Which iPhone 5 carrier should you choose?

iPhone 5
Which carrier offers the best iPhone 5 experience?

Sporting a larger (longer) screen, those fancy new ear buds and a bevy of tweaks that previous iPhone users have been clamoring for, while it remains to be seen if the iPhone is the best smart phone ever, it's (for obvious reasons) the best iPhone around.

Of course there are plenty of other handsets on the market that do as much and sometimes even more than the iPhone 5. TechRadar is still in love with the Samsung Galaxy S3 which is available on every major U.S. carrier, the


is still a solid Android handset and the forthcoming

Nokia Lumia 920

is definitely no slouch.

The fact remains though that if you're a current iPhone user you'll no doubt be ecstatic with the iPhone 5. With its larger screen, new design and faster processor you'll be hard pressed to find a reason not to upgrade. Also, if you're a current iPhone user you'll probably just upgrade and stay with your current service provider. But what if you're not an iPhone user and you're ready to take the plunge?

At press time the iPhone 5 is only available through Verizon, AT&T and Sprint and for obvious reasons, the experience is different on each carrier. So before you jump ship and join the Apple hoard, you may want to see which iPhone experience: Verizon, AT&T or Sprint, is best for you.

Be sure to read TechRadar's full iPhone 5 review

iPhone 5 (Verizon)

iPhone 5 (Verizon)iPhone 5 (Verizon)iPhone 5 (Verizon)iPhone 5 (Verizon)

While every iPhone 5 rocks the same hardware (for the most part) the experience can vary depending on which carrier you use. Verizon allows iPhone 5 users on any data plan to use FaceTime over 4G LTE without an additional charge (a feature that AT&T doesn't allow). Additionally, if you order your iPhone 5 through Verizon and opt for the unlimited data plan, you can easily (like, really easily) use the Personal Hotspot feature without fear of incurring those pesky overages.

Verizon also has a wide 4G LTE range so iPhone 5 users on Verizon will experience some of the fastest wireless speeds in the nation. Verizon also unlocks the iPhone 5, which is great if you have to travel abroad and need to throw an international SIM card in your handset. If there's a downside to the Verizon experience it's cost. Verizon users who want to keep their unlimited data plans will have to pay full price for the iPhone ($650-850).

iPhone 5 (AT&T)

iPhone 5 (ATT)

If you're one of the lucky ones who's still grandfathered in from AT&T's unlimited data days then you're pretty much stuck with AT&T. That said, AT&T does enjoy some benefits over Verizon. An exclusive feature of AT&T's GSM network allows users to use data and voice at the same time. This feature comes in handy when you're trying to give someone directions while talking to them.

While AT&T has a reputation for having holes in its coverage net, this is something that will only get better with time. Additionally, the carrier is not allowing FaceTime calls over cellular unless customers sign up for a shared data plan (which has all of your AT&T devices pulling from the same allotment of data). The good news is that AT&T's LTE is as fast as advertised, and achieves true 4G speeds. Downloads on an iPhone 5 were blazingly fast, when compared head to head with an iPhone 4S in midtown Manhattan.

The iPhone 5 experience on AT&T is by no means perfect. At the very least, it beats the 4S or any previous iPhone. 4G LTE speeds deliver as advertised. Still, many longtime AT&T users eager for a change might be tempted by Verizon, particularly the offer of FaceTime sans WiFi and shared data plan, and a much larger LTE footprint.

iPhone 5 (Sprint)

iPhone 5 (Sprint)

Where Sprint steals the show is in the unlimited data department. Boasting plans that are simple to understand and affordable, if unlimited data is your number one concern and you're not already grandfathered in with one of the other carriers then Sprint may be the best bet for you.

Of course, all that unlimited goodness comes at a technological cost. Of the three carriers offering the iPhone 5, Sprint has the smallest 4G service area. Simply put, an iPhone 5 on Sprint is basically an unlimited 3G phone. Having launched its LTE network a little more than two years ago in places like Baltimore, Atlanta, Kansas City and parts of Texas, for some reason major U.S. cities like New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles are still without 4G service.

Criticisms aside, FaceTime over cellular service, which has become a major point of contention for AT&T and Verizon, is far more straightforward with Sprint as their customers will be able to FaceTime over 3G and 4G at no additional cost. There's a lot to like about the iPhone 5 on Sprint, and a lot to dislike, especially if you live in the parts of the U.S. without its 4G service. You're basically choosing between unlimited data with Sprint, or 4G speeds with AT&T or Verizon, unless you live in those lucky parts of the U.S. with Sprint 4G, in which case you can have it all.

Editor-in-chief (US)

Wil (Twitter, Google+) is a technology editor and journalist who has written for a variety of outlets over the last 16 years, including CNET, Computer Gaming World and Incite. Wil also spent two years as the on-air gadget correspondent on G4TV's live daily show, Attack of the Show. Before joining TechRadar, Wil was the editor-in-chief of @GAMER, The Official Games Magazine of Best Buy.