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. Four years later, the service 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. 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 2017 fastest nationwide wireless networks 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 17 phones on its website, with the carrier telling us that it focuses on “good value” with its phone selection. To that end, the majority of available phones cost less than $100, with many refurbished models in the mix.
Samsung Galaxy S7 EdgeYou’ll find a few high-end models at TextNow, where a refurbished iPhone 7 is the priciest option at $499. The most recent Samsung flagship is a Galaxy S7 Edge that will set you back $399. If there’s a gap in TextNow’s phone selection, it’s a lack of recent midrange devices, such as the Moto G5 Plus or the Honor 6X. Those phones are in many ways superior to the 2- to3-year-old options from Samsung and Apple that populate the $200 to $300 price range in the TextNow store.
Fortunately, 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. There’s typically a $5 fee for the SIM card, though the carrier offers promotions, such as a free SIM card that TextNow even ships to you for free.
TextNow's online tool lets you see if your phone will work with its service.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?
TextNow, like many MVNOs, is a prepaid service, so you make your choice at the beginning of the month; you can tweak that plan from month to month as needed.
What’s unique aboutTextNow is that all of its plans, even the lowest-cost one, feature unlimited talk and text to the U.S. and Canada. Many low-cost carriers put limits on talk and text on their entry-level plans. An exception is Republic Wireless, which also features unlimited talk and text on all its plans. But run out of data on Republic, and you’ve got to upgrade to a new data tier; TextNow merely throttles your data to 2G speeds for the rest of the billing cycle.
Speaking of data allotments, TextNow’s start at 100MB for $13.99 a month. That price may be tempting, but unless you barely touch LTE data, relying on Wi-Fi for the bulk of your data needs, you’re going to run out quickly. The sweet spot for most people will be TextNow’s Tall plan with 1.5GB of high-speed data for $19.99 a month, or its Grande plan with 3GB of high-speed data for $27.99 a month.
For data plans of 3GB and higher, TextNow offers promotional pricing for the first month. That 3GB plan, which normally costs $27.99, drops to $19.99 for the first month of service. You can enjoy even greater savings on the first month of the 4GB plan (normally $39.99, but it drops to $19.99 for one month) and 6GB (regularly $59.99, but initially available at $29.99).
What special features does TextNow offer?
One of the most notable things about TextNow is a free service tier, which customers can use to make or receive calls or texts through the TextNow website or via a dedicated app over a Wi-Fi connection. This tier is entirely ad-supported, so you will see ads in the app and when using the TextNow site if you opt to go the free route. You can’t use any cellular service on this tier, and TextNow may also revoke your number due to inactivity. Upgrading to a paid TextNow Premium subscription ($2.99 a month, or $29.99 yearly) removes the ads, protects your number, and gives you the ability to forward your TextNow number to any other number in the U.S. or Canada.
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 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 outlook is less rosy at the Better Business Bureau, where TextNow has a rating of 1.49 out of 5, though that ranking appears to be based on just five reviews. Other customer-based business review sites do not have entries regarding TextNow at this time, but employee reviews on the site Glassdoor put TextNow at a 4.1 out of 5.
The most common complaint regarding the service centered on the ads, which is only a concern for those using the free app.
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 a price cut across its plans. 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 offers a remarkable value for users that prioritize calling and texting with relatively modest high-speed data needs. 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.
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