Skip to main content

The best and worst phone carriers of 2020

Straight Talk — The Lowest-Rated Carrier

Editors' Note: We've published the results of our latest network testing. Current rankings reflect last year's results, but we plan to update scores along with new customer service rankings for wireless carriers.

People who turn to Straight Talk for their wireless coverage probably have good reasons for doing so. We'd just be hard-pressed to imagine what those reasons are. The carrier had the slowest LTE speed in our network testing and turned in the worst grade in our customer service tests. Straight Talk's plans now feature more data, but also higher monthly rates compared to other discount carriers. It's little wonder, then, that this carrier has the lowest score of all in our reports.

Carrier Performance (24/40 points)

You now get a choice of SIM card when you opt for Straight Talk. We used a Verizon SIM in our testing and — perhaps not surprisingly, given that Verizon dominated our test results — Straight Talk turned in dramatically improved performance in our recent tests across eight cities.

Those results come with some caveats. For one, Straight Talk's download and upload speeds were significantly off from what we saw with Verizon. And when we swapped out that Verizon SIM in New York with a T-Mobile one (where the Uncarrier didn't fare as well), Straight Talk's performance took a hit.

Our current scores reflect the bad old days for Straight Talk. We'll be posting updated results based on additional LTE testing.

MORE: Who Has the Fastest LTE Network?

Plans (14/25 points)

Straight Talk's best plan is one of the more expensive prepaid options: a $60-a-month offering that now gives you 25GB of data along with unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling to Mexico, Canada, China and India. (That's a higher data allotment than before, as Straight Talk has revamped its plans on multiple occasions after we published our May 2017 rankings.) Remove that international component from your Straight Talk plan, and you can pay either $45 for 25GB.

One of our biggest complaints about Straight Talk had been the lack of options for users who don't need a lot of data: a 3GB plan for $35 addresses that, though Boost and MetroPCS have better options at that price. Straight Talk has also added an unlimited data plan for $55 a month, though with the same restriction on video streaming (expect 480p resolution) as you'll find at other discount carriers. You can now get two lines of unlimited data at a discounted rate of $90 per month.

Straight Talk offers autopay discounts, but at $1off each month, they're pretty meager compared to the $5 its rivals will take off your monthly bill. Recently, Straight Talk started knocking $5 off its unlimited data plan when you signed up for autopay, though the discount only lasted three months.

Customer Service (9/20 points)

It is impossible to stress how badly Straight Talk missed the mark during our last round of customer service testing. (Updated rankings are coming this year.) One of our questions posted to Twitter went unanswered, and our phone calls to Straight Talk's customer-support line produced frustrating and unclear answers. About the only portion of Straight Talk's service that stood out in a positive way was the carrier's online chat feature. But that wasn't enough to stop the provider from landing at the bottom of our customer service rankings.

MORE: Customer Service: How Straight Talk Performed

Phone Selection (5/10 points)

You are not going to turn to Straight Talk if you want the latest and greatest smartphone models, though the carrier does have the Galaxy S10 and all the latest iPhones, though the emphasis does appear to be on older models. Straight Talk lets you pay for those more expensive flagships in installments, though, generally, you'll end up paying more over the course of 24 months than if you bought the phone outright.

The carrier really excels at offering low-cost handsets, particularly older models; we noted dozens of models at $300 or less. Straight Talk also offers bring-your-own-device options if you can't stand to part with your current phone.

Featured Straight Talk Phones: Galaxy S10 (all models), Galaxy Note 10, Galaxy A50, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max, Moto E6

Special Features (1/5 points)

Special features are few and far between at this discount carrier. Apart from the aforementioned international calling package, Straight Talk's biggest claim to fame is a Remote Alert security system that costs $10 a month, plus $50 for the equipment. Remote Alert will notify you when sensors detect motion in your home.

Straight Talk is among the companies that developed the CallDetector app for Android to prevent scam calls. It's free for seven days before Straight Talk charges you $15 for an annual subscription.

  • PhilipMichaels
    Archived comments are found here:
  • tyronesuerpype
    I have had all of your top rated phone carriers and most may be fine if you stay in your "home" area. If you plan on traveling in the U.S., the only carrier I and my friends have had that works the best is Verizon. I had T mobile that worked great as long as I stayed home, but traveling it sucked. All the other features of these carriers do not matter if you have no cell or data service. I hated going back to Verizon, but now they have prepaid plans that are very competitive.
  • bounds
    Really stay away from AT&T We were long time (10 year) customers who in the end their customer service lied to us and then the company did not stand behind what their reps said they would do. In the end try someone else.
  • Rob1C
    I disagree with the way Points are divided.

    Performance taking up 40 points is too much and it's based only on Data Speed. It's essential that you never get dropped and important that you can walk or drive around without ever being in a dead spot.

    Plans is 'OK' allocated 25 points, I guess. It should be more about what would be the so-called 'Perfect Plan' that various Groups might want and how far does what is offered stray from that.

    Presumably there are 3 or 4 Groups with 3 or 4 Add-on Extras. The 'Plan Choices' being "Free and Cheap" where the reasonable number of free phones are offered with a low cost Plan. Next up is pay something towards the phone and towards the monthly rate, receiving a 'decent' phone (last year's higher end or this year's upper-mid) with some Data. Third pay a couple of hundred towards the phone and an extra $10 month to get a fair bit of Data (but not crazy, that's what the Add-ons are for). Forth Tier would be no holds barred 2-5 hundred towards the phone and 15 or 20 extra a month for lots of Data. The Add-ons could be 'Phone Upgrade' (where the cheaper Plan can get a better phone), 'Data Upgrade' (where you can bump up your Data, maybe increase Upload Speed if you upload more than the average person), and a 'Jetsetter Upgrade' for double price where you're uncapped for Roaming and Data - OR whatever you think would be a bunch of desirable options.

    The question then would be how does each Carrier's Plans differ from what it is assumed that people would want.

    Where I am we have 3 or 4 Tiers of Carriers. Number one is the richest some of whom put down Landlines back in the day, or Cablevision (either way they have the Wire or Fiber going to the Towers). Number two is owned by #1 but charges half as much, so you might as well sign with #2; they have a few fewer phones on offer or are second to get a particular phone but you can bring your own. Third Tier are the ones who discussed with the Regulators the benefits of competition and the detriment of the former monopoly. Third Tier gets to use 1st Tier's Towers for a reasonable Fee (yet charge less than half as much monthly). The 4th Tier being 'Johnny come lately' who simply showed up last with a promise of a Bankroll and an acceptable Business Plan, they're all over the map for Service and Plans ranging from copying the Big Guys to selling 'Monthly Cards' from Gas Stations and Convenience Stores (still around 50-60% of Tier 1 rates).

    If you can divide all that into 25 points ... good going !

    For the other sectors the Customer Service HAS to be good enough, I was with one of the biggest Tier 1s, damn you if you wanted something - 20 minutes of Elevator Music interspersed with telling you what spot in line you were and an estimated wait time. Once I waited 40 minutes, when they asked how they could help I explained that I had waited over a half hour and asked that they hire more people politely mentioning that if other callers were grumpy that would be the reason why - they replied that they had just hired over 500 people to which I replied that it must be insufficient as the wait was unrealistic but they didn't seem to get my point.

    Speakerphone was your only friend, it kept you from losing the circulation in your arm (speaking of which).

    If they're Tier 1 and charge the max for everything they had best not be ripping you anywhere be it a limited selection of phones, the extortion pricing for years or extended waits for lousy service - all that should lump into Service and drop the score.

    Lastly (because I'll type no more and the reader is likely nodding off) the Phone and Extras should score more.

    The selection of phones should be decent from bleeding edge to refurbished for free.

    Bring your own phone and get a discount is an important feature - some dogs only sell you a phone with a Plan and every couple of years it's a new Plan at an increased cost.

    As for Extras what are those, Tech Support comes from the Internet and it's not like I need phone lessons or an oil change - if they'd take 4 year old phones for a $100 tradein that would be something but they don't ...

    Want me to Manage your Cellular Provider? tell them they need Rob not you need to be robbed.
  • morty8908
    TL;DR-tests were a joke and not objective, Look at Ooklas site to see who has the has the fastest service

    Verizon Has consistently lost in the data speed category (according to Okla, the site you claim to have used.) you also offer no information about the devices or settings you used. if you are using 2 of the same phones with the exact same settings,battery life, and even cell phones cases, then maybe this could be called a fair trial. but you went to only six cities, why not just look on Ookla's actual site for who has the fastest? T-mobile every time. I understand Verizon has to pay saps like you to say they are the best. The only way you could get anyone to maybe believe this is the fact that you only let them win by 1 point. Any more and you would have been laughed at (more so than right now anyway.)

    Also, as someone who as used both services, T-mobile has fantastic customer service. Every provider has Philippines call centers, so depending on when you are calling in (maybe one provider has a promotion going on and they are busier than usual so you get routed more often to those crap centers in the Philippines) and judging performance of customer service, you need to remove the calls from the Philippines and instead only rate those calls from the corporate customer service, not third party overflow.
  • sakman74
    For the past 6 months, one of our verizon wireless lines has been charged international outgoing calls.
    I have explained to verizon multiple times, that the line is using a calling card based in the US (a US number) and that the call log of the device (which is never touched) does not show these outgoing direct international calls.

    in the past there used to be no way for someone to make a direct international call from a verizon wireless phone, at least this was not possible on our lines. it seems in recent times that has changed and the representative said there is no way to turn that 'feature' off.

    we are basically being told the verizon bill log never lies. we have - to date - been charged $ 300 for such calls which were not made directly from the phone to an international number.

    before you decide who to choose simply based on who comes out number 1, look at this example of what the carrier is doing to it's customers - before you choose verizon wireless.
  • jerbigge
    I have Tracfone. I'm a long term member and quite satisfied with Tracfone. However if you want to make a lot of calls, text a lot, or download data,
    Tracfone isn't for you. It is best for the individual who only carries a cell phone for occasional use, accidents, etc. I'm quite happy with my iPhone SE
    I purchased from Tracfone for a very good price. However dealing with Apple makes you feel like you are dealing with a government agency where
    everything is done the way "they" decide. Most businesses that I deal with online put some sort of "cookie" on your computer so after this is done,
    you just "sign in" with your user name and password already stored. My user name and password I use on Amazon dates back to the start of this
    century. I've never had a bit of trouble with them. Apple? Like signing in to the CIA... The people who work the customer service lines do their
    best, but the entire experience dealing with the company is about like dealing with some government agency that doesn't give a damn about
    customer satisfaction. They do make a very good product, but I have no intention of buying say a book or music or anything else from Apple.
  • bulkbuy
    I highly recommend adding a measure to the analysis for coverage in rural areas. Educators, Consumers, & Businesses located in rural areas have been widely shorted by wireless providers in rural areas. Its 2017 and time 4G wireless data and voice truly be a reliable nationwide benchmark. Education systems nationwide including ones in rural areas count on the fact, children will have access to the latest technologies available today. But the truth is, some simply do not due to the FCC preventing actions to require carriers to provide complete coverage for areas they market in.
  • the2ndflood
    Verizon is by far the best carrier, especially here in Tennessee. Everyone that I know who lives in a remote area, is only able to use Verizon. I am surprised though, that Straight Talk has such slow data speeds, even when on Verizon's network. I have been reading that Verizon has lifted its policies on limited data speeds on for MVNO's using their carrier. But definitely, by far, MVNO's have the worst possible customer care! Holy **** is it bad! You have to tap through tons of menu options and if you do manage to get a hold of someone, they either will not help or just hang up on you! Verizon also wins in customer care as well. Each reply will even give you their work email address, so you can contact them when you need more help.
  • 89startup
    thanks for the info! I use Verizon and I'm completely satisfied with its work