Mexico based América Móvil, the fourth largest mobile network in the world, doesn't have a network of it's own in the US but operates the country's largest MVNO under the TracFone banner with subsidiary brands Net10, Safelink and StraightTalk. The latter has been offering unlimited talk, text in and data for $45/month since late last year.
Straight Talk phones are only available online and at Wal-Mart stores. While Straight Talk is attractive to heavy talkers and texters, the data part of the deal is less than inspiring due to the locked down nature of the service and handsets. You have to use one of Straight Talk's selection of feature phones which are BREW based and do not allow the installation of any apps, paid or free. The only use for that unlimited data was browsing the mobile web with the rather feeble WAP browsers that are pre-installed on the phones. Because the phones don't support Java ME there's no way to use the Opera Mini or Bolt browsers or IM, Gmail or Google Maps apps.
All that changed early this month when users on Howard Forums reported seeing a new line of Straight Talk GSM phones in a few Walmart stores. Monday, on their blog, Straight Talk confirmed the launch of the GSM service and the GSM phones are now available on Straight Talk's website.
The new phones are:
- The Samsung T401G (top), a rather plump $99.99 candybar with a three row QWERTY keyboard that slides out from the side.
- The LG 620G (above, right), a $69.99 12 key slider.
Both phones have an MP3 player, 1.3 MB video capable camera, Bluetooth and a 176x220 px screen. The T401G's screen is 2.1 inches, the 620G's screen size is unspecified but looks to be about the same size. Neither supports 3G either, just GPRS and Edge. They are available at Walmart stores across the country and online at Straighttalk.com. The onlines prices are $45 higher because they include the first month's service.
In addition to the unlimited plan, the GSM phones can also be used on Straight Talk's $30/month "All You need" plan which includes 1000 minutes, 1000 texts and 30MB of data.
Several Howard Forums users have bought these phones and reported that the phone's home network is AT&T with free roaming, probably on T-Mobile, in some areas. This is a good deal as the Straight Talk CDMA phones do not roam off of Verizon. TracFone and Net10 phones come with either a T-Mobile or AT&T SIM depending on the market. So far no one has reported finding a Straight Talk phone with a T-Mobile SIM.
The phones and SIMs are both locked. An AT&T SIM will not work in a Straight Talk phone. More significantly, a Straight Talk SIM will not work in an unlocked GSM phone, so forget about using one in an iPhone or Nexus One.
Perhaps the nicest thing about Straight Talk GSM is that, unlike all of Straight Talk's previous offerings. the LG phone lets you install and run Java apps from third party sites. The Bolt browser, Opera Mini 3, 4.2 and 5.1, Google Maps and Gmail apps are all reported to work. Plus the phone can download and use free ringtones and video clips from 3rd party sites.
It looks like the Samsung may not share the LG's openness as there are no reports on the Howard Forums thread of downloaded apps working with it. In fact two posts users have reported that neither Opera Mini or Bolt worked on the Samsung.
All in all I think Straight Talk's GSM offering is a good one, mainly because of the free off network roaming and degree of software freedom offered by the LG model. The lack of 3G or higher spec handsets is disappointing but it is unlimited prepaid data with support for third party apps. The only other unlimited everything prepaid offer is Sprint's Boost Mobile which costs $5 a month more and does not roam off of Sprint's native network which offers a much smaller coverage footprint than Straight Talk's AT&T plus roaming.