Nexus 4 on Straight Talk Review


A week ago, a small, unassuming, but long-awaited package sat at my door. True, it was just a phone; but Google’s Nexus 4 was a trip into uncharted territory for me. The Nexus 4 was to be my second phone with an Android operating system. My first was a HTC EVO Shift, which I really liked up until several months ago. There has been a considerable slowdown with newer apps on it, not to mention the dead spot that developed directly in the center of the touch screen. But then again, I’ve had it for nearly two years — it was time to get a new phone.

I have weighed a lot of options over the past three months or so. I’ve been with Sprint for two years, and though they have been overall satisfactory, the monthly bills seem to be ridiculous. Granted, I knew what I was getting into when I signed the contract, but if I add up my bills over the last two years for my wife and me (not counting the up-front cost we paid for the phone), it comes out to around $3,500. That’s a lot of Chipotle burritos!

My first goal was to try to save some cash. Looking at all of the major carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile), I found that monthly bills come out to about the same amount; which over two years would still leave us out about $3,500 with a two-year contract, and again, that’s not counting the cost of the phone.

Right about the time I started comparing rates, I heard about Google’s new phone that was revealed: the Nexus 4. The difference with this phone (and previous Nexus phones) is that they come “unlocked” by default. “Unlocked” means that the phone is open to any carrier that supports its hardware; which, in the Nexus 4’s case is carriers that use AT&T and T-Mobile towers in the US (GSM for all of you nerds out there, contrasted with Sprint’s and Verizon’s CDMA). What does that mean to the average person? “I don’t like my carrier for some reason or another, so I’m going to take my phone, and go with someone else.”

The major contract carriers are very savvy with their pricing scheme. They will take, for example, a $650 iPhone, and sell it to you for $200 if you sign a two-year data contract with them. You all know what I’m talking about. And it’s the same for Android and Windows phones too. In other words, the carriers will subsidize the cost of the phone with a much-higher-than-cost monthly bill; and if you’re strange enough to cancel your contract before it is over, they will rightfully charge you a $100+ early termination fee: again, to subsidize the cost of the phone. It kind of reminds of back in the early 2000’s when a place like Best Buy would sell you a computer for $300 if you sign a two-year contract with AOL through them. This is a familiar business practice. I am not criticizing their marketing strategy, but I did have to ponder this question: “Is this strategy the best for my situation.” I did the math. I checked it twice. I thought I could do better.

That’s when I read a very well-explained article by  titled Google’s Nexus 4: Understanding your carrier options. This article floored me. It had to be one of those “too good to be true” things. Prepaid might actually work for us. My first thought was, “but prepaid is junk.” I think that we’ve all come to trust the major contract carriers, and accept the idea that contract is the best and only way to go — except for Obama phones. I always used to think that prepaid was only for people who needed a temporary phone for cheap.

Like JR Rapael’s article suggested, I researched T-Mobile’s monthly 4G service first. It sounded great, and for how much my wife and I talk on the phone itself (not that much), the plan might work: and for only $30-$40 per phone a month for unlimited data (but only 100 talking minutes)! My bubble was burst pretty quickly, though. A friend from church mentioned that T-Mobile might not have good coverage in our area. I looked at the T-Mobile coverage map, and they were 100% correct. T-Mobile coverage is horrid in southern York County. If they had better coverage, I would consider it, though.

Straight Talk Service CardNext I moved to researching Straight Talk (they “piggy-back” on several major carriers’ towers). Their plans are technically only sold at Wal-Mart right now, but they claim unlimited data, text, and talk for only $45. That sounded pretty good to me. I did the math in my head, and even if I rounded up from the actual $90 a month to $100 a month, that would save us about $70! Over two years, that’s over $1,500!

The catch with pre-paid/monthly plans is that you have to buy your phone outright. The monthly payments do not subsidize the phone’s cost. If, for example, you want to buy a new iPhone and use it with Straight Talk, you better be willing to fork over $650 to Apple right now. I can sum it all up this way: pay a lot up front, pay less over the long-term — or pay a little up front, pay more over the long-term. I’d say its all up to your preference.

This is where the Nexus 4 comes into play. It’s cost is half-that of other phones with comparable hardware. Compared to the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III, it is even better in some aspects, but at least equal. On top of that, I like the idea of a “pure Android” phone. That means there’s no silly “Sprint Nascar Cup” app that you can’t uninstall. It is just Android without the added bloat of pre-installed software. Nexus phones are also nice because they are the first phones to get operating system upgrades when Google releases them.

And about the Nexus 4 itself: I love it! This is not going to be a very technical overview — mostly all a layman’s opinion. The phone is so light-weight compared to my old EVO. The screen is as clear as I’ve seen. It is difficult to compare it to other Android devices I’ve owned; the difference is night and day. When I compare the speed, clarity, camera, usability, and other features to other devices (Droid Pro [work], EVO Shift 4G, and I guess I can count a Kindle Fire), it surpasses everything by far. I love the integration with Google and all of its services, including Maps, GMail, Google+, and others. I’ll see if I still like it this much in a few months. I think I will…

My journey with Straight Talk began when I purchased a compatible SIM card from Wal-Mart, as well as a phone for Andrea (she got a Samsung Galaxy Proclaim, which she likes a lot so far). Everything went fine without any real hitches, until I tried to activate my phone. Honestly, it was my own fault that I messed up the SIM card by activating it incorrectly (next time, I should follow instructions). Straight Talk’s customer service was okay. When I was able to talk with the right people about my somewhat odd issue, they were nice enough to send me a new SIM card at no charge (they only cost $15 anyway), and credit me back the five days of service that I lost. Yesterday, I was finally able to activate it. So far, I’ve gotten a lot better service than I had with Sprint at my home, and on an evening trip I drove to Baltimore last night. I don’t have a lot to judge by yet, but I’m very satisfied so far with the speed and coverage.

Here’s the math.

  • First, I’m one of those weird people who cancelled their Sprint contract two months early. That costed us $100.
  • Then we paid $300 for my Nexus 4, and $150 for Andrea’s phone — I guess you could count those as expense, but then again, I still would have paid at least $200 for a phone comparable to the Nexus 4 on contract. So, I figured that Andrea’s phone would be free on contract, and mine would be $200. That means I paid about $250 more up front for phones off contract.
  • This leaves me at $350 more than a contract so far. Add in the $15 dollars for the Straight Talk SIM card for my phone, and that puts me at $365.
  • Add in service for a month for two phones on Straight Talk ($90 total), and that brings us to $455 up front.

How long does it take for “return on investment” then?

  • Assuming I would have paid $160 per month with Sprint, that’s a difference of $70 per month versus Straight Talk.
  • That means I make up the up-front cost by June. After that, its pure savings. Some might even argue that I can take out the $90 dollars for the first month of Straight Talk because I would pay for a month of service with Sprint anyway. That means my real up-front cost would be $385, giving me a return-on-investment in May instead of June.
  • When you add it all up, Straight Talk saves us almost $1500 over 24 months, even when you count the initial investment. On top of all that, if I sign up for auto-payment through Straight Talk, I can currently save an extra $5 a month.

You may ask how I justify paying the $100 in early termination fees for Sprint. I was originally going to wait until late March to avoid the fee, but after I did a little math, I found out, on a month by month basis, we save $140 by switching to Straight Talk two months early. So, by taking the early termination fee of $100, and subtracting that amount from the $140 in savings, we still gain $40 by early termination. Add in the fact that Andrea’s old phone was literally falling apart, and I’d say we had a feasible justification 🙂

On a final note, I did read some articles about Straight Talk’s “unlimited” data, and it sounds like they will arbitrarily throttle you (lower your speed) if you start using 2GB+ of data in a month, but I don’t think I’ve ever even used 1GB in a month. This piece doesn’t really effect Andrea and I much. I could see if you stream things constantly that this might worry you, so if this is a concern, I’d look more deeply into it.

Over the next few months, I’ll test the whole Nexus 4 on Straight Talk thing out, and report back on what I’ve experienced. I cannot guarantee that Straight Talk will even be great. I mean, their website has major style issues right now — think 2001 web design! I can say, as it stands, though, I have been happy with them. The really nice thing is that if I want to switch to a different carrier or plan in a month or year, I can — without any penalties or fees. I’d call that pretty liberating…

Edit: A couple months afterwards, I am still enjoying the plan I’m on.

What’s Going On?

So, here we are — its fall now, right? Yes, it’s been a long time since I’ve written on the old blog. I really do want to get more consistent with the whole blogging thing! But then again, I have no apologies! So, what’s been happening since I last gave a good family update? Let me list a few things:

  • We took a little family trip to Washington DC in August. Did we see any of the typical attractions? Nope. It was just fun to get away! But then again, we did get to attend an awesome Romney 2012 rally in Springfield, VA. Yes, I got to shake Paul Ryan’s hand!
  • Summer was very hot. I see it on my electric bill. I don’t have too many complaints, though. It’s still not a whole lot more than we used to pay in our apartment, which was half the square-footage of our house.
  • Our church’s big events in the summer all went extremely well. I was able to spend the week at our camp in Hanover.
  • We have now been homeowners for a year now! We love it. And our yard is starting to really look nice, after a year of it looking like a football field after 4 hours of cleats.
  • I learned through multiple sources that, when typing, the thing is now that you’re only supposed to put one space after a period, not two. I have started doing that. Also, I heard that the Oxford comma is way out of style. But I still use it. It makes way more sense to me.
  • I have continued to gain a lot of software development knowledge through my employer. Actually, in about 10 days, I get to go to a training course put on by Oracle at my company’s headquarters in New Hampshire. My family gets to come with me for the week also.
  • God has blessed in so many ways. I could easily name a hundred things he’s done in our lives and others’ in the last several months.

And I think that’s it. Oh…wait, you all probably wanted to hear about ALLEN, not us. Oh, pictures! You want to see those too? Okay, if you want.

Staying in the family business…
Looking mischievous…yes, he can crawl now.
Being a ham for the camera…
Crazy sideways cap…
Definitely just smiling a fake smile for the camera…
I just think this picture is awesome…

Lately, Allen has learned to sit up, pull himself up to stand, crawl, and pick things up with his thumb and index finger. He’s definitely growing up quickly.

And, as a whole, we are doing great as a family. Allen is starting to understand what “yes” and “no” means, and that it’s not fun to disobey. It’s funny: if only the rest of us could understand when God says “yes” and “no”, and that’s it’s not fun when we disobey Him too.

So, that’s what’s going on right now in Windsor Twp, PA with the Speckhals’. You can follow Andrea or myself on Twitter if you aren’t already. If you don’t have an account, you can still see the things we post.

The Traveler

My apologies for the picture quality–these were all taken from my phone.  Everyone else has the good ones!
Green=car, Red=plane, Blue=bus

This past week, the baby got to travel all over the place.  Over the course of seven days, he was able to see four great-grandparents, five grandparents, seven aunts and uncles, eight second cousins, three great-uncles, three great-aunts, just to mention family members.

We flew out of Baltimore early Saturday morning, and Allen was great on the plane.  He either slept or played the whole trip.

Bound for St. Louis

After a short layover in Detroit, we arrived in St. Louis at about 9:30am local time.  My dad then picked us up at the airport, and we headed to Hermann, Missouri.  This area is where all of my dad’s side of the family came from, back five or six generations to our German ancestors who settled there in the early to mid 1800’s.  We were met by my Grandma and Grandpa Speckhals at their home.  They were thrilled to see the baby (and us too, of course!).  The next day, Andrea and Allen got to meet all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins–including my UNCLE Allen 🙂 .

With Great Grandma and Great Grandpa Speckhals

Late Monday, we were dropped off at the bus station in St. Louis for the five hour trip up to Chicago, to see the rest of the family and attend the Preaching Conference at Fairhaven.  Again, Allen was super on the bus trip.  The bus was well worth it.  It was very clean, spacious, convenient, and had free WiFi the whole trip.  It ended up being only $13.00 a piece.

From Tuesday to Saturday, we stayed in Chesterton, and were privileged to attend all of the Preaching Conference.  Andrea and I were able to go to the Alumni picnic, catch up with friends, and listen to some pointed and convicting messages from several different speakers.

And of course, this was the first time the Leslie side of the family was able to see Allen.  Lindsey was over-thrilled, and probably kissed the little guy about 100 times.  Aunt Sharon was able to fly in from Utah, and Uncle Jim and Aunt Bethany were already in the area, of course.  As an extra blessing, Andrea’s great-grandparents (the Campbells) from Macon, Georgia were able to fly in for the conference.

With Grandpa Leslie
With Grandma Leslie
With Auntie Lindsey
With Great Grandma Campbell

After the conference was over, we spent a day with the Leslies in Chicago while Grandma and Grandpa Campbell and Sharon were dropped off at the airport.  While we were in Chicago, of course we couldn’t pass up Al’s #1 Italian Beef and Garrett’s Popcorn.  Too bad the baby couldn’t be a part of it!

We arrived home at about 9:00pm last night, a little exhausted, but very thankful for the opportunity to travel, attend the Preaching Conference, and have a good amount of quality time with our families.  Now, back to the real world!

Allen Joseph

Update: Photos can be viewed at this sight for those interested.  We will keep these albums updated as we continue taking pictures.  Let me know if you have any issues viewing them.

Here he is–Allen Joseph Speckhals: born on February 4, 2012 at 11:55pm at the York Hospital in York, Pennsylvania.  He was 7 pounds, 15.5 ounces, and 20 inches long.  Mommy was in active labor for about 12 hours, and is thanking God for modern medicine and epidurals!  She has recovered relatively well, and is right now just trying to get some rest.

The baby is also doing really well.  He has caught on to feeding normally, and we are blessed far more than we deserve for a healthy little boy.  It truly is great to see the miracle of a new little version of myself and Andrea.  I am beyond amazed, and still soaking it in.  I’ll just let our unprofessional photography do the rest of the story-telling tonight.  Nana (mom Murdock!) will help us with real pictures here next week.  We’ll be sure to post them!

First Picture!
First Picture with Mommy


First Family Picture

Baby Face


With Dad
With His Outfit from Mr. and Mrs. Brady
Getting in His Car Seat for the First Time
Going Home
At Home