On May 10th, after weeks of looking for a prepaid service to serve as my new primary service to save some cash, I decided to skip the usual suspects in MetroPCS, Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, GoPhone and Verizon Prepaid and ended up choosing Walmartâ€™s exclusive Straight Talk prepaid service. You may be wondering why I would choose a nearly unknown service provided by the worldâ€™s largest retailer along with one of the largest virtual operators in Tracfone. Read on and youâ€™ll find out why along with some pretty neat stuff about the service as well as the phone that I bought in the Nokia E71-2.
After looking at Straight Talkâ€™s lineup of phones and looking at tons of forum posts on the subject over on HowardForums, I decided that I would buy the Nokia E71-2 without a second thought. You might ask yourself why I didnâ€™t choose the newer 6790 Merge on account of its support for S60 Feature Pack 2 in comparison to 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1 on the E71-2.
Simply put, the Merge/6790 has no Wi-Fi radio and was less capable overall than the E71, despite retailing for $229.99 compared to the $199.99 ($224.48 after taxes) of the E71-2 at the time. The E71-2 as sold by Straight Talk is the exact NAM model (RM-357) previously sold by Nokia upon its release in 2008 for $450, with no firmware changes whatsoever and the only differences being locked to Tracfone/Straight Talk.
The phone features a stainless steel bodyshell and backing plate, 3.2 inch QVGA resolution display, QWERTY keyboard, 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus and (painfully bright) LED flash, microSD slot, GPS transceiver with A-GPS support, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi b/g radio. The packaging for the phone included some rather questionable legalese printed on it which Iâ€™ll get to in the next major section.
Living with the phone for nearly two months, itâ€™s clear that Nokia peaked in terms of hardware and software with the E71 and S60 FP1. The phone doesnâ€™t slow down or lag and is packed with features, such as a full version of QuickOffice, barcode/QR Code reader, full media player with Flash support and small touches such as support for unsigned apps and a front facing camera for video calls, with full support for SIP internet telephony over either 3G or Wi-Fi.
Straight Talk is composed of two prepaid service tiers: 1,000 minutes, 30MB of internet access and 1,000 messages for $30 a month or unlimited voice/text/MMS/data service for $45 a month. Since the E71-2 is a smartphone, it requires the $45 service plan, with the option to buy 3 and 6 months or even a year of unlimited service online. I actually ended up having to go online to activate and purchase service for the phone due to the lack of $45 prepaid cards at the particular Walmart where I purchased the phone. The online activation process went rather smoothly and was quite fast, though it is very easy to sign yourself up for the auto refill option once you purchase a month of service online using a debit or credit card if youâ€™re not careful.
The Straight Talk service for the Nokia E71-2 and the Nokia 6790 operate on AT&Tâ€™s GSM and HSPA network, which means Iâ€™m getting 2.2Mbps down and full 1.5Mbps upload speeds on the E71 in my neighborhood, which is great for emergencies and those days when Charter decides to act up (which is thankfully rare). While around town, Iâ€™m almost always within 3G coverage, though I prefer to switch to GSM only to conserve battery power during the day. Voice service is above average on 3G and GSM, though attempts to use Google Voice with it have been less than successful, with incoming calls not working correctly and resulting in delays when speaking to callers or callers not being able to hear me.
Now then, onto the legalese printed on the packaging. In an interesting attempt to force service bundling, Tracfone has come up with some serious caveats for those looking to purchase Straight Talk service only and is actively attempting to prevent usage in unlocked phones:
Some Straight Talk wireless phones have SIM cards. If your Straight Talk phone has a SIM card, then you agree to safeguard your SIM card and not to allow any unauthorized person to use your SIM card. You agree not to, and not to allow any other person to, directly or indirectly alter, bypass, copy, deactivate, remove, reverse-engineer or otherwise circumvent or reproduce the encoded information stored on, or the encryption mechanisms of, your SIM card. You may not remove your SIM card or use the SIM card on any other wireless phone. Any violation of the restrictions on the use of your SIM card that are contained in this section may result in the immediate termination of your service without notice. The Carriers, TracFone Wireless, or its service providers, may, from time to time, remotely update or change the encoded information on your SIM card.
The above is not quite enforceable since it conflicts with both the First Sale Doctrine and attempts to enforce an EULA style agreement for service, which is legally tenuous to begin with. Since Tracfone sees the $45 service level as a subsidy along with the cost of the phone, the above could also be interpreted to mean that Tracfone is attempting to force a postpaid style agreement where there is none, since the phone was purchased at MSRP. This also means that Tracfone is preventing you, the potential customer from reselling the phone and just keeping the SIM card for service, which is also bad.
Even with those (rather massive) caveats, the service itself is worth paying for and is experiencing surging popularity within the Jailbroken and unlocked iPhone communities because it works with little effort, save for some manual MMS/data configuration as well as on other major smartphones. Now if only Nokia could send me a US version of the (E7, N8, E6) so I can test a theory that I have regarding AT&T and T-Mobile network access that Iâ€™ll explore in a future article (hint, hint Nokia).
My Personal App List for the E71
Opera Mini (for EDGE)
Opera Mobile (for 3G)
JoikuSpot (for Wi-Fi tethering)
SMSAlert (Individual SMS tones for contacts)
Skype (VOIP over 3G supported)
Gravity (Social networking)
I wanted to wrap this up by explaining why I went with Straight Talk when there were other options out there with more up to date smartphones. Boost Mobile has Shrinkage but requires you to be on the service for at least six months before you reach the same rate, MetroPCS doesnâ€™t have a similar rate with unlimited data on LTE, Virgin Mobile has a $40 rate plan with unlimited data and messaging but voice is limited to 1200 minutes a month. GoPhone now features a $50 unlimited voice and messaging plan for smartphones, but data access is not unlimited, while Verizonâ€™s new flat-rate prepaid offering is limited to select phones.
Straight Talk is available now and is the best of both worlds: Cheap enough to help control costs and easy to fit into a tighter budget, but with a service level that will let you breathe easy and not worry about watching minute usage or data, with the bonus of easy tethering for those moments when Wi-Fi just doesnâ€™t cut it. You can buy the phone at the link below from Walmart.