TextNow review: A budget friendly cell service with a twist

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TextNow

With a limited selection of phones, TextNow does offer you the option of bringing your own phone to use on their network.

Generally people who need cell service tend to seek it out from the big four: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Most of the time you’re going to get the best coverage from one of these four carriers as well as the best speeds and reception. But there are other alternatives, and though these alternatives aren’t for everyone, they can and do work for many. TextNow is one of those alternatives, and it provides a pretty great service for those budget minded users.

Service and Plans

TextNow plans start as low as $14.99 and climb up to $59.99 a month, which isn’t a bad deal if you’re looking to save money. All of the plans include unlimited high-speed data at 2G speeds, which is kind of useless, but it can be helpful in a pinch. Don’t expect to be streaming video or listening to music over 2G speeds. Here’s the kind of speeds we’re talking about.

2G Data Transmission Capacity:

  • With General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), there is a theoretical maximum transfer speed of 50 kbit/s (40 kbit/s in practice).
  • With EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution), there is a theoretical transfer speed of max. 1 Mbit/s (500 kbit/s in practice).

TextNow packages are named after coffee sizes, so it goes from Short to Quattro (Starbucks must be funding this). The speed that matters, and the speed you might want to be using, is 4G and you won’t be getting much of that with the Short package. Short gives you 100MB, Tall gives you 500MB, Grande gives you 1.5GB, Venti gives you 3GB and Quattro gives you 6GB of 4G data. Pricing Short to Quattro is $13.99, $18.99, $26.99, $39.99 and $59.99.

TextNow

But one thing to be aware of is your data allotment does get eaten up on 3G as well as 4G, and 3G isn’t a huge upgrade over 2G. All plans do have unlimited texting and calls which is probably why many would choose TextNow in the first place. If you’re a heavy data user you might go searching over with the big four. You’ll pay more, but if you’re a heavy data user it may be worth it.

Like other alternative wireless providers, TextNow not only uses cellular service to route your calls and texts but it uses Wi-Fi as well. As a matter of fact, it prioritizes Wi-Fi use first over cell service. This is particularly helpful if you’re in an area with a not-so-great cell signal. Most of the larger carriers have this feature as well, though you’ll have to activate it within the phone’s settings.

When TextNow isn’t using Wi-Fi it pulls off the Sprint network which seems to have gotten better in my area since I used it last. It’s still not the fastest network out there, but for the cheaper prices, you may be able to live with that.

One of TextNow’s main features that some users may find very useful, is the ability to make calls and send texts using their computer. When you log in to the TextNow website with your user details and phone number, you’re greeted with a simple interface that looks much like any chat or messaging service, like Skype or Facetime. From here you can send and receive text messages as if you were on your phone and you can do the same with phone calls. You can use the web interface or download the TextNow app for Windows, OS X or wireless device. It’s a handy feature to have.

TextNow

 

Devices

Devices, devices, devices. This is where you’ll have to bite the bullet because TextNow isn’t going to offer up the latest iPhone or Samsung. TextNow does offer some fairly decent phones, but they’re not stellar with the possible exception of Galaxy S6 edge. Many of the phone offerings are older model phones, which should work okay for some, especially if you’re looking to save money. Not everyone wants the latest and greatest device and, hard to believe as it is, not everyone is glued to their smartphone 24/7.

With the limited selection of phones TextNow does offer you the option of bringing your own phone to use on their network. There are some parameters you must meet in order to do this. The phone you bring must run Android or iOS, Windows Phone need not apply. The device must be unlocked or off-contract and fully paid off. It must have a clean record, not marked lost or stolen, and it must be a Sprint or TextNow device. T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon devices will not work with this service.

That being the case, you can still really save some money using TextNow and perhaps buying a used phone from Swappa. You could score some nice phones from Swappa at a very reasonable price. For example, an iPhone 6 Sprint version is currently running $299 on Swappa and the Galaxy Note 5 is $274, both great phones and both made to run on Sprint/TextNow.

The bottom line on the device front is, TextNow probably isn’t going to work for people like me who want the latest iPhone every year and are okay paying for a phone for basically, forever. But if you’re okay with snagging a used phone or a new older phone and are happy with keeping it for several years then this service could work out for you.

TextNow

Wrap Up

TextNow works off the Sprint network but also utilizes Wi-Fi calling and texting to give you the most optimal signal they can give you and save you money. The prices seem fairly competitive and certainly a bit cheaper than the big four. You will probably suffer a little bit of network prioritization being that they use the Sprint network for service. Generally, when Sprint sells their network use to a third-party like this, those signals get pushed down the ladder of importance. Sprint customers will get priority traffic over third-party users.

While you’re getting Unlimited 2G speeds here, let’s face it, 2G is nearly worthless for any sort of serious data use. 3G and 4G speeds will count against your data allotment, but it’s been shown that most average cell users only use between 1GB-3GB a month in data so with TextNow you’re talking $27-$40 a month.

If you’re a heavy data user and someone who likes to have the latest smartphone and pay for it on a monthly basis, then TextNow probably isn’t for you. But if you don’t care what kind of phone you have and have limited interest in being glued to it leeching data, then TextNow might save you some cash over the big four. It certainly can’t hurt to check out their website and see how much you would be paying. I highly suggest you start off by reading their terms and conditions page thoroughly so you know what to expect. Doing this for any service you want to sign up for is important. I’d also suggest visiting Swappa and finding a better device there than what TextNow offers.

TextNow
4.3 Out of 5
Nailed It
Good coverage as tested in the Chicago area. Decent LTE speeds. Affordable pricing. Text from your laptop or desktop.
Needs Work
Limited phone choices, often lower end, will have lower priority over regular Sprint users.
Bottom Line
Cell services are highly dependent on individual needs, TextNow is affordable but you will make sacrifices if you're wanting a high end phone. The texting from your laptop or desktop is a nice feature.
Our Rating4.25
*We were sent a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge review unit to test the TextNow network for the purposes of this review.
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