After living with and paying for Straight Talk for 2 years, this review /editorial will serve as the official follow-up to my initial review filed in May 2011.
Keep in mind that my experiences will not necessarily mirror your own and as always, do your research before purchasing wireless service with a new service provider, lest you end up with an expensive paperweight.
On May 10th 2011, after taking some time out to investigate my options for prepaid flat-rate monthly wireless service I took a chance on Straight Talk after being unsatisfied with the then current options in MetroPCS, Boost/Virgin Mobile and smaller alternatives due to their rates and lack of options.
At the time, Straight Talk was the best compromise for what I was looking for with a price at or below $50 a month, with full flat rate monthly access which meant unlimited voice, messaging and data without having to worry about burning through talk time or messages. Since those days, StraightTalk itself has gone through many changes, some good and some bad.
2. Straight Talk’s Recent Changes
The good about the changes centers on an official program for bring your own device support for non-BlackBerry GSM and Verizon CDMA devices, after months of unofficial device swapping tricks and hacks. The program first made its debut last year after months of speculation and anticipation, and it seemed that it addressed many of the needs and desires of those that wanted to purchase their own devices or bring previously activated AT&T phones to the virtual operator, but the worst change since then has been the elimination of AT&T from the majority of its service area and BYOD offering at the beginning of this year, only to replace it with T-Mobile network access and the recent addition of Verizon BYOD.
Following the initial introduction of BYOD last year, Straight Talk scored another big point against other virtual operators later in the year by being the first virtual operator to offer a Verizon-powered Android smartphone after years of the carrier refusing to support smartphones on MVNOs and pricing data access to the point where many Verizon MVNOs had the smallest data allotments out of all offerings.
With the introduction of the Samsung Proclaim, StraightTalk had simultaneously revived its Verizon agreement and ushered in a new wave of customer gains as current and former StraightTalk customers rushed to purchase the phone to take advantage of Verizon’s expansive prepaid coverage compared to previous Android options powered by Sprint.
3. The Glaring, Long Standing Negatives of Using Straight Talk
However, since those days, the bad aspects about Straight Talk have also made themselves more apparent, such as low quality telephone support, arbitrary data limits without explicitly stating limits leading to customers being throttled or even booted from the service and very little in the way of transparency when taking terms and conditions into account. To this day, representatives refuse to elaborate on data limits despite advertising unlimited service and repeated questions across the media concerning the issue, forcing users to discover the limitations on their own through trial and many errors.
3. Staying with Straight Talk During The Explosive Growth of Prepaid
Two years on from my first review of the service and even taking the aforementioned issues into account, I’m happy to say that I’m still a satisfied StraightTalk customer, even with the exponential growth of flat-rate prepaid and more compelling alternatives from other brands and even carriers. I still use the Nokia E71 I purchased to start Straight Talk service with no issues and it has served me quite well, with many trips across the country for conventions and solid performance wherever I needed it, both in terms of talk time and battery life, as well as serving as a decent hotspot modem in a pinch.
I’ve been tempted to move to other prepaid services during my tenure with Straight Talk, such as Sprint-powered Voyager Mobile, owing to its much cheaper $39 monthly rate for unlimited service which includes LTE service, but what keeps me from making the move centers on the current lack of nationwide LTE coverage and giving up a fair bit of overall coverage, which I’ve come to rely on during travel. Other virtual providers and brands may also have lower rates or faster data access for more per month, but as in my first review, they lack the peace of mind I found with Straight Talk.
4. Savings And Phone Upgrade Possibilities
I’ve saved exactly $1209.12 over 2 years with Straight Talk, doubling its oft advertised $950 yearly savings rate, and the savings are indeed appreciated, though what would be even nicer would be keeping the $45 rate while including all necessary taxes and fees, which would make the offering even more attractive than it already is and is the main reason I plan to stay a Straight Talk customer for the foreseeable future, though now I have another dilemma.
As is common with many people after 2 years, now it’s time for me to upgrade my phone. While the E71 is perfectly useful, only needing a new battery and in near mint condition otherwise, the operating system itself in Symbian is close to being officially sunset and apps for the device are steadily declining despite the steady stream of operating system updates before support officially ends in 2016.
Paying a consistent $50.38 per month has been a small joy over the 2 years I’ve had service, because it’s been the only consistent monthly expense I have while everything else I pay for has gone up in cost, something that should be taken into account when budgeting for monthly expenses.
5. Viable, Timely Options for New Devices
This is where the biggest positive change for Straight Talk has pushed it to the top, as it now offers halo devices such as the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S III while still offering mid-range smartphones and cheaper feature phones that made up the bulk of its line up 2 years ago. More smartphones are also available for every budget level, a stark difference compared to 2011 and a major reason for the explosive growth both in smartphones and customer growth.
I’m not necessarily starved for choice the way I was in 2011 having chosen the E71 due to the relative lack of compelling phones at the time, but now that I can choose between iOS and Android as well as Windows Phone 8 with the Huawei W1, the question now becomes which platform do I tie myself down to for the next 24 months, as all three have their advantages and disadvantages.
6. Unlocked Devices: Even More Choice
Even with all of the increased choice, I can still choose to forgo buying a branded Straight Talk smartphone and just pull the active SIM from my current phone and buy another device, giving me potentially more choices. My current mission now is finding the perfect device to fit the service I’m using, especially since I still have access to AT&T service and coverage.
My ideal device would actually be the BlackBerry Q10, as it features a similar shape to the E71, though it isn’t widely available as an unlocked device yet and the AT&T-branded version hasn’t been released yet, making it very likely that I won’t be able to just buy one outright when it is launched sometime next month, owing to routinely stupid store and company policies regarding new devices and outright purchases without a plan purchase from AT&T.
Barring that option, this is what I’m currently looking at for an upgrade from my current phone:
- iPhone 5 (64GB Straight Talk version)
- Samsung Galaxy S IV (16GB AT&T version)
- Sony Xperia ZL (Unlocked 16GB version)
- Nokia 808 PureView (Unlocked version)
- Huawei W1 (StraightTalk version)
- HTC One (64GB AT&T version)
While I mull over my options in terms of an upgrade, I’ll close this by saying that I’m glad I chose Straight Talk over other more well-known and better advertised offerings in 2011, even when they weren’t as well-known as they are now.
Time will tell if I’ll feel the same 2 more years from now, but these past two years have been a smoother experience than I could have ever expected or wanted from a prepaid service. Will experiences vary? Of course they will, such is the nature of cellular service in the US, especially prepaid service.
What I can say is that anyone paying more than $50 for service a month is doing themselves a great disservice by not looking and shopping around for alternatives to pay less money for identical service per month. Straight Talk currently offers the most options for different needs and situations, something that can’t be said for the majority of virtual operators and even carriers. Will Straight Talk be right for everyone? No, but it should be kept in mind as a viable option when shopping around for prepaid service.