Better Phones for Better Coverage
T-Mobile has been attracting customers in the millions recently with its killer combination of price and performance. It also nabbed the top spot in our Business Choice Awards. The nation’s third-largest carrier has had steadily improving coverage according to our Fastest Mobile Networks tests, as well, although you need to have the right, recent phone to take advantage of it.
That’s where this list comes in. T-Mobile is probably the most aggressive US carrier when it comes to implementing new network technologies and frequencies, but older phones can’t tap into the new tech. And while its GSM/LTE network is compatible with global unlocked phones, they may not get the best coverage if they don’t have all of T-Mobile’s frequency bands.
The key bands to look for are band 12, also known as 700MHz or “extended range LTE,” and the new band 71, which T-Mobile has been rolling out for the past two years. Both of those frequencies extend the carrier’s indoor and rural coverage. This third-party map illustrates where T-Mobile has turned on band 71; it’s in a lot of the country now. Of the phones on our list, only the ROG Phone lacks band 71.
T-Mobile is entirely no-contract, so you can buy phones for their full, upfront price, or you can pay for them on a monthly installment plan. (If you’re on the installment plan, you have to pay off the remainder of your phone if you want to quit T-Mobile’s service.) Looking for the best phones on T-Mobile, we mixed locked and unlocked devices freely.
The carrier still appeals to cost-cutters, and we wanted to make sure to include some inexpensive devices. The Moto G7 Power offers the best value for the money at $200.
There’s also now a good flip phone for T-Mobile, the Alcatel Go Flip 3. We didn’t like the previous Go Flip, but this one functions much more smoothly and has some useful smartphone-like features such as WhatsApp support.
We’d like to make two notes on this list. There’s no flagship Google Pixel phone, and the list has the OnePlus 7 Pro rather than the 7T. That’s because we’re updating it just before the Pixel 4 and 7T hit the market, and we’re waiting for final judgements on them, so check back soon.
Finding 5G on T-Mobile
T-Mobile launched 5G in six cities at the end of June with one phone, the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G. But we don’t recommend it unless you’re a developer working on future 5G solutions.
The carrier has plans to combine its fast, urban millimeter-wave 5G with slower, “nationwide” 600MHz 5G, but it’s waiting for phones that can do both. The first one to handle both of T-Mobile’s 5G approaches will probably by the Samsung Galaxy S11 next year.
Beyond that, the Sprint/T-Mobile merger has the company’s 5G phone plans up in the air. It’s wise to hold off right now and stick with 4G until this gets resolved.
If you need more help buying a 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 AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless. And see our Readers’ Choice awards for 2019’s top mobile carriers.
Best T-Mobile 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: 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: Solid performance. Powerful audio. Gorgeous display.
Cons: Steep learning curve for Air Motion gestures. Unpredictable software update cycle. Relatively expensive.
Bottom Line: The LG G8 ThinQ is a top-notch Android flagship that faces stiff competition from less expensive alternatives like the Samsung Galaxy S10e.
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.