TextNow: A No-Contract Smartphone for $19/Month

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eHow Tech Blog

When you think of no-contract smartphone providers, names like Boost, Cricket, and Virgin Mobile might come to mind. Maybe even a few of the disruptive players like Republic Wireless and Ting. But TextNow? Never heard of ‘em.

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Wait a minute, yes, I have: They make that eponymous free-texting app for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. So now they’re selling phone service, too?

Yep. The TextNow-powered phone comes in two flavors, with no-contract service plans starting at $18.99 per month. Needless to say, that’s a rate that should make bargain hunters sit up and take notice.

But is it really a great deal? Let’s take a closer look. For starters, as with other bargain-basement service providers, you don’t get to choose from the latest and greatest smartphone models. Your only options are the Google Nexus S ($89.99) and Samsung Galaxy S II ($119.99). Both are refurbished, and both are a couple years old.

They’re decent phones, mind you, with fairly current versions of Android (4.0 or 4.1) and fairly spacious screens (at least 4 inches), but definitely entry-level by today’s standards. My advice: Spend the extra $30 to get the Galaxy S II.

As for service, you’ll be getting 3G (not 4G) connectivity via Sprint’s network, same as with most of the aforementioned no-contract providers. Now it’s just a matter of picking one of TextNow’s three available plans.

The first, “Tall,” gives you 500MB of data, 750 roll-over voice minutes, and unlimited texting and incoming calls, all for $18.99 per month. For that same rate, Republic Wireless gives you unlimited calling, texting, and data, but with a few caveats—not the least of which is that you have only one phone option, Motorola’s even-more-dated Defy XT, which costs $199.

The Grande and Venti plans (the TextNow folks must be hardcore Starbucks fans) bump you to 1GB and 2GB of data per month, respectively, for $26.99 and $39.99. All the plans include visual voicemail, and you can easily switch from one to another if needed.

However, there doesn’t appear to be an option to port your existing phone number; you’ll get assigned a TextNow number when you sign up for service.

The bigger issue is that TextNow’s phones rely on Wi-Fi for texting and calls, switching to Sprint’s network only when there’s no Wi-Fi available. If my experience with Republic Wireless (which works similarly) is any indication, that’ll result in mediocre call quality and connectivity issues if you move outside a Wi-Fi network’s range while on a call.

Of course, a few compromises are to be expected when you’re paying 19 bucks per month for phone service. The question is, could you live with them? I think something like TextNow might be ideal for teenagers, who rely mostly on texting for communication but still want an app-savvy smartphone.

Personally, I want the option to bring my out-of-contract iPhone to a service like this, because I sure am tired of giving AT&T $80 every month. Your thoughts?

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