No contracts, consistent service, unlimited talk, text and data, affordable prices; Straight Talk sounds tempting to customers who are used to expensive contracts on the major carriers.
But is it worth it to ditch the familiar contracts you know and dive into an unfamiliar and potentially unfriendly service?
We at TechRadar sought to answer that question by testing out handsets from Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile on Straight Talk's monthly service plans.
We discovered that the experience of purchasing, setting up and using Straight Talk service can vary hugely depending on your phone and level of expertise when it comes to mobile devices and services.
In some cases, newer phones will be easier to use with Straight Talk's services. But that won't hold true for those trying to bring a phone from Verizon to Straight Talk, for example.
And it's not easy to find out whether your device will actually work with Straight Talk until you're well along the path to setting it up.
No, signing up for Straight Talk when you're bringing your own phone is not an easy process - but it may ultimately be worth it.
Purchase and set-up
Attempting to sign up for Straight Talk service can be an exercise in frustration and confusion if you're not sure what you're doing or what exactly what you should be purchasing.
For GDSM phones coming from AT&T or the unlocked versions compatible with T-Mobile, you'll want to buy a SIM card here.
Migrating from these carriers is relatively easy; the option is spelled out clearly. Enter your zip code, choose a plan (unlimited or unlimited plus international), pay, and wait for the postman.
When the SIM arrives, you've got to jump through some hoops to set it up, entering multiple codes and fiddling with your phone's APN settings to get the data service working. The difficulty of this step differs with your device, though Straight Talk's online instructions are usually incomplete and/or confusing.
For an older device like the Focus, which runs Windows Phone 7.5, you might have to go even further; we were able to access the phone's APN settings eventually, but only after downloading a proprietary settings app that we learned about from a YouTube video that was infinitely more helpful than Straight Talk's nonexistent instructions.
Straight Talk Verizon
Setting up a Straight Talk Verizon phone is a different, even worse story.
Multiple members of the company's support staff insisted to us that 4G LTE Verizon phones are compatible with Straight Talk, but in practice we found that not to be the case.
Straight Talk won't send you a SIM for a CDMA phone; instead you have to purchase a "Network Access Code" for $14.99. That should be easy, but the option is shockingly well-hidden on Straight Talk's website, and hardly any of the phones we had lying around the office (and we have a lot) were actually eligible for the service.
This option is not under the "shop" tab on straighttalk.com. Instead, you have to navigate to "support," then to "Sim Card Program," then "Register CDMA." That takes you here, but it took two separate support phone calls before we spoke with a representative who knew that.
Then you'll have to test your phone for eligibility by plugging its serial number or IMEI number into the site; you'll get an error message back (or the page will simply fail to load) if it's not compatible. And on some handsets simply finding the correct number is surprisingly difficult.
Worse, Straight Talk's support staff, despite their earnest attempts to be helpful, could not inform us what phones actually are compatible with the service. They asked us to read the phones' numbers to them so they could test them individually, but they always got the same results that we got through the website. After several lengthy phone calls we were no closer to finding a Straight Talk-compatible Verizon phone than when we started.
We eventually found a Samsung Brightside feature phone at the bottom of a drawer, and it proved compatible with Straight Talk. This was the furthest we had gotten in this arduous and puzzling process, but we weren't out of the woods yet - the website broke twice before we could finish the transaction, both times after we entered our credit card info.
It took another lengthy call to support before our Verizon Straight Talk phone was working, and after all that they were unable to send us a receipt for our over-the-phone transaction because "the email's not working." We've been checking ever since to make sure we weren't triple-charged.
The one positive aspect of signing up a CDMA Verizon phone for Straight Talk service was that it required no APN fiddling - the data connection was set up immediately when the phone and text service came on.
But does it work?
All told we tested out three phones from three different carriers using Straight Talk: a T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy Note 2 running Android 4.1.1, an AT&T Samsung Focus 2 on Windows Phone 7.5, and a Verizon Samsung Brightside feature phone.
We attempted, both online and with help from Straight Talk's phone support, to sign up several other Verizon phones, including an HTC One, a Samsung Galaxy S4, a BlackBerry Z10, a Motorola Droid Razr Maxx, and still others. None proved compatible.
Of the phones that did work, we tried all three out for several days, making calls, sending and receiving SMS and MMS messages and emails, browsing the internet, downloading apps, and listening to Spotify. All three performed well and consistently, and we have no complaints in that area.
However, actually signing up for Straight Talk's service is a difficult trial, made worse by a website riddled with errors, dead ends, inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and confusion.
Things get even worse if you're attempting to migrate from Verizon, and we have to assume Sprint users will face the same problems, since only CDMA phones are accepted from either carrier and there simply is no list anywhere of what phones are and aren't supported.
There was one other moment of weirdness, when the Note 2 alerted us that an "invalid SIM card" had created an error with Wi-Fi calling. This happened multiple times, though we could still make calls just fine, so it's unclear what effect it had.
And we only tested Straight Talk's "Bring Your Own Phone" options; there are tons of other choices for prospective Straight Talk customers, even for those who don't already own a phone or want to upgrade, as the site sells phones as well.
Once the service is set up it appears to work as advertised: you get unlimited talk, text and data at an affordable rate. We weren't able to test whether or when any data throttling begins, but our speed tests on the Galaxy Note 2 revealed fairly consistent download speeds of around 13MB to 15MB, which is roughly equivalent to what our Galaxy S4 gets on a normal Verizon plan (there's a lot of fluctuation and multiple factors there obviously).
Straight Talk might provide a cheaper alternative to the big carriers' contract plans, but only for at least moderately tech-savvy users who are willing to roll up their sleeves and put some elbow grease into getting it working - especially those with older or uncommon devices.
Whether that's worth it is ultimately based on how much you hate being tied to a carrier, and how much weirdness you're willing to put up with.