch: Yes, it’s $40 more than you’d pay with T-Mobile, but AT&T has wider coverage.

Best for Frequent Upgraders

Always want the latest phone? Go with AT&T.

AT&T Next 12
Monthly bill $98
Two-year cost with phones $2,340
Can you bring a phone? No
Minutes Unlimited
Texts Unlimited
Data 2 GB
Data overage? $15 per GB
Network AT&T 4G LTE
Comment Only AT&T has the Amazon phone

Best Plan: AT&T Next 12

Insist on having the latest phone? Try AT&T. Next costs the same as a similar Verizon plan, but AT&T wins, since it’s “the leader in getting the hottest devices,” says CNET writer Maggie Reardon. On this plan you lease your phone over 20 months and must return it if you upgrade sooner.

Glitch: If you haven’t yet paid 60% of the old phone’s value, you must pony up the remainder to trade up to a new model. Still, that’s cheaper than buying two phones at retail price.

Best Basic for Couples

If you and your spouse don’t use your phones a lot, Consumer Cellular has the best plan for you.

Consumer Cellular
1,200 minutes/1 GB
Monthly bill $60
Two-year cost with phones $2,740
Can you bring a phone? Yes
Minutes 1,200 shared
Texts 5,000
Data 1 GB shared
Data overage? 25 cents per MB
Network AT&T 4G LTE
Comment Sold at Sears and online

Best Plan: Consumer Cellular 1,200 Minutes/1GB

This Consumer Cellular option is dramatically cheaper than competitive plans, making it a great pick for couples who don’t spend a ton of time on their phones. The carrier also has a reputation for good customer service. A bonus: Consumer Cellular recently added new phones, including the iPhone, to its device lineup.

Glitch: This is one of the few plans that still caps talk minutes and text messages, though you can pay to add more.

Find a great plan that requires you to switch carriers? Read more about how to break up with your current provider here.

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