61 Comments

Summary:

Own a Galaxy Nexus, iPhone or other GSM handset? If so and you’re tired of the cost and long-term contract, Straight Talk’s SIM card may be an option. The no-contract deal is $45 for unlimited voice minutes, messages and HSPA+ data on either AT&T or T-Mobile.

iphone-on-nexus

Now that Google is selling an unlocked, no-contract version of the Galaxy Nexus for $399, will it change the U.S. mindset on subsidized smartphones? Probably not in any meaningful way, but for those who want to regain some control from their carrier, or actually choose which carrier to use their phone on, the Nexus is appealing. The radios inside the Android 4.0 smartphone can work on either AT&T’s or T-Mobile’s voice and HSPA+ data networks. Of course, you need a SIM card to make this happen.

Straight Talk, a brand of TracFone’s MVNO service, offers a SIM for the Galaxy Nexus or any other GSM phone that’s compatibile with these two carrier networks. That includes the AT&T iPhone handsets, even if not unlocked since the phone will see this as an AT&T card.

This past Sunday, I ordered a SIM card and one month of service from Straight Talk. The card should arrive later this week and I’ll simply pop into my own Galaxy Nexus and go. Aside from the no-contract, month-to-month terms, the deal is a sweet one: $45 gets you unlimited voice minutes, messaging and HSPA+ data.

A comparable contract plan for that service can easily be double that amount. Sprint is probably the most apt in terms of comparison as it is the only major U.S. carrier that truly offers unlimited services without any throttling or data caps. And it charges $99 per month, or more than twice what a Straight Talk account costs. You’re not going to get 4G LTE service with this plan, but depending on your coverage area, HSPA+ could be more than fast enough. I routinely see 10 Mbps peak download speeds on T-Mobile’s network where I live and I’ve seen even faster on AT&T’s network.

A few points worth noting:

  • Until just today, Straight Talk’s coverage maps didn’t seem accurate as the non-Android map looked like AT&T’s map, while the Android coverage image looked like T-Mobile’s footprint. In this Google Plus thread on the topic, Straight Talk customers have said that HSPA+ service on Android devices has worked on AT&T’s network even though the map indicates they won’t. Regardless, the coverage map now looks up to date; there’s just one.
  • Yes, the iPhone is supported and when you order from Straight Talk: you not only choose your GSM provider, but also your SIM form factor: standard or micro SIM.
  • Although advertised as unlimited, some have reported that their data was cut off after excessive use, so don’t expect this solution to work as a full-time mobile hotspot; in fact, using the SIM for tethering purposes is not allowed per the TOS. You might be able to tether in a pinch for limited use but typical smartphone activity is likely no issue.
  • You can refill the $45 service as needed, or if you find it more convenient, you can set up an auto-refill. There’s still no long-term contract, but this makes it easier to maintain service.
  • Straight Talk does permit number porting if you want to make this your full-time phone service without losing your current number. I was actually considering a number port of my custom Google Voice number, which is supported, but since I’m going to test the waters with a new SIM, I think I’ll hold off on that for now.
  • Part of the reason I’m testing this out is because I have a data-only SIM — from a tablet — in my Galaxy Nexus now. For $30 a month, I get 2 GBs of data, unlimited messaging and no voice minutes. I’ve worked around the voice situation through VoIP and SIP but I have missed a few calls due to areas with limited data coverage. Plus, after I add in a few dollars for calls and my SIP account, I’m paying closer to $40 a month anyway.

Given how expensive a long-term unlimited contract can be, plans such as this one can save a ton of money, provided you’re willing to buy a phone at full price. Ricky Cadden, one of my mobile peers that used to run the now-defunct Symbian Guru site, did a little math and found the Straight Talk plan saves around $1,600 over two years:

Btw, I did some quick math last night – AT&T for 2 smartphones at 700 shared minutes is ~$190/mo in Texas (taxes estimated at 20%), plus $200/phone, you’re looking at about $4960 over 2 years. Straight Talk is ~$90/mo (assume taxes are included), plus $600/phone, you’re looking at $3360 over 2 years. That’s a savings of $1600 over 2 years, or about $67/mo. Only difference is you have to pay the bulk up front, with $1200 for phones (estimated, of course).

When you take a hard look at the numbers, you can see why this type of no-contract plan appeals. Aside from my iPhone 4S this past October, I haven’t bought a subsidized phone since January 2010, when I nabbed Google’s Nexus One. With a $45 plan and choice of carrier, I’m more unlikely than ever to buy a handset that commits me to a long, pricey contract.

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  1. Rachel Johnson Tuesday, May 1, 2012

    I’ve been doing this for about 6 months. Generally works great — essentially AT&T for $45/month — your actual bill all included is $45.95 I believe.

  2. Kevin Darty Tuesday, May 1, 2012

    So is this $45 a month, Taxes included or is it $45 a month plus Tax?

    1. $45.95 per month for unlimited with tax.

      1. For me it actually comes out to $46.52 with tax. I’ve been using it for about 2 years now. This is only my second month using the ZTE Merit smartphone. It’s a pretty decent phone but very limited on available internal storage.

  3. Oh, and the “unlimited data” is basically BS just like it always is (except Sprint). Read the fine print — it’s really 2GB just like AT&T and then who knows what happens after that — unclear if it’s really a hard cap or just throttled. I believe it’s again exactly what AT&T offers — both for data and for voice.

    1. its actually an account cancellation, and you can not port your number. you get a warning phone call and than 100 MB later your account is closed without any additional notice.’

      it does seem that you can use quite a bit more data(and maybe minutes and texts) if you choose a t-mobile SIM over an AT&T one.

    2. I have had straight talk for about three years now.. I think it is an a ok service. There is no real set amount in the unlimited plan (they dont have one listed) its great though i use my dell streak 5 and watch plenty of netflix without wifi and have not got bothered yet, also i tether for my laptop its great

  4. Have you seen/tried T-Mobile’s Monthly4G plan? $30 month, 100 minutes, unlimited messages, 5GB 4G data (after that it’s throttled).

    1. Kevin C. Tofel Kchrpm Tuesday, May 1, 2012

      Yup, that’s another good option if you have a T-Mobile phone and don’t need many voice minutes. Thanks!

    2. Michael Williams Kchrpm Monday, July 16, 2012

      That is a good deal as well. My problem is I use my phone for work as well and some days I would use 100 minutes in one day.

  5. So does this work with AT&T locked iPhones or just unlocked ones?

  6. @Ted T. Never mind — the article says it doesn’t need to be unlocked.

  7. This article isn’t entirely accurate, I’ve tried this. The iPhone thinks it’s an att sim card so you can’t change the apn settings without a jailbreak, which means no mms. You can save an art.mvno profile to get data service without a jailbreak

    In my unlocked T-Mobile galaxy s2 I can change the apn settings so everything works but it’s only 3g hspa, I never get above 2 mbps down in boston and it only shows the 3g symbol

    Tmobile is the way to go unless you go outside their coverage often. The tmobile bring your own device plans are cheap for what you get, I use less than 100 minutes per month anyways

    The unlocked galaxy nexus from Google is a better deal than an unlocked iPhone , way bigger screen, great battery life

    1. Kevin C. Tofel mark Tuesday, May 1, 2012

      Mark, I didn’t suggest using a T-Mobile Straight Talk SIM in an AT&T locked iPhone; is that what you’re referring to?

      1. Are you serious? You currently can’t get hspa from tmobile on an att iphone only and edge is more like 150 kbps no 2 mbps. I put an att straight talk sim in an unlocked iphone 4s

        I’m just saying the att.mvno straight talk data service appears to be limitted to 3g hspa, not giving you access to 10 mbps on their hspa+ network.

        1. Kevin C. Tofel mark Tuesday, May 1, 2012

          Right: the SIM won’t magically add 3G speeds to an unlocked iPhone on T-Mobile’s network because the device doesn’t support T-Mo’s 1700 MHz band. That’s always been the case; I was confused by your comment because you mentioned T-Mo; my bad.

          You could be right about the slower 3G speeds (and not HSPA+) with this SIM but folks who have tried it (see the linked G+ thread) have said otherwise. I’ll know when my SIM arrives!

    2. Kevin C. Tofel mark Wednesday, May 2, 2012

      Mark, my SIM just arrived, a day early, which is awesome. Before I activated it in my Galaxy Nexus, I did a speed test with my T-Mo provided SIM: 4372 kbps down, 1306 kbps up, 137 ms ping.

      I then swapped in the Straight Talk SIM, activated and set up the correct APN and repeated the test: 5389 kbps down, 1263 kbps up and 158 ms ping. That’s close to enough to roughly equal, so I’m not sure why you’re only getting 3G speeds / signal in Boston.

      1. wow that’s great Kevin, I’ll try it in a galaxy nexus when I get the chance. Have you tried it in an iPhone 4s?

        1. Kevin C. Tofel mark Wednesday, May 2, 2012

          Nope, my iPhone 4S isn’t unlocked so the ST SIM (with T-Mo service) won’t work. I knew that going in and didn’t order a micro SIM; another hurdle unless I get to chopping it. ;)

      2. I was hoping that you had ordered an AT&T-compatible SIM from Straight Talk so that I could see a data speed comparison of AT&T and T-Mo on a Galaxy Nexus.

        1. Kevin C. Tofel Stevie P Friday, May 4, 2012

          Stevie, I have some additional SIM cards coming from Straight Talk’s PR department; after I wrote my article, they pinged me. So I’ll be able to do just what you propose, but I don’t see much value in it. Why? Because the speeds on either network are completely dependent on coverage at the test location. The phone / 21 Mbps radio is a constant, but results will vary based on if I test in an area where one carrier has implemented a faster network. I live in T-Mo’s 21 Mbps footprint, for example, but it’s possible that AT&T has only upgraded my area to 7.2 or 14 Mbps, so the test would show AT&T faster. But in another area, the two network implementations may be comparable and thus the test would show little variance. Make sense?

    3. Ashraj Dhindsa mark Wednesday, May 2, 2012

      Actually you can make everything work without Jailbreak. I have the solution and how to. Anyone who says otherwise simply needs to read the details and know how to change apn and also for mms you need to do a different process which I only test on the 4S and it works without a jailbreak.

      1. Christopher Kent Burkeland Ashraj Dhindsa Friday, May 11, 2012

        How do you change the apn on the iphone? I got ST sim for AT&T phone and it works but no data service! Would appreciate knowing how to change the apn and mms!

        1. Christopher, if you hit up this site from your iPhone over WiFi, there’s a small download that will configure the APN settings for data: http://www.unlockit.co.nz/mobilesettings/settings.php?id=242 For MMS, you may need to pop an AT&T SIM in there first to get MMS working then swap out for the Straight Talk SIM. Hope that helps!

      2. Christopher Kent Burkeland Ashraj Dhindsa Friday, May 11, 2012

        That’s an AT&T IPhone 3GS!

  8. Cyrus Farivar Tuesday, May 1, 2012

    Yep, been doing this with my factory-unlocked used iPhone 4 (bought in Germany) for the last 3 weeks. Awesome.

  9. Thanks, Kevin, for this article — it’s very helpful!

    This afternoon I decided to return my Lumia 900 and, instead, ordered two SIM’s from this service.

    Would be great to see an update (or follow-up post) with your first impressions of the service.

  10. Nokuchikushi Tekukuno Tuesday, May 1, 2012

    UGH! When did “bad” (as in “my bad”) become a noun?

    1. If I remember my history correctly, the first instance of this expression was uttered by Saigo Takamori in late September, 1877. But I am a victim of the American public school system, so I may not have translated his statement correctly.

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