You may have your eyes on the newly released Galaxy S4 smartphone, but if you decide to get it, another question remains: Which carrier will you subscribe to for service?
The highly coveted Galaxy S4 will be available on seven mobile networks in the U.S., but for now only AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have the phone available. U.S. Cellular also carries the Samsung Galaxy S4; however, the network provides mobile coverage to just 26 states in the coutry, which leaves many unable to use its services.
While each carrier's version of the Galaxy S4 is essentially the same, the carrier you choose can affect how much you pay for the device; how many minutes for calls and how many gigabytes of text and data you're allotted each month; what updates you receive and when you receive them; and the quality of your service, among many other things.
Here’s a rundown of the Galaxy S4 on some of the different U.S. carriers that currently sell the phone.
AT&T was the first carrier to have the Galaxy S4 available after the handset's initial release. The Galaxy S4 became available on April 27, even though many who pre-ordered the AT&T Galaxy S4 received their handsets as early as April 25.
AT&T currently offers two storage options for the Samsung Galaxy S4 -- a 16GB variant that sells for $199.99 with a two-year contract and a 32GB variant that will sell for $249.99 with a two-year contract when it's released on May 10. AT&T is the exclusive carrier of the 32GB Galaxy S4 variant, which may benefit those who require more internal memory -- users have discovered the 16GB Galaxy S4 ships with approximately half of its ROM taken up by Samsung's pre-installed systems and other bloatware.
AT&T has a number of contract plan options for users; however, its talk, text and data plans tend to all be separate charges, which can be costly, depending on how much you use your device. Customers can either mix or match their talk, text and data options, or choose data with unlimited talk and text. AT&T notably has strong LTE coverage, which will be a plus for those who enjoy lightning fast speeds, but the carrier does not offer unlimited data plans.
It was recently discovered that AT&T’s Galaxy S4 sells with its bootloader locked, which makes it more difficult for such handsets to be rooted and modified with custom ROM. While many who enjoy rooting their smartphones have expressed concern, developers have already been able to bypass AT&T’s Galaxy S4 bootloader, and an unlocking tool is expected to be released to the public in about a month.
The Galaxy S4 on AT&T recently received its first software update, which enhanced performance, according to users. No major changes were made in the update.
Sprint’s verion of the Galaxy S4 faced inventory delays due to what Samsung called “overwhelming demand;” however, Sprint now has the device available, and it reports that supplies are constantly replenishing. If the Galaxy S4 is sold out at a location, customers should be able to check back the next day to buy a handset.
Sprint offers the 16GB variant Galaxy S4 that sells for $249.99 with a two-year contract, which is quite pricey; however, the network is offering a deal to new users, who get a $100 discount for transferring their current number to the network. This limited-time deal brings the price of the Samsung Galaxy S4 down to just $149.99.
Sprint is known for its “truly unlimited” data plans that allow uninhibited data use for a set monthly fee; however, Sprint's LTE network is still small compared with networks such as AT&T's and Verizon's.
Sprint has various plans that cater to users' specific talk, text and data needs. In addition to its all-inclusive unlimited plan, some other plans offer unlimited data and unlimited texting while offering anytime minute options.
Sprint confirmed that its Samsung Galaxy S4 ships with its bootloader unlocked. The network has not yet announced any software updates for the Galaxy S4.
T-Mobile’s Galaxy S4 also faced inventory delays. Although the device became available online last week, it only became available in select stores on Wednesday, and it won't be available nationwide until May 15. You can find out which New York City-area T-Mobile locations are now carrying the Samsung Galaxy S4 here. Customers elsewhere can visit their local T-Mobile stores to find out when the location will have the Samsung Galaxy S4.
T-Mobile offers the 16GB variant of the Galaxy S4 for a $149.99 down payment on its new “no contract” plan. After the down payment, customers must pay off the rest of the phone’s value in $20 installments over 24-months. Customers should be advised that while T-Mobile advertises its no contract plan as having no extraneous fees, the remaining balance of the device is due in the event that the service is canceled prematurely. There's also an option to pay for the device in full for $629.
Under T-Mobile’s plan, Galaxy S4 customers receive unlimited talk and text for $50 per month with data options of 500MB included free. They can receive 2GB for an extra $10 or unlimited nationwide 4G data for an additional $20. It's important to note that T-Mobile is rapidly expanding its LTE network, so by paying just $70 for unlimited 4G data, T-Mobile could be a fierce adversary for Sprint, whose Everything Data plan starts $80 per month and does not include unlimited talk.
T-Mobile's Galaxy S4 also sells with its bootloader unlocked. This allowed the T-Mobile model to become the first Galaxy S4 to get custom firmware when CyanogenMod founder Steve Kondik released a custom ROM for the device just days after its initial release. The CyanogenMod 10.1 nightly build for the Galaxy S4 is available for public download.
There is no correct answer when it comes to choosing a carrier for your new Samsung Galaxy S4. Consumers must decide for themselves which carrier will provide them with the best experience for their Galaxy S4 handset. However, we hope these comparisons will make the decision process a little easier.
For those looking for more storage options and reliable LTE, AT&T may be the right choice. For those looking for unlimited data and plan flexibility, Sprint may be the right choice. For those who want prompt network and third-party support, and to be free of the burden of contracts, T-Mobile may be the right choice. But remember, there are still three other carriers that have yet to release their Galaxy S4 models including Verizon, Cricket and C-Spire.
Fionna Agomuoh is a Technology Reporter for the International Business Times, a vegan foodie, and a lover of Electric Dance Music.