Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Big Migration: Moving From a Verizon Droid Bionic to a Galaxy Nexus on Straight Talk

Definitely a superlative title for what actually is a pretty simple process, but I thought I'd document what I'm doing to dump my Verizon Droid Bionic and move to an unlocked Galaxy Nexus phone. I'll spare you my complaints about Verizon and just summarize by saying they're beyond overpriced and I don't like all the evil crap they do.

What is relevant to this discussion is the fact that I am sick and tired of having my phone be controlled by a carrier. From not keeping up with new versions of Android to forcing applications on my phone that I don't want and can't delete, I'm done with it. "Famous last words" may apply here, but at this point I'll state that I will never buy another phone from a carrier.

It's worth it to pay the extra money for a phone (and in the case of the Nexus it's only about $100 more than I paid for my abandoned Droid Bionic) and have more control over the phone as well as choice of carrier. (Relevant Lifehacker article on this topic if you want to learn more about how the carriers are the driving force behind Android fragmentation and stifle innovation every chance they get.)

But enough about all that -- here's specifically how I'm going about making this switch.

First, I ordered a Galaxy Nexus phone since it's the best bet on being able to upgrade the phone continually and since it's unlocked, I have a choice of carriers (within the limitations of the phone being GSM of course).

I'll keep my review of the Nexus phone itself brief and simply say: awesome. Thin, light, beautiful screen, ships with Jelly Bean, extremely smooth, fast UI, no crappy carrier/Motorola customizations I don't want -- simply a fantastic, fantastic phone that's so good it makes me mad I didn't get one a long time ago.

Next step in the process -- I ordered a SIM from Straight Talk. One of my many major gripes about Verizon is I was sick of paying for a ridiculously overpriced phone plan when I'm on Wi-Fi the majority of the time. Straight Talk offers an unlimited everything plan for $45/mo with no contract. You buy the SIM for $15 and give them a credit card number to bill you for the phone plan, and that's it. I'm already saving over $100/mo simply by changing to Straight Talk.

Straight Talk SIMs are either AT&T or T-Mobile. You do not get to choose, they choose for you based on your area (and I assume other business-related factors). I wound up on AT&T which is fine -- I have AT&T for my work iPhone and the signal is great in my area. If I were able to choose I would have chosen T-Mobile, but of course with an unlocked phone if I really don't like what's happening with AT&T and Straight Talk I can always switch. So far AT&T is working very well and I actually see a stronger signal on the Nexus than I do on my contracted iPhone.

Both the SIM and phone were delivered today, and setup was extremely simple. You follow the instructions that come with the SIM to activate it, which basically involves filling out a form on the Straight Talk web site and giving them your billing information, then stick the SIM in the phone. By the time I got the SIM into the phone and powered it on I was already able to make calls.

Note that when you activate your SIM you have the opportunity to port your existing number to Straight Talk. I didn't do that because I have a slightly different plan in mind (see below).

Next, to use the data features in the phone you have to enter a new Access Point Name (APN). Here's how you add a new APN on the Nexus:

  1. Open "Settings"
  2. Under Wireless & Networks, click on "More ..."
  3. Click on "Mobile Networks"
  4. Click on "Access Point Names"
  5. Click the three vertical boxes on the bottom right of the screen to bring up the menu, and click on "New APN"
  6. Enter the information included with your SIM
  7. Reboot
With the setup out of the way my Nexus is working great with a new phone number, and of course since all my contacts, etc. are associated with my Google account all that stuff magically appeared on the new phone.

I made the conscious decision not to port my number to Straight Talk. Instead, when I'm ready to cancel my Verizon account (and pay the punitive early termination fee -- good riddance) I'm going to port my current cell phone number to Google Voice.

Why am I doing that? Again, it's all about gaining more flexibility and control. Once my cell phone number is a Google Voice number I can change plans, phones, etc. underneath that and never again hassle with porting numbers between carriers. The abstraction of having the phone number not tied to a specific device will be quite nice, and then I can take full advantage of all Google Voice has to offer.

If you follow me on Google+ you know that I'm also a huge fan of Republic Wireless. I'm on one of the beta waves for Republic Wireless and am still very enthusiastic about what they're doing (anything that disrupts the wireless industry is a good thing), so I will still be getting a phone from them when my wave comes up. Yes, I'm a gadget junkie, but I also want to support what they're doing, and if it works exceptionally well since the Nexus is unlocked and I have no contract with a carrier, I can simply cancel my Straight Talk account and sell the Nexus on Swappa. There's that flexibility coming into play again!

Hope that helps give people who've been considering this sort of switch more information to help with the decision making process.


Reboog711 said...

Is Straight Talk 3G or 4G?

As a random point of reference,
I'm using Virgin Mobile as my "no commitment" mobile carrier; which is a lower monthly cost than what you're paying, but their phones are very locked.

Matt Woodward said...

It's HSPA+, which is AT&T's equivalent of 4G. I didn't do any side-by-side comparison with my Droid Bionic on Verizon 4G but it certainly doesn't seem any slower for data in general usage.

Scott Wade said...


Did you get your Google Voice phone number setup along side of your Straight Talk phone number?

When you make a call, does the Google Voice number or Straight Talk number show on caller ID to folks?


Matt Woodward said...

Hi Scott -- not quite sure what you mean by "along side of" but what I did was transfer my old number to Google Voice. So that number only exists as a Google Voice number now -- it's not tied to a specific phone.

My setup now is that I have an AWESOME Republic Wireless phone as well as the Galaxy Nexus, and those are both in my Google Voice account. So each phone has its own number, but both receive calls and texts sent to the Google Voice number.

You can configure Google Voice to display the Google Voice number as your caller ID, or the phone's own number. I have mine set to be the Google Voice number.

Let me know if that doesn't answer your questions.

Scott Wade said...

I think that answered my questions. I finally got one of the Nexus 4 phones and I'm going with the setup you stated in this article.

It's for my wife so I want to make sure I 100% understand before port her cell no from Verizon to Google Voice.

I was confident about incoming calls working for the Google Voice. I was just afraid that folks we see her number as the Straight Talk number, not her original no (Google Voice).

Thanks Matt for the info.

Scott Wade said...


I got my old verizon cell# ported over to Google Voice (GV). I'm using a Nexus 4 unlocked phone with Straight Talk account. I have GV setup on Nexus 4.

I figured out that I have to enter the area and number to get the caller ID of GV to show on a phone that I am calling.

But now I can't get the GV number to show on the phone that I am texting. It says the text came from the number that was assigned by Straight Talk.

I'm using the text application that came with the Nexus 4 phone. Any ideas?

Matt Woodward said...

If I get what you're saying, you use the Google Voice app on your phone for texting also. If you use the native texting app then it would should the phone's actual number instead of your GV number.