Best carriers for iPhone (USA)


Aug 16, 2013
Which carrier or carriers offer the cleanest iPhone experience?

I've never owned a smartphone and am finally shopping for one. A concern that popped up for me is any requirement to use carrier-specific apps. For example, I recall a Reddit thread which aired complaints about an AT&T app titled, "ActiveArmor". Mint Mobile may have a similar app. Shouldn't it be common to use an iPhone without having to install a carrier's app?

The newest iPhone SE looks good to me. As for other factors I care about, the monthly subscription price is far more important than bandwidth. I am especially interested in any thoughts about Mint Mobile because their pricing is so attractive.
I’ll say flatly that carriers are phone agnostic. If you want a “quantitative” analysis, I probably can’t give that to you. But every major flagship phone is essentially using cell band chips from Qualcomm. Regardless of if you’re buying a Samsung S23 or an iPhone 15 Pro.

So, that all said, use whichever service is best in your area. In my personal experience, I found Verizon’s service to be the best. Whether I was deep in Los Angeles or out working in Ontario, I had excellent service. For a long time it was the only one with signal that would reach the office which was far from main roads. It also was the only one that had service in annual areas that we went camping at in in Big Bear. I also found it had the best service during road trips. However I have heard people say that their city is an AT&T city and Verizon there is crap. Which is why I refer back to my earlier statement of just use the service that is best for you.

I’m on T-Mobile currently because it’s so inexpensive to have a family plan. And T-Mobile is the only carrier that has some level of “International for free” service that the other two carriers do not have. It also has other various perks like Netflix. So while I would say that it’s like that T-mobile has “the worst” service out of the big three, it has other things that make up for it.

As for carrier specific apps, I don’t think they are necessary in order to use the service. But usually apps are necessary to manage your account from your phone. If you don’t want to do that, you could manage it instead from a browser window or from your computer. However, generally speaking using the app is easier/faster and requires less steps of authentication to get in (after being setup). FaceID/TouchID as an example works with most apps to speed authentication faster.

As for other MVNO’s, I’ve used quite a few. And I now have just kind of stopped because they all have limitations that are too irritating to me now. Having no limits on data is a big deal for me now, and T-Mobile gives me that. The only ”smaller” service I would probably consider at this point is Google-Fi. There were other MVNO’s that did have helpful international plans, but at this point 10 years on they’re all dead. That was another important factor to me.

However, all things considered, now when going to Japan I know I can get cheap data SIMs from Amazon (and not the rip off ones that are common) and I don’t “need” to have international services. But it’s very much a “nice thing to have” and more or less allows me to keep all the texting and other conversations going without having to worry about coverage or cost. Peace of mind there is worth it.
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I’m on Verizon’s visible with a 2022 SE. my wife has a 12 I think. It’s $30? For unlimited everything. The only specific app just accesses the service for activation or account changes and such
Thanks for the ideas so far.
Anyone on AT&T? I'd like to know if they ever force the ActiveArmor app on their customers.
It’s $30? For unlimited everything.
I didn't see that but I definitely want to look now.
So, that all said, use whichever service is best in your area.
I was under the impression they are all pretty good now. I could be wrong. The Mint Mobile map looks pretty good in my neighborhood.
I was under the impression they are all pretty good now. I could be wrong. The Mint Mobile map looks pretty good in my neighborhood.
Coverage maps are mostly marketing BS. Unfortunately, the only way you’re going to know is by having conversations with people about things like call call quality, call drop rates, and data speeds.
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If you just buy your iPhone directly from Apple, can carriers really push down apps upon activating the eSIM? I would think Apple would disallow that.

I use Cricket with a few lines on my account, and one of them is a direct from Cricket iPhone 8 Plus and it has no bloatware installed on it. Even in the world of Android, my Google Pixel 7 Pro (purchased from Google Store) and OnePlus 11 (purchased from OnePlus) didn't have any apps automatically added to them.

In general you can save quite a bit on MVNOs compared to the big post paid provider. Like you could use Mint Mobile, Cricket, or Visible to get cheaper T-Mobile, AT&T, or Verizon service respectively. All three of these are owned and operated by the parent company (Mint was bought out a few months ago.) You typically get lower prioritization on the network (so this could be a problem in super congested markets), you get worse support, and you don't get the really big trade-in offers that most postpaid carriers offer. But save money and buy unlocked phones directly from Apple, Samsung, Google, OnePlus etc and don't ever worry about carrier bloatware or being able to unlock it and take it to a different network.
If you just buy your iPhone directly from Apple, can carriers really push down apps upon activating the eSIM? I would think Apple would disallow that.

I didn't think Apple allowed forced apps by carriers at all? I'm not an Apple person though, but I'm getting one so I can do testing for work.

FYI, If you want an iPhone SE and are a little patient, check deals forums. I was seeing the SE 2nd gen for $75, or 3rd gen for $150 locked to carriers that will auto unlock in 60 days if you activate and pay for one month of service (minimum of $15-30/month). If one of those services is one you want to try, even better.

3rd gen has a newer processor and 5g, but maybe less storage depending on the deal. If this is your first smartphone, storage probably doesn't matter much.
Been on T-Mobile for years using iPhone. Never had any BS. Just buy the phone straight from Apple. Absolutely no reason to deal with buying it from the carrier unless there is a specific deal you're trying to get.

Also, it's generally cheaper if you buy direct from Apple as many people can get a 10% discount, which you aren't getting from the carrier.
Find out what carriers people use near where you live and work and go with that. And agree, buy your phone direct from apple. easier and cheaper.
Is it safe to assume that an MVNO's coverage is similar to its parent company's?
Yes, and no. The trouble is that generally speaking, MVNO partners always receive less prioritization versus traffic from the original carrier. Generally speaking, if you are on an uncongested network, then the speeds will usually be equal. But if there is any congestion, you can expect that the MVNO will perform worse.