Back in March we opened the DealNews forum to our readers who wanted to discuss Straight Talk. We were quite frankly shocked by not only the number of comments and complaints from customers, but also the questions and concerns that would-be Straight Talk Wireless customers had.
In the months since, we've been working to put together a feature that attempts to clarify not only what Straight Talk is and how it may help certain consumers save money on their cell phone bill, but also offers insight into ways current Straight Talk Wireless customers can rectify some of the most common issues they've had with its customer service. As such, aspects of our Straight Talk Wireless review are culled straight from reader comments; and we'd love to hear more and keep the conversation going. So, what is Straight Talk and is it any good?
Straight Talk Wireless and How It Works
Straight Talk is a month-to-month wireless service sold by Walmart and supported by TracFone. The latter is a company that claims to have "coverage in 99.6% of the cellular populations" and is contracted with major carriers, to purportedly "bring the same level of coverage through the same cell towers." A representative from Straight Talk also claims that it provides service in "more ZIP codes than any other single carrier."
What Makes Straight Talk Wireless Great
The up-front price of $45 per month includes unlimited minutes, texts, and data, and is ideal for light smartphone users. However, Straight Talk may not be the best choice for folks who stream a lot of videos, because the carrier implements speed throttling past the first 2.5GB of data used each month. (Some users swear up and down that they experience throttling before that 2.5GB point, although there are many factors that could contribute to that perception.)
Still, Straight Talk is cheap enough that it allows consumers to purchase high-end phones — such as the iPhone 5 ($549), iPhone 4S ($449), or the Samsung Galaxy S3 ($399) — without subsidization. When Straight Talk originally added the iPhone to its lineup, Walmart offered the phone with a $25 per month financing option, instead of paying in full up-front. However, it doesn't appear to allow financing for any models at this time. Currently, Walmart offers 61 no-contract Straight Talk phones for purchase in conjunction with the Straight Talk plan, including Android phones, Windows phones, Blackberry phones, iPhones, and more; that said, Walmart doesn't yet sell the iPhone 5S or 5C through Straight Talk.
For folks who want to save even more money, Straight Talk allows new customers to use their current GSM or CMDA smartphone on the Straight Talk network. GSM phones have SIM cards and must be unlocked to operate on Straight Talk's compatible frequencies, 850MHz and 1900MHz. CDMA phones, on the other hand, require additional registration and activation to verify compatibility with Straight Talk.
Perhaps more important to potential customers: last month Straight Talk started selling SIM cards for unlocked devices that use AT&T-compatible 4G LTE. CNET reports that Straight Talk's $45-a-month plan is $10 cheaper than AT&T's own prepaid service, Aio Wireless. For existing Straight Talk customers who want LTE speeds, they must buy a new SIM card.
Straight Talk Can Save You $600 a Year
The the average cell phone plan costs $100 a month. Since Straight Talk Wireless customers pay just $45 a month, the difference amounts to more than $600 a year in savings. Even taking into account the cost of a new, unsubsidized smartphone, you'd still break even just 10 months after having switched to Straight Talk.
Straight Talk Controversy: Coverage, Data Plans, Customer Service
The clear-cut savings aside, there are unmissable customer complaints about Straight Talk coverage and the throttling of its data plans. First off, the service has some restrictions; Straight Talk does not permit roaming and it cannot operate as a hotspot. And while the service touts an extensive coverage map, a common complaint amongst our own users is the strength of signal.
In July, a lawsuit alleged that Straight Talk was limiting customers' data speeds after having used a certain amount of data. This concern has since been resolved in the fine print: if a customer consumes more than 2.5GB in 30 days, "data speed[s] will be reduced for the remainder of the 30-day cycle."
But perhaps the most focused point of contention amongst DealNews readers pertained to Straight Talk's customer service, or lack thereof. From the inability to even reach a customer service rep to a representative's failure to address a number of issues in a timely manner, we now understand some of the stresses involved in having to deal with Straight Talk Wireless customer service. As such, we want to offer some tips and techniques for reaching Straight Talk Wireless customer service and prompting the department to resolve your issues.
How to Reach Straight Talk Wireless Customer Service
Thanks to GetHuman.com, you can reach a Straight Talk Wireless customer service rep in less time. Dial 877-430-2355. Press 1 for English, then press press 5; 5; and 2. Notice how we didn't say, "you can ready a Straight Talk Wireless customer service rep in no time"? That's because the average wait time is 30 minutes when the customer service desk is open Monday through Sunday from 8 am to 11:45 pm ET.
Other Ways to Reach Straight Talk Wireless Customer Service
Our research shows that Straight Talk does some monitoring of social media channels and comment boards, so a rep may reach out to help address a complaint in response to a posted comment. If Twitter and Facebook aren't for you, we found an email address: ST.CorpResolutionTeam@straighttalk.com that may be helpful in getting questions answered. When reporting an issue with phone service, it's important to include your phone number and the serial number of your phone in the email.
Straight Talk Wireless won't win any awards for its customer service. Likewise we can't predict how much more restrictive Straight Talk's — or any carrier's — "unlimited" plans might get over time, or how hard it might be to resolve any problems you'll have with your new (or old) device on its network. But it's worth noting that Straight Talk's LTE coverage and continued fixed monthly service cost remain a serious consideration for budget-minded shoppers. And as we've mentioned in other features, there are multiple ways to get a cheap cell phone plan.
Readers, what do you think of Straight Talk Wireless service? Do you have any further pros or cons to add to our review? Please add to the discussion in our comments below.