TextNow got its start in 2009 as a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) app that provided you with a U.S. phone number, which you could use to make calls or text over Wi-Fi. While it still provides that service — there’s an app for that — TextNow has also expanded into a true mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that piggybacks on other cellular networks to provide wireless coverage for your smartphone.
TextNow can point to a few things that help it stand out from the MVNO crowd, such as an ad-supported free tier of service and a new unlimited plan with a price that undercuts what you’d pay at a major carrier. But does what TextNow has to offer fit in with your wireless needs? Here’s an overview of TextNow and its wireless phone service.
What network does TextNow use?
When TextNow started as a wireless provider, it relied on Sprint’s CDMA network for cellular service. It’s since added the GSM-based T-Mobile network to its mix.
But cellular is only part of the story with TextNow. Like Republic Wireless and Project Fi, TextNow uses Wi-Fi whenever possible for your calls, text and data. That Wi-Fi-centric focus is what enables the carrier to offer low monthly rates on its plans.
When you buy a phone from TextNow or order a SIM card to use with your current phone, you have to pick either a CDMA or GSM version, tying you to either Sprint or T-Mobile. According to the findings in our LTE network speed tests, in most areas you will see faster and more reliable service with the T-Mobile GSM option. But this is not universally the case so you should check the coverage maps and our article to see if you might be better served by Sprint’s network.
What phones can you use with TextNow?
TextNow offers 14 phones on its website, with the carrier telling us that it focuses on “good value” with its phone selection. To that end, half of the phones currently on offer at TextNow cost less than $100. The most expensive phone the company sells is the Galaxy S9 at $449. (That's nearly $300 less than what you'd pay for that same device at a larger carrier.)
Despite the presence of the S9, you won’t find the latest phones available for sale through TextNow. The most current iPhone available is the iPhone 7, which debuted in 2016. (Its $360 price tag reflects its aging status.) Even the budget phones available feel a little long in the tooth. TextNow sells the Moto E4 at a bargain basement price of $46, but Motorola has come out a new version of that handset.
On the bright side, TextNow breaks with many discount carriers by letting you pay for your phone in monthly installments over three, six or 12 months. There is a financing charge, so you will end up paying a little more than you would if you bought your phone outright.
If you already have a device you are happy with, or would like an unlocked phone that TextNow doesn’t offer, you can order a SIM card from TextNow and pop that into the device of your choice. You can order a SIM card for free currently, as TextNow is waiving the usual $5 cost; it even ships the SIM card to you for free.
As you proceed through the checkout process, TextNow will prompt you for your current carrier, the IMEI/MEID code for your phone, and the device model to verify that it will work on TextNow’s network; you’ll also be asked whether you need a CDMA or GSM SIM card.
What are the best TextNow plans?
If you haven’t looked at TextNow’s plans in a while, you’re in for a surprise. TextNow has upped the amount of data you get int its plans, including the addition of a new unlimited plan that’s very competitively priced.
Data allotments start at 2GB of LTE data for $19.99 a month. (All TextNow plans offer unlimited talk and text, so there’s no need to calculate how many minutes and texts you’ll need each month.) Pay $29.99 and your monthly data bucket grows to 5GB. (For the sake of comparison, T-Mobile-owned MetroPCS charges $40 for its 5GB plan.) Go over your limit, and TextNow merely throttles your data to 2G speeds for the rest of the billing cycle.
TextNow’s most intriguing plan, though, is a $39.99 monthly offering that delivers unlimited LTE data. Only a smattering of MVNOs offer unlimited data plans and TextNow’s is one of the least expensive. (Your data speeds will be slowed if you go over 23GB a month, but that’s standard for unlimited data plans; in fact 23GB is the threshold Sprint sets for its unlimited customers.)
If you don’t need LTE data at all, you can turn to TextNow’s $9.99 plan, which just offers talk and text. For the even budget-conscious, the free TextNow app (Android, iOS (opens in new tab)) enables Wi-Fi calling on your smartphone, with a $2.99 monthly fee removing ads and adding other features like group texting, caller ID, conference calling and voice mail transcription.
|Talk||Text||LTE Data||Monthly Price|
If you need to add additional lines, TextNow offers discounts on the 5GB and unlimited data plans. A second 5GB line costs $22.99, a $7 discount, while additional unlimited data lines are discounted by $10 to $29.99. TextNow points out that a family could get three lines of unlimited data for $100, though with carriers now offering different tiers of unlimited data plans, those savings aren't as substantial as they might first appear. Under T-Mobile's stripped-down Essentials plan, for example, three lines of unlimited data cost $105 a month.
What special features does TextNow offer?
All TextNow plans, even the lowest-cost one, feature unlimited talk and text to the U.S. and Canada.
TextNow also lets you add credit to your account by completing surveys, installing apps or watching ads. This is a strategy that will be familiar to fans of free-to-play mobile games. Offers can vary from installing an app to signing up for a service, and you’ll receive varying amounts of account credit. Viewing a single 30-second ad earned me 2 cents in credit, for example. Customers on the free and paid tiers are eligible to earn credit via these methods.
TextNow offers international calling from within the U.S. at very competitive rates, including free international calling to some locations, but the service does not have any plans that allow users to make cellular calls when they travel outside the U.S. and Canada. You can still make calls and send texts over Wi-Fi when you’re overseas, though.
What do customers say about TextNow?
Reviews of the TextNow app from customers in both Google Play and the iOS App Store (opens in new tab) are quite good, with an average of 4.4 out of 5 and 4 out of 5, respectively The majority of these users are taking advantage of TextNow’s free service, though the praise for service’s performance leaves a generally solid impression of the company and its app.
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The Better Business Bureau has upped its grade of TextNow to an A+, with the company getting a rating of 4.12 out of 5 based on six reviews.
The most common complaint regarding the service centered on the ads, which is only a concern for those using the free app. One user review notes a slight delay on calls, but otherwise users seem to like the competitive pricing.
TextNow has taken some big strides since we last reviewed the service, with the addition of GSM service, a bring-your-own-device program and massive amounts of data. While reliability appears to have improved, some handoff issues when moving from Wi-Fi to cellular are still to be expected.
Some of the unique features TextNow offers, like the ability to earn credit toward your bill by completing surveys and watching ads, will certainly appeal to some customers looking to keep their cellular bill at an absolute minimum. While unlimited 2G data would be agonizing to use, it’s still nice to know that option’s available should you go over your data allotment in a given month.
TextNow already offered a remarkable value for users that prioritize calling and texting with relatively modest high-speed data needs, and larger data plans make TextNow a more compelling option Users with little or no cell reception in their home or office will also benefit greatly from the service as long as they have Wi-Fi available. If you have no need for unlimited calling and texting, then take a look at Ting or US Mobile, as they separate out talk, text and data and could save you more money.