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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.