Pre-paid smartphone plans that do not suck, part 2

Credit: Photo via Flickr/Enthuan.

If you want to stick with a major carrier, what's the best you can get without a contract?

Recently, this little blog took a quick tour through some of the most interesting pre-paid smartphone plans. Those plans were third-party buyers of network space that didn't need stores or, you know, networks to serve your smartphone. Then again, they won't work for everybody—in particular, people whose best coverage option is Verizon.

[Pre-paid smartphone plans that do not suck, part 1 and T-Mobile readies shared data plans for business; no early termination fees]

Today, then, let's look at the best and most reasonable pre-paid smartphone plans from the big four carriers in the U.S. I scouted and priced out the plans that contained at least 2 GB of data; you can usually get less data for a cheaper price, but I figured 2 GB was a good marker for those who want a good, video-friendly, data-savvy phone. I looked at a few key aspects of each service: price, speeds (promised and delivered), data restrictions, and phone selection. Phone selection was often the most surprising discovery for someone not versed in pre-paid plans. Surprising in the bad sense; on Verizon and Sprint, in particular, you're going to want to look at getting your own phone (covered in part on our previous post).

Onward! Here's a handy, copy-friendly chart/table of the four carriers' 4G/LTE, 2 GB, no-contract offerings. I referenced PCWorld's real-world, cross-country 4G speed tests for the speed tests, and used my own judgement in what constituted a good mix of available pre-paid phones. For coverage information in your area, consult with Signal Map and OpenSignal, and the carriers' own maps on their sites. 

Pre-Paid Smartphone Plans from Major Carriers That Might Not Suck

AT&T GoPhone
Price$65/month for 1 GB; $15 per GB over.
Speed9.12 mbps down, 4.91 mbps up
Phones supportedMix of iPhone 4, newer Android, and brand-new Windows Phone 8 (and, yes, BlackBerry).
Sprint As You Go
Price$70/month for Unlimited Smartphone; service interruption with >50% roaming.
Speed2.81 mbps down, 0.97 mbps up
Phones supported2 offered, not impressive.
T-Mobile Monthly 4G Plans
Price$60/month for 4G up to 2 GB; $70 for unlimited.
Speed"First 2 GB at up to 4G speeds"; 5.53 mbps down, 1.32 mbps up
Phones supportedAlmost any unlocked GSM Android phone, including Galaxy S3.
Verizon Wireless Prepaid
Price$70 for 2 GB; $20 for extra 1GB of data or 5¢ per MB.
Speed7.35 mbps down, 5.86 mbps up
Phones supportedNot very good, out of the box. You will want to get your own.

If I had to call it, I'd say that Verizon has the best plan, coverage, and speeds for the money, if you can fit inside their 2 GB plan and bring your own Verizon-specific phone over. But if you know you're going to want unlimited, you want more phone choice (particularly Android), and T-Mobile covers you well in your area, the pink-hued firm has a really nice offering, too.

Is there a loophole, a better plan, or something I missed in my survey of the pre-paid offerings of the big four? Anything I should include in a follow-up to this and part 1? Let me know in the comments, on Twitter, or through Google+.

Read more of Kevin Purdy's Mobilize! blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevinpurdy. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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