With over 156 million customers, AT&T is the largest cellular provider in the US. Their network is extensive and covers 99% of the American population. Nowadays, however, more people are turning to budget carriers like Straight Talk Wireless, which use major networks like AT&T and Verizon while offering cheaper no-contract plans for customers. MVNOs have gotten so popular that AT&T even has its own budget brand, Cricket.
In this guide, we’ll compare Straight Talk vs. AT&T to help you determine if you’re ready to make the switch to a budget carrier.
Skip the Details: Who’s Better?
It really depends on your needs. AT&T offers premium service, but you have to pay a premium price. Straight Talk has its issues, but if you’re on a tight budget and don’t need the fastest speeds or best customer service, you save $20-30 per month on your phone bill going for it instead of AT&T.
About Straight Talk Wireless
Straight Talk is the largest mobile virtual network (MVNO) in the country, with 25 million customers. MVNOs don’t operate their own cell towers and networks. Instead, they lease space on major networks and set prices for their own customers. Most MVNOs argue that since they don’t have to pay for cell towers or maintenance, they can afford to charge lower prices for cellular service compared to the big four (AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon).
Straight Talk is one of many MVNOs that also include Cricket, Boost, MetroPCS, TracFone, and others. In fact, TracFone actually owns Straight Talk operating the brand to cater to data-hungry individual users on a budget.
Walmart has an agreement with Straight Talk to retail its products in-store exclusively. But you can purchase Straight Talk phones and cell plans both online and by phone.
What makes Straight Talk unique among MVNOs, however, is that it doesn’t stick to one network. It uses all four giving it a major edge when it comes to performance and coverage, which will discuss in more detail below.
Straight Talk Pros
- Excellent coverage on all major cell networks
- Competitive speeds even with big four carriers
- Large number of compatible phones
- Large selection of Android and iPhones with promo discounts
- Cheap activation $.99
- Good international options (with an added fee)
Straight Talk Cons
- Only three primary plans
- No family plans
- No data-free music streaming feature
- Below average customer service
- Hotspot only available on $55 plan
AT&T dates back to the invention of the telephone in 1877. Both the modern AT&T and Verizon both came from the split-up of the original AT&T monopoly in 1982. AT&T long focused on cellular communications to become the dominant player in the industry since the early 2000s (then known as Cingular).
Today, AT&T primarily caters to contract customers, but now offers prepaid service under its own name. We’ll take a look at both of the services to see how they stack up against Straight Talk Wireless.
- Strong coverage
- Large selection of plans and phones
- International perks
- Stores can be found everywhere
- TV streaming on unlimited plans
- Plans are more expensive than other carriers
- Low hotspot allotments
- Low data deprioritization limit on unlimited plans
Straight Talk: Plans
Straight Talk is all about simplicity. They offer three primary plans from $35-55 per month. Don’t be confused by the words “unlimited.” Their unlimited plans are for an allotment of data at 4G LTE speeds that is then slowed down to 2G after it’s used up. Effectively it’s still unlimited, but good luck doing much when your internet is extremely slow.
These are the three plans:
- 3 GB: $35 per month ($34 with Auto-refill)
- 25 GB: $45 per month ($44 with Auto-refill)
- Unlimited: $55 per month ($50/month for three months with Auto-refill)
Along with this, they offer a 2-line, unlimited plan for $90 per month.
Winner: Straight Talk. Straight Talk is more affordable for both limited and unlimited data plans. Be sure to check promotion though as sometimes AT&T may be running offers that match or even beat these prices
AT&T has prepaid and contract plans. Like the other major carriers, they also have a ton of different plans and ways for you to customize everything. We’re going to focus on their prepaid plans.
- 1 GB: $35 per month ($30 with Auto-pay)
- 8 GB: $50 per month ($40 with Auto-pay)
- Unlimited: $65 ($50 with Auto-pay)
- Unlimited + 10 GB Mobile Hotspot: $75 ($70 with Auto-pay)
For reference, these are the prices of AT&T monthly plans:
- Unlimited Starter – $65/Single Line
- Unlimited Extra – $75/Single Line
- Unlimited Elite – $85/Single Line
Note that the mobile hotspot isn’t an option until Unlimited Extra, which provides 15GB of hotspot data (30 GB for Elite).
Straight Talk vs. AT&T: Family Plans
As mentioned, Straight Talk does not have a family plan. They do offer an unlimited, 2-line plan for $90.
AT&T does have multiline discounts. Each account can have up to five lines. Each additional Line receives a discount. You get $10 off second and third lines and $20 off fourth and fifth lines. For example, if you selected the $50 AT&T plan, you could get two lines for $90.
Winner: For two lines, Straight Talk. AT&T has the edge for multiple lines, but you can find better deals from other carriers.
Straight Talk Vs. AT&T: Coverage and Performance
AT&T has the largest network in America and claims it covers 99% of the population. Generally, it ranks second or third in terms of performance behind Verizon and T-Mobile. Actual service can vary significantly depending on where you live.
Straight Talk can operate on any of the four major carrier networks. If you’re bringing a Verizon phone, you’ll use Verizon’s network. If you’re bringing an AT&T phone, you’ll use AT&T’s network (etc., etc.).
If you have an unlocked phone, however, you can game the system to choose whichever carrier works best where you are. So if T-Mobile has the best coverage in your area, you can get a Straight Talk SIM card for T-Mobile. On the other hand, if you purchase a phone through Straight Talk, it will use either T-Mobile’s or AT&T’s network.
Overall, Straight Talk’s performance is comparable to all of the other major carriers. However, your data may be deprioritized during times of network congestion. For the best performance and coverage, choose the carrier that has the best reception in your area.
Winner: Straight Talk since it provides the most flexibility.
Straight Talk vs. AT&T: Bring Your Own Phone
Both providers allow you to keep your device if you don’t want to part ways with it. All you do is buy a SIM card online and activate a plan. Straight Talk’s SIM costs $0.99 while AT&T charges $4.99
Winner: Straight Talk
Straight Talk vs. AT&T: Phone Selection
You can purchase phones from both Straight Talk and AT&T. While offering the latest flagships, Straight Talk also has a large selection of budget smartphones priced under $300.
AT&T Prepaid does offer a small selection of budget smartphones from brands price between $50-$500. However, you can’t buy the latest flagship phones from it.
Winner: Straight Talk. Straight Talk’s prices for the same phone are often better. For example, AT&T retailed an iPhone 7 at $400, while Straight Talk sold it for $350.
Straight Talk vs. AT&T: Phone Installment Options
Straight Talk offers phone installment plans on most phones it carries. If you pay for the phone in under a year, you don’t have to pay interest. Over two years, the usual fee is about 10%. Straight also doesn’t require a credit check.
AT&T Prepaid doesn’t have a phone installment option. However, AT&T’s standard plans do have installment options. These often come with discounts and promotions to incentive you into long term contracts.
Winner: Tie. Either way, you lease a phone through these carriers will come with baggage. However, if you have good credit, you may be able to find a good deal on a phone and monthly plan with AT&T though this may lock you into a two-year contract. In short, you’ll have to do your homework to find the best option for your budget and needs.
Straight Talk vs. AT&T: Customer Service
Straight Talk is a budget carrier. The term “you get what you pay for” really applies here. Customer service is below average with them. If you have an issue, you’re likely better off solving it own your own. But most people with prepaid plans don’t need much, so this may not be a deciding factor for you.
AT&T’s customer service is average. It is not as good as Verizon or T-Mobile, but you’ll have more resources and avenues to reach out for help than Straight Talk.
Here are the toll-free numbers for both services:
- AT&T: 1-800-331-0500
- Straight Talk: 1-877-430-2355
Straight Talk vs. AT&T: Rewards and Perks
Straight Talk has a rewards program that provides monthly discounts and other ways to help customers save money on their monthly phone bills. Both AT&T and Straight Talk have data maximizers. AT&T also offers a data rollover and a few additional perks.
Wrapping Up: Straight Talk vs. AT&T
Straight Talk and AT&T are two very different carriers. With Straight Talk, you’re not getting all the bells and whistles, but if you-re looking to save $20-30 a month and want to untangle yourself from contract and credit checks, it’s a solid alternative to AT&T.
Head over to the Buyback Boss Blog for more carrier breakdown. Check out this true budget battle between MetroPCS and Boost. And see how well MetroPCS holds up against major carrier Sprint here. Discover everything you need to know about smartphones, apps, technology and more on our blog!