"[Prepaid] was painted in the past as the low-rent option, the budget option," said Scott Steinberg, head of technology for technology consulting and analysis firm TechSavvy. "Now it's quickly becoming recast as the practical option for everyday cell phone users who don't want to be tethered to or shackled to a wireless plan. There's been a major shift."
It used to be that you might sacrifice coverage or customer service, but increasingly that's changing, he said.
Jeff Blyskal, senior editor for "In almost every case, the prepaid was a better deal," he said. Depending on the plan and how many minutes they need, he said customers could save anywhere from $20 to $1,600 a year.
For example, people could only use about 100 minutes a month could save about $20 to $360 a year with Boost Mobile's Pay as You Go service plan.
Consumer Reports' Blyskal said Tracfone was another top-rated carrier in terms of customer service, Web service, connectivity and more. He said it resells minutes from Verizon's network, which has consistently come out on top.
"The more bells and whistles you want, the more likely you'll be with contract, but that's changing. Keep your eyes on prepaid," Blyskal said. "You have to do the math and check it out, but it seems like it's pretty good."