Sprint’s future is up in the air. According to our latest Fastest Mobile Networks tests, Sprint now has the fastest 4G LTE downloads in nine major US cities—a big step forward for the perpetually fourth-place wireless carrier. So it’s improving. But it’s also trying to merge with T-Mobile in a way that would lead to a T-Mobile takeover of Sprint. Top Sprint phones would be able to take advantage of T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network, so you don’t need to worry about your phone being obsolete, but if the merger does finally go through, there will certainly be a whole bunch of new plans, options, and device strategies.
Picking a Sprint phone can require a little more attention than choosing an AT&T or Verizon phone because Sprint’s network is unique. It uses bands and technologies no other carrier in the US does (specifically, LTE band 41 and CDMA 1X Advanced), so it ends up missing out on some phones that are popular elsewhere, and instead gets an unusual number of exclusives. If the T-Mobile merger goes through, we think those unique technologies will be turned off in favor of T-Mobile’s more globally compatible LTE system.
The two 4G technologies to look for on your Sprint phone are gigabit LTE and HPUE, or “high performance user equipment.” Gigabit LTE combines 3x carrier aggregation and 4×4 MIMO antennas on Sprint’s high-speed LTE band 41 to get the best possible speeds. HPUE boosts upload speeds and range. The carrier is also just now starting to introduce VoLTE, or phone calling over 4G LTE, but that launch strategy would change if the T-Mobile merger goes through (as T-Mobile has much more broadly compatible VoLTE).
On this list, the Galaxy Note 9, Galaxy S9+, Galaxy S10e, iPhone XS Max, LG G8, LG V50, and Pixel 3 all have 4×4 MIMO on band 41 for the best possible Sprint speeds.
The 10 phones here are a solid mix of our Sprint picks from low end to high. Take the iPhones, for instance. Right now, we don’t see a huge difference between the iPhone 7 and 8 generations, so if you aren’t going to get an iPhone XS, you should save a little money and go for a 7.
The Best Flip Phones for Sprint
Sprint, uniquely, still relies on its old 2G network for phone calls, and it’s committed to supporting it until 2021. So unlike on other carriers, existing older flip and voice phones will work fine on Sprint without declining coverage and quality, for a few more years at least. Unfortunately, according to the National Wireless Independent Dealers Association, you can no longer activate used, older phones without 4G if you buy them on eBay, for instance.
We have put one very good voice phone at the end of this list: the Sonim XP3. The XP3 is a tough, future-proof flip phone that supports calling over Sprint’s 4G network (and T-Mobile’s, if the carriers merge).
The Best 5G Phones for Sprint
I’m more comfortable with people buying a 5G phone on Sprint right now than on any other carrier. Sprint’s mid-band 5G is going to blanket cities with speeds about double that of LTE, whether or not Sprint merges with T-Mobile. And these are big, high-end, good-looking phones that will perform well whether you’re on 4G or 5G.
If Sprint does merge with T-Mobile, the combined company will have an unusually complicated, tri-band 5G setup, and I don’t know if even the late-2019 phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 will be able to handle it; it may be 2020 before phones can access all of the different bands and systems the combined carrier would use.
Sprint has currently identified nine cities for its 5G launch this spring and summer: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, LA, New York, Phoenix and Washington DC. If you live and work in a central area of one of those cities and feel you need even faster Sprint download speeds, the LG V50 is a fine choice for now. You can check out our full results from testing Sprint 5G for a day in Dallas with the V50.
While there’s always something new around the corner, you really can’t go wrong with any of the PCMag-approved phones listed here. 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 guides for the best phones on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. And see our Readers’ Choice picks for 2019’s top mobile carriers.
Best Sprint Phones Featured in This Roundup:
Pros: Huge, awesome screen. Fastest processor available. Excellent camera. Long battery life.
Bottom Line: The iPhone XS Max is the best expression of Apple’s smartphone philosophy so far, with a giant, gorgeous screen connecting you to everything.
Pros: Compact. Fast performance. Beautiful OLED screen. Sharp front and rear camera with impressive low-light, zoom, and bokeh capabilities. Useful Google Assistant functionality. Highly optimized software with guaranteed updates.
Cons: No headphone jack or memory card slot.
Bottom Line: The Google Pixel 3 is the best small Android phone you can buy with the latest specs, impressive camera capabilities, and genuinely innovative AI features.
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: Big battery. Lots of storage. Excellent S Pen stylus. Class-leading processor and modem.
Cons: Expensive. Heavy.
Bottom Line: The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is an attractive pen-enabled phablet with a fast processor, a terrific modem, and a huge battery.
Pros: Gorgeous screen. Beautiful body. Spectacular network performance. Dual main cameras with excellent low-light capture. Loud audio.
Cons: Camera software oversharpens images. AR Emoji and Bixby disappoint.
Bottom Line: It’s not revolutionary, but the Samsung Galaxy S9+ sets the bar for smartphones in 2018, with the best hardware features you can get.
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: 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: Water-resistant design. Faster processor, brighter screen, and better cameras than last year’s model.
Cons: The absence of a 3.5mm headphone jack is a big hassle, at least for a few months. Not all models are compatible with all carriers. Lacks dual cameras.
Bottom Line: Apple’s iPhone 7 is better than last year’s model in almost every way, but it isn’t quite as good as its bigger sibling, the iPhone 7 Plus.