Want a lower cell phone bill? TextNow offers free talk and text in exchange for ads

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People who are looking for ways to save money on their monthly cell phone bill may want to give a TextNow another look. The discount carrier is launching a way for you to enjoy unlimited talk and text without having to pay a cent for the privilege.

TextNow is launching its free Nationwide Talk & Text Service, which lets you place voice calls and send text messages anywhere you have a cellular connection. The new service uses Sprint's cellular network, and the free calling and texts are ad supported.

TextNow's new feature is an extension of its mobile app, available on both Android and iOS, which allowed users to make phone calls and text for free over Wi-Fi. The apps' been downloaded 200 million times, TextNow CEO Derek Ting said, and expanding free calling and texting had been a popular request from users.

To get the free calling and texting, you'll need to live with ads in the TextNow app. That includes a small banner ad at the bottom of the app as well as full screen ads at the end of phone calls. But TextNow is betting that's a trade-off customers will want to make if it means a low monthly bill in return.

"One of the biggest features was 'Can it work without Wi-Fi?'" Ting said.

You'll notice that data is not included with TextNow's free service. For that, you either have to stick with Wi-Fi or opt for one TextNow's cellular data plans. You can either pay $19.99 a month for 2GB of data or get unlimited data for $39.99 a month. (TextNow used to offer a third plan with 5GB of data for $29.99 a month, but that's being eliminated; existing subscribers with 5GB plan will be grandfathered in, though.)

"We want to make this simple for consumers," Ting said. "We think less is more in this situation."

TextNow's data rates certainly compare favorably with the Big Four carriers. The cheapest unlimited data plan at Sprint, for example, will cost you $60 a month. Compare TextNow to other discount carriers, though, and the data rates are less favorable. Republic Wireless, one of our picks for the best discount carrier, charges $15 a month for talk and text, but data is only $5 per gigabyte consumed on top of that — in other words, for 2GB of data at Republic, you'd only pay $5 more than what TextNow charges. As for unlimited data, TextNow's rate is the same as Visible's $40-a-month unlimited plan.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.