Google's Project Fi may have just been announced, but it's already facing serious competition. Relatively unknown wireless carrier TextNow today (April 30) announced new unlimited data plans that start at $19 a month, and is adding the Nexus 5 and Moto X to its smartphone lineup.
TextNow has been around since 2009, first just as an app that gave you a U.S. phone number to call and text friends over Wi-Fi. It expanded, in 2013, to offer actual cellular service over Sprint's networks on the Moto G, which it sold for just $14. Those plans offered between 500MB and 4GB of data with unlimited texts and calls starting at $19 a month, but when you hit your data allowance, you would have to depend on Wi-Fi to get on the Web.
With today's announcement, TextNow is adding unlimited 2G data access to all of its plans. If you go over your limit, you'll still get data, except at a slower 2G speed. For a plan with 1GB of LTE data and unlimited talk, text and 2G data, TextNow charges $27, while Project Fi costs $30 for a similar level of service. Like TextNow, Google's new service also lets you use your number to send messages on any device that can run the Hangouts app.
TextNow also added the popular Nexus 5 and Moto X to its lineup of compatible handsets, which includes refurbished units of the Samsung Galaxy S3, S4, Motorola Moto G and the LG Optimus F3. That's a significantly bigger selection of phones than Google's Project Fi, which is launching exclusively on the $650 Nexus 6.
TextNow's phones support Wi-Fi calling, voice over LTE (VoLTE) and cellular calls, and their radios will detect and select the optimal signal for your call and keep your data usage low. That's similar to what Project Fi offers, except Google's carrier rides on both Sprint and T-Mobile, which gives it a better chance of finding a strong 4G signal in the United States. Project Fi also returns your money for unused data, so you pay only for the exact amount of LTE you use.
This Wi-Fi and cellular model also calls to mind Republic Wireless, which offers similar plans that use Wi-Fi whenever possible, and switch to cellular data when that's not available. Republic Wireless' plans start at $5 a month for Wi-Fi-only, and go up to $40 for unlimited 4G data on Sprint. The carrier offers the Moto X (1st and 2nd gens), Moto G (1st Gen) and Moto E (2nd gen). At $149, however, the Moto G on Republic costs ten times more than it does on TextNow.
Project Fi also offers unlimited international texts and no data roaming fees when you go abroad, while neither TextNow nor Republic offer that.
Overall, TextNow's new plans make it an intriguing player in the carrier space. "More competition always means more innovation," Derek Ting, CEO of Enflick (company behind TextNow) told us.
If you're looking to save money and don't need much data, TextNow's $19 plan is enticing, since you'd only have to fork over $15 for its most basic phone. Those who travel frequently and can shell out $650 or already own the Nexus 6 should consider Project Fi. Data-hungry shoppers, on the other hand, may want to look at Republic Wireless's $40 unlimited 4G plan.