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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.

  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.

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  2. Kevin Darty Tuesday, May 1, 2012

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

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    1. $45.95 per month for unlimited with tax.

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      1. Michael Williams Monday, July 16, 2012

        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.

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  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.

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    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.

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    2. Shawn Daugherty Friday, May 11, 2012

      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

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

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

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    2. Michael Williams 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.

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

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    1. both

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

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  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

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    1. 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?

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      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.

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        1. 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!

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    2. 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.

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      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?

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        1. 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. ;)

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      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.

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        1. 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?

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    3. Ashraj Dhindsa 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.

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      1. Christopher Kent Burkeland 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!

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        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!

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      2. Christopher Kent Burkeland Friday, May 11, 2012

        That’s an AT&T IPhone 3GS!

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  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.

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  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.

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  10. Nokuchikushi Tekukuno Tuesday, May 1, 2012

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

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    1. in the early 80s.

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    2. 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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  11. Veit Irtenkauf Wednesday, May 2, 2012

    Wrt to the Galaxy Nexus: What kind of “crapware” does Google pre-install that cannot be removed? And how much RAM does this thing have (and more importantly, have left when in service). It seems to me that most Android phones run out of RAM very quickly (without jailbreaking) when you install apps. Is that different on the Galaxy Nexus?

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    1. I’m sure some of the Google apps themselves can’t be uninstalled unless you go with a custom ROM, but there’s no “crapware” as it pertains to carrier apps. It’s a pure Google experience. IIRC, the phone has 1 GB of RAM. Android 4.0 does a fine job of memory management; it’s much improved.

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    2. I think you’re talking about two different things: RAM and storage for apps. The GNexus has 1gb of RAM so you can run lots of apps simultaneously and moreover, you can easily kill (most) apps by simply swiping them either left or right from the application switcher soft button.

      As for application storage, I believe because of the Galaxy Nexus no longer utilizes it’s flash as a USB mass storage device and instead uses MTP. Therefore, you can use the entire flash storage for apps vs having a limited amount of storage on /data and even more storage on your /sdcard mount. If you’re on a Mac and you plan to use a Galaxy Nexus, you will need to download Android File Transfer to traverse the file system and to put files on your phone. You can download Android File Transfer here: http://www.android.com/filetransfer/

      Finally, jail breaking is a term synonymous with iOS, Android. Rather, Android phones are rooted so you can traverse the file structure, change permissions, edit config and database settings, etc., using a third party tool like Root Explorer.

      One last thing to consider regarding the Galaxy Nexus vs other Android phones. If you buy the Galaxy Nexus, you can be sure that you will get the pure Android experience every time with no “value-added” UI changes and without waiting for carriers to develop and test for certification before releasing 5 – 6 months later. Also, and this is a big win – you will always have the latest and greatest version of Android first if you use a Nexus device. When Jelly Bean (or whatever the internal code name is) is released, it’s likely the first device to get it will be Galaxy Nexus or Galaxy Nexus 2 when it’s released.

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  12. Kevin– I work for @intermundomedia and we represent StraightTalk/ TracFone as their digital agency of record. We want to send you an iPhone to test and some more sims (AT&T micro, AT&T standard) in addition to your t-mo sim so you can better answer these questions.. Can you direct message me w/your email address? I’m @dwayned.

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  13. Just out of curiosity – why would you port from Google Talk to Straighttalk? If I had an AT&T number, I would rather pay the $25 to port from AT&T to Google Talk. Porting from Google Talk to Straighttalk removes flexibility since Google Talk can point to any mobile phone you have, regardless of mobile carrier. You can create ring groups and if you choose to get a phone from a different carrier, MVNO, etc., you never have to port again.

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    1. Your excellent comment is exactly why I didn’t do the GV port when I activated the SIM which arrived about 3 hours ago. ;) Thanks!

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      1. Awesome and glad I could help! I just got my Straighttalk SIM, too – in the biggest box ever for such a small card. Straighttalk (er, Tracfone) is likely trying to save costs by only having to buy one box type regardless of what they ship, but it doesn’t seem like the greenest of packaging options.

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  14. Anandtech.com has a very in depth review of the HTC One XL (the One XL is the LTE variant on AT&T). Their conclusion is very glowing:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/5779/htc-one-x-for-att-review/8

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  15. I have been using the Straight Talk (ST) BYOD service since they come out with the sim card a few months ago. I have been happy with the service in general. It is an awesome alternative for a lot of people to get away from ridicules fees of the Big 4. specially ATT and TMO since ST uses exactly the same coverage. BUT there a huge caveat in the service which I think ST needs to more open with there customers.
    Since this BYOD sim service started there has been a consensus built among the power users to be very careful of some unwritten rules and regulation of ST. (http://tinyurl.com/85ummzt)
    First and foremost Don’t use more than 2GB of data per month. Secondly don’t use more than 100MB of data per day. There have been many documented case were customers have lost their phone number because they where kicked off the grid by ST , they broke this rule of 2GB/ 100MB. ST has it in their TOS that customers cannot stream audio or video. Therefore no YouTube, Netflix, or Pandora etc, but this statement in there TOS is not enforced very strictly as long as the customer follows there 2GB/ month and 100 MB /day stipulation. I personally have been averaging 1.5GB data month and I do have to keep an eye on my data consumption, which is a pain at times. However, I pretty much have wifi where ever I go hence I am not too worried but if someone is going to avg more than 2GB a month I would strongly suggest to stay away from ST.
    Coming back to another positive, some users on ST- Tmo sim have also noticed that they were getting service in non native TMO coverage , which very strongly suggests that ST-TMO sims can roam on ATT for there Voice and Text services.
    Personally I have used both sim i.e ST-at&t and ST- Tmo and I was getting better speeds with St-Tmo sim ( both sims were tested on Gnex ) but this could very well vary depending upon the location of the person. But since ST services is provided through proxy servers hence data seems to be limited to 7.2Mbps therefore no HSPA+ 42 Mbit/s or 21 Mbit/s is available ( don’t even dream about at&t lte.. lol)
    I was averaging between 2 to 4 Mbit/s downloads and between 1 to 2 Mbit/s uploads.
    There is strong community of ST users on howardforums if someone wants to do more research before they move over to ST.

    P.S Setting up MMS on iphone is a pain for a newbie, but not that hard to do, jail break and put a an old TMO sim to change APN and then put the ATT sim again for more detailed info, I would suggest to crawl howardforums and use the search tool.

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    1. “some users on ST- Tmo sim have also noticed that they were getting service in non native TMO coverage , which very strongly suggests that ST-TMO sims can roam on ATT for there Voice and Text services.”

      If this is true it would be a huge positive for me. Thanks!

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    2. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Ron! One thing abou the proxy servers and lack of HSPA+ 21 / 42. I’m not 100% sure that’s accurate. I live in a T-Mo 21 Mbps coverage area and I speed tested on my Galaxy Nexus with both my T-Mo provided SIM and my ST SIM for T-Mo. Both tests were around 7 Mbps down and 2 back up in the same location, i.e.: same service I’ve always seen on my GNex; not slowed down on the ST SIM.

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      1. This is really exciting if T-mobile is giving access to their HSPA+ 21 / 42 speeds. As I said before, even I got better downloads/ uploads with T-mobile sim. When I compare my post paid ATT with my ST –ATT I am not getting ping times that are at par with each other. ST-ATT ping times are always higher (even when connected to same servers)
        May be it is my location. Kevin I would love to know what experience you have with ST’s “unlimited data” that they advertise. Since ST is officially sending you sim’s to test their service and you are in touch with them, can they give there position on the data allowance they give every month.
        Thanks
        Ron

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  16. I just ordered my Straight Talk sim for AT&T and a Galaxy Nexus from Google Play. I am going to test it out for a month in the SF Bay Area and possibly bring six lines to Straight Talk if everything works out. I am the most active data user on my account using about 2.5g per month so we’ll see how that goes. I am also debating should I also order a T-MO sim and test along side the AT&T to determine the best coverage. I checked botjh carriers maps and both have decent coverage near my home. I am mainly concerned about data speeds. I am getting .3 mb down on Sprint 3g :-(

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    1. I look forward to your findings “Be Patient”. I live in the East Bay and I’m in SF often. I’ve also been considering ST but typically use a little over 2 gigs of data monthly, mostly podcast downloads, navigation and email. I’ve got a T-MO GS2 and have been considering a g-Nexus or One-X. This site has been really helpful. Thanks.

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      1. Green Tee, I am in SF during business hours and in Vallejo the rest of the time and around the bay area on weekends. I will update the site when I get set up.

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    2. I’ll be testing the same combo in the South Bay, beginning sometime next week when I receive my SIM from ST. I’m currently using a G2x on the T-Mo network; the comparison of voice coverage and data speeds should be interesting.

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      1. Stevie P, I will be on the lookout for your updates!

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  17. a month is almost up, I’d like to see how you fared, and also hear if you got bumped for excessive data use.

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    1. Ah, I shared the experience and everything I learned about 2 days ago here: http://gigaom.com/mobile/straight-talk-it-could-let-you-dump-att-or-t-mobile/ Hope that helps!

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  18. Bren (◕‿◕) Friday, June 15, 2012

    Ok I’m lost in all the silly iPhone talk here.What I want to know is simple…will the Nexus that is available on the Google Play store work FULLY on Straight Talk if I purchase the phone and a Straight Talk SIM?

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    1. Yes, that’s exactly my current setup: Galaxy Nexus with a Straight Talk SIM. You can choose a SIM for either AT&T or T-Mo’s network with the Galaxy Nexus, so you’ll want to choose the one with better/faster coverage in your area. For me, that was T-Mo. If that changes and AT&T boosts their network near me, I’ll switch to an AT&T SIM from ST. That’s the beauty of the Galaxy Nexus: The pentaband radio supports both networks! :)

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      1. Bren (◕‿◕) Sunday, June 17, 2012

        It’s the regular size sim card right not the micro sim?

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        1. Correct, the regular size SIM card is used in the Nexus. If you think you’ll be getting other GSM phones in the near future you *may* want to get the microSIM from ST and a microSIM adapter for a few bucks from Amazon. Then you’re covered either way. ;) You will need to modify a few settings in the Mobile Networks area of Android, but the info for that will come with the SIM. It takes all of 2 minutes to do.

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      2. Bren (◕‿◕) Sunday, June 17, 2012

        Oh and 1 other thing is there any setting or programming needed when the ST sim is placed inside the Nexus or will the phone automatically get whatever info it needs from the sim once activated?

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  19. Has anyone had any issues with data connectivity on ST/AT&T using Android 4.0? I cannot more than a lousy 2G speed and should be getting 3G.

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  20. With a Nexus should I put it on AT&T or T-Mobile in regards to data and speed?

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  21. Charles Chazz Matthews Saturday, July 7, 2012

    Thanks for this. I just ordered two Straight Talk (AT&T) sim cards and two new Galaxy Nexus phones (off eBay), for me and my wife.

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  22. Charles Chazz Matthews Saturday, July 7, 2012

    Thanks for this. I just ordered two Straight Talk (AT&T) sim cards and two new Galaxy Nexus phones (off eBay), for me and my wife.

    Yeah, a whack in the wallet for all that, but I’m leaving a regional pre-paid carrier who does not have a good selection of phones and has spotty roaming outside their market areas.

    From you and others, the Straight Talk speeds seem to be equal or better to what I’m getting now (2mbps – 4mbps), the cost is comparable (we are paying $50 each, which includes taxes and fees) but we will have a much better phone and not have to worry about no data when roaming or even no roaming coverage away from the interstates.

    The phones and sim cards should arrive next week. Also debating porting our current cell phone numbers over to Google Voice and forward them to the ST numbers, instead of porting our cell numbers directly to ST.

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  23. I am considering Straight Talk in San Francisco. We have three unlocked iPhones currently on T-Mobile. The phone and MMS service on T-Mobile are very good in the Bay Area, but T-Mobile doesn’t support 4g for the iPhone (only Edge). AT&T has 3G Data service for the iPhone, but their phone and MMS service has been famously poor. Do I have to choose between Great Phone & MMS Service or Great Data Service?

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  24. Lorenzo Balderas Wednesday, July 11, 2012

    Their service says domestic unlocked phones will work, does that mean the unlocked international version of the Galaxy s3 will not?

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