Many of money expert Clark Howard’s fans have turned to TracFone-owned Straight Talk for cheap cell phone service. Should you make the switch?
Straight Talk partners with the Big 4 networks, lets you bring your own phone and is available at Walmart.
Straight Talk review: Everything you need to know
I wanted to know how Straight Talk compares to its prepaid competitors, so I signed up for a 30-day plan to review call and text performance, data speeds, customer service and more.
Overall, there were more pros than cons, but Straight Talk probably isn’t for everyone. Read on to learn why…
Straight Talk review: Table of contents
- Plans and pricing
- Network partners
- Getting started
- Phone options
- Call and text performance
- Data speeds
- Customer service
- Pros and cons
Plans and pricing
When I purchased the $45 plan, it included 10GB of high-speed data. Now, it’s 25GB for the same price.
That’s a good value compared to the $35/month plan, which only includes 3GB of high-speed data before you’re slowed to 2G speeds for the rest of your billing cycle.
Unlimited data plans do exist, but they don’t include mobile hotspot and cost up to $60/month.
In addition to its monthly plans, Straight Talk offers 3-month, 6-month and 12-month data plans at a discounted rate. There are also slightly lower prices for plans with auto-refill.
Straight Talk is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), which is a cell phone provider that doesn’t have its own towers but partners with one or more networks to provide coverage.
One of Straight Talk’s selling points is that it works on all of the Big 4 networks: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.
To be clear, that doesn’t mean you’ll get access to all four networks at the same time. You will only get one. The network will be chosen based on your location and device.
Straight Talk is available at more than 3,000 Walmart locations nationwide, but you can also order SIM cards, service plans and phones through StraightTalk.com.
I ended up purchasing a SIM card and 30-day plan from Walmart’s electronics section, but that wasn’t my initial plan.
At first, I ordered a SIM card from StraightTalk.com. I didn’t read the fine print that said the SIM card would be delivered by FedEx and required a signature.
Typically, prepaid carriers will send SIM cards through the U.S. Postal Service and leave them in your mailbox.
FedEx said they attempted to deliver the SIM card three times, but I never had a note left on my door. Eventually, the package was returned to Straight Talk.
Two weeks after my initial order, I gave up with the website and just drove to Walmart.
Once I got home from Walmart with the SIM Activation Kit, I opened it up and selected the AT&T SIM card that worked with my unlocked Moto G6 test phone.
I followed the step-by-step instructions and got a new phone number, but you can also keep your existing one.
After inserting the SIM card into my phone and following the provided setup instructions, I received this message from Straight Talk:
“Your phone or device is in the process of being Activated. Please wait 5 minutes and then test your service. If after 1 hour your service is still not active, please contact us at 1-877-430-2355. If you have a Remote Alert System, contact us at 1-888-251-8165. For Car Connection, contact us at 1-866-812-2776.”
Unfortunately, it ended up taking closer to an hour (not 5 minutes) to get my service up and running.
To save money, you can keep your current phone (check compatibility) and switch to Straight Talk. That’s what I did for this test. However, the wireless provider also sells iPhones and Androids if you’re ready for an upgrade.
Straight Talk has a wide selection of phones, including a few budget devices that are free with plan purchase.
If you can’t pay the full price of the phone, up to 24-month financing is offered on some devices. It is not 0% financing. For that reason, you may want to shop elsewhere for a phone.
Call and text performance
For the 30 days that I tested Straight Talk using an AT&T SIM card, I experienced zero dropped calls and zero missing text messages from my home location in Atlanta, Georgia.
In the past, I’ve had more issues with AT&T MVNOs compared to Verizon MVNOs. Not this time!
When I called my family and friends, I always made sure to ask them to rate the call quality. They said they were able to hear my voice loud and clear.
Wi-Fi Calling is available on select devices, but I was unable to try out this feature.
Slow data is a big concern for people who like to stream video and music, surf the web and use social media apps.
Overall, Straight Talk’s data speeds were not impressive. I conducted 10 speed tests using the Speedtest app and the average was less than 10 Mbps.
That’s plenty fast for streaming, but there were times when YouTube videos did buffer a little bit.
From my experience testing low-cost cell phone providers, Verizon MVNOs have had faster data speeds. One of them, Total Wireless, is owned by the same company as Straight Talk.
I read lots of complaints about Straight Talk’s customer service on the Better Business Bureau’s website, but the agent I spoke to helped me troubleshoot the SIM card delivery issue with FedEx.
In addition to phone and chat support, customers can text 611611 for help with their service.
For example, I texted USAGE to 611611 throughout my 30-day trial of Straight Talk’s service and received a summary of my data usage a few minutes later.
If you text HELP to 611611, you’ll receive a list of the carrier’s top help keywords.
Pros and cons
Pros and cons of Straight Talk cell phone service
|Good deal: $45 for 25GB plan||No mobile hotspot|
|Available nationwide at Walmart||Slow data speeds at times|
|Free and low-cost phones available for sale||Phones with financing can be costly|
Straight Talk is a popular prepaid carrier because it’s easy to keep your phone, number and the network that you love.
The pricing isn’t the lowest that you can find, but the new $45 for 25GB deal is very similar to what other wireless providers market as “unlimited”— and it doesn’t break the bank.
Many people will be perfectly happy with Straight Talk, but I don’t recommend it if you…
- Want the fastest data speeds
- Rely heavily on customer service
- Require mobile hotspot
Share your Straight Talk review in the comments below and read more in Clark’s cell phone guide!