Your Next Upgrade
Now that you’ve chosen AT&T as your carrier, it’s time to pick a phone. Choices are broader than ever, as AT&T has largely gotten rid of phone subsidies. Most people still buy their phones from their carrier, with the help of monthly payment plans or fast-upgrade plans like AT&T Next. But there’s no overall cost penalty to buying an unlocked phone anymore, and AT&T supports more unlocked devices than any other US carrier. That puts a lot of choices at your fingertips, so we’re here to help narrow them down.
And this year, for the first time in five years, AT&T won our Fastest Mobile Network award. We drove through 30 major US metro areas and found that overall, AT&T was the fastest choice. The carrier has been aggressively upgrading its LTE network, a process it calls 5G Evolution, although it isn’t 5G. You need one of the latest phones to take advantage of a lot of this new speed and capacity, though. Ideally, the phone should support 4×4 MIMO antennas and 256 QAM encoding. Of the smartphones above, all but the Pixel 3a, Moto G7 Power, and ROG support these features. Our feature on Why You Need a Faster Phone explains what a difference 4×4 MIMO makes.
AT&T’s strength has always been its globally compatible GSM network. That has let the carrier nab many exclusive phones over the years, from the first iPhone to various Windows phones. You can pretty much always assume that the latest hot, buzzy device will be available on AT&T, though more and more, you may not be buying it from AT&T.
Our list right now has smartphones ranging from $200 to $1,100. As you can see, you don’t have to pay a grand for a great smartphone, especially if you’re willing to pay upfront. The Google Pixel 3a, OnePlus 7 Pro, and ROG phone aren’t sold directly by AT&T on monthly payment plans, but they all work great on AT&T’s network.
Remember, our list of the best unlocked phones all work on AT&T.
The Best 5G Phone for AT&T
AT&T is not selling any 5G phones to consumers right now. If you’re a business customer or a developer, you can get hold of the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, which costs $999 and works with a $90 monthly business service plan. That plan includes 20GB of hotspot data.
Right now, AT&T has 5G in very limited parts of 21 cities; it doesn’t give any details on where coverage is available, which means it must be really limited.
The carrier’s 5G strategy relies in part on low-band 5G, which will cover much more area than the millimeter-wave 5G that AT&T is currently using. It will be next year before we see phones that support both AT&T’s low-band and millimeter-wave, probably beginning with the Samsung Galaxy S11.
In any case, there won’t be widespread AT&T 5G coverage until the middle of next year, so you should feel comfortable getting a 4G phone on AT&T right now.
The Best Flip Phone for AT&T
If you’re interested in a flip or voice phone, you should be buying one that supports voice over AT&T’s 4G network, as the carrier will be reducing 3G service later in 2019. There are two good choices now: the Sonim XP3 and the Alcatel Go Flip 3. The Sonim is rugged and has a long warranty, which help make up for its relatively high price. The less expensive Alcatel has limited smartphone features, such as WhatsApp and Twitter access, in a flip phone form factor.
If you need more help buying a cell phone, check out our cell phone product guide for the most recent reviews. While you’re at it, take a look at our lists for the best phones on Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. And head over to our Readers’ Choice awards for 2019’s top mobile carriers.
Best AT&T Phones Featured in This Roundup:
Pros: Best-in-class camera. Gorgeous OLED display. Solid performance. Excellent battery life.
Cons: Not waterproof. No microSD slot.
Bottom Line: Google’s well-rounded Pixel 3a is quite simply the best Android phone you can buy for $399.
Pros: Great value for money. Fastest Android phone available. Smooth software. Notchless screen. Lots of camera options.
Cons: Camera photos are slightly undersaturated. No 802.11ax Wi-Fi. Still no headphone jack.
Bottom Line: The OnePlus 7 Pro is by far the best value for a premium smartphone on the market today, giving you the features of a $1,000 phone for $300 less.
Pros: Amazing screen color and clarity. Industry-leading processor and modem. Wide-angle camera. Headphone jack. Just the right size for most hands.
Cons: Low-light camera performance not as good as the Google Pixel 3. Fingerprint sensor could be more accurate.
Bottom Line: The Samsung Galaxy S10e has the best overall price, performance, and size for a flagship smartphone today.
Pros: Offers some smartphone features in a traditional flip form factor. Good reception and HD calling. You can dictate words rather than triple-tapping to type.
Cons: Poor cameras. No parental controls. No ringtones by caller.
Bottom Line: The Alcatel Go Flip 3 is the feature phone we’ve been waiting for, with just enough smart features to make it convenient to use.
Pros: Excellent battery life. Solid performance. Sleek design. Ships with Android 9.0 Pie.
Cons: Not waterproof. Mediocre camera. No NFC.
Bottom Line: The Motorola Moto G7 Power offers excellent performance, two-day battery life, and an attractive design for a budget-friendly price.
Pros: Ultra-rugged build. Excellent call quality. Three-year warranty.
Cons: Weak vibration feature. Lackluster camera.
Bottom Line: The Sonim XP3 is a terrific rugged flip phone for anyone who doesn’t want a smartphone.
Pros: Three cameras for great flexibility. New Night mode for low-light photos. Excellent LTE options, including dual SIM. Long battery life.
Cons: Expensive. Next year’s iPhone will probably bring much bigger changes.
Bottom Line: The pricey iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max bring more cameras, longer battery life, and better LTE capabilities to Apple’s flagship phone line.
Pros: Overclocked Snapdragon 845 processor delivers solid performance. Gorgeous 90Hz AMOLED display for immersive gaming experience.
Cons: Poor battery life. Divisive design. Awkward fingerprint sensor placement.
Bottom Line: Thanks to an overclocked processor and a big, responsive display, the Asus ROG is an excellent Android phone for gamers.
Pros: Useful S Pen stylus. Top-notch performance. Long battery life.
Cons: Expensive. Huge. No headphone jack. Confusing 5G situation.
Bottom Line: The Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ is a big, powerful phone that’s good for artists and note-takers.
Pros: Wireless charging. Powerful new processor.
Cons: Lacks the latest modem features and bands. Single camera is a disadvantage for AR. Not a huge upgrade over last year’s model, which is still available.
Bottom Line: The iPhone 8 anchors Apple’s 2017 phone line, but it isn’t where the future is.