Wireless Service

TextNow Review: An MVNO Offering Free Cellular Service

Sara Nuss
February 10, 2023

TextNow is a prepaid mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) based in San Francisco. They offer cloud-based cell phone service that connects users over WiFi when they call and send texts. More than that, their base plan is free! They have a downloadable app and through that, the service jumps off of WiFi in order to save on minutes and mobile data. When users are off of WiFi, users have access to Sprint and T-Mobile’s nationwide network, allowing for a transition between WiFi calling and mobile data calling. 

This article will dive into a TextNow review, looking at an overview of the company, its pros and cons, features, plans, cost, and how it holds up to competitors. Switching phone carriers is a serious business, and we want to give you all the information you need to know whether or not TextNow is the right carrier for you! 

TextNow At a Glance

TextNow is a bold new service that relies heavily on WiFi to transmit calls and texts. This has some serious problems, but the major one is that the WiFi service is not always strong enough to support a call. It is difficult for phones to know exactly when WiFi strength is not enough to uphold a call, so it is often up to the user to ensure that they are within a strong WiFi signal or turn off their WiFi whenever they want to make a phone call. 

This section will cover all you need to know about our TextNow review before you get into the more focused sections later on in this article. 

What Sets TextNow Apart? 

During the course of our TextNow review, we discovered that the major thing that sets them apart is that the base service they offer is free. That’s right. If you are on their basic plan, which has some drawbacks, the plan is completely free.

There are a few companies that offer free plans, and while TextNow is unique in its WiFi-focused company, all of the companies that offer free plans have similarly low-service plans. TextNow’s free plan comes with no high-speed data and users must accrue “credit” by watching ads on their device in order to call and text. 

Price of TextNow Plans

When researching different carriers and checking out our TextNow review, it is imperative to know what sets TextNow apart. Their plans are geared toward those who do not use a lot of data, and they are priced between $0 a month and $28 dollars a month. 

Their most expensive plan only comes with 5 GB of high-speed data, which is not impressive when compared to the other offerings in the MVNO world. Their company has the best value for people who are able to subsist with little to no data in their daily life. If you are within the bounds of WiFi signals all day, this could be the carrier for you! 

What Kinds of Plans does TextNow offer?

TextNow has a free plan and plans with limited data up to 5 GB a month. Comparing that to the other MVNO unlimited plans, 5 GB is not a lot at all. If you are a TextNow user and need to go through a fair bit of data each month, there is no way for you to add on any extra high-speed data. Twenty-eight dollars for 5 GB of high-speed data each month is not very good, so if you are looking for a plan that gives a few GBs of data we recommend checking out some of our other cell phone service reviews to find a wireless network that is right for you! 

What Network does TextNow Use?

TextNow works on Sprint and T-Mobile’s nationwide networks, giving users access to mobile data as long as they have it as a part of their plan. You are able to see if your area is covered by checking TextNow’s coverage map

Can You Bring Your Own Cell Phone?

Yes! You can bring an eligible device to TextNow and activate it when you receive your SIM card. You should double-check to confirm your device’s compatibility with TextNow’s service, but as long as your phone is unlocked you should not run into many problems. 

TextNow: Pros & Cons

Before you switch to a new carrier, it is important to understand the pros and cons that they bring to the table. What are the items that you are most interested in when it comes to a phone carrier? If some of our pros resonate with you that’s a good sign, and if some of these cons look like they would drive you crazy then it might be time to look into another cell phone carrier. Like any other cell service, TextNow has pros and cons. In this section, we will cover everything that we liked and did not like. 

👍 What We Liked

  • Free Service. This is what sets TextNow apart and keeps them in the running for a great MVNO under the right circumstances. The ability to have a number to receive and send calls and texts without a phone bill is a tremendous boon. 
  • WiFi Calling. TextNow’s WiFi calling sets it apart from many other MVNOs that  rely on cell phone service from other major wireless networks. Now, the cell service on those MVNOs is great, but WiFi calling opens up another avenue for fast and efficient calling. 
  • Low Activation Cost. The cost of their SIM card package is a buck, and once you input it into your phone you are good to go! You do have to pay for a plan with data, but calling and texting are free once you have the SIM card. 
  • Easy-to-use Phone App. In order to use TextNow’s service you need to download an app on your phone. Instead of using your phone’s regular messaging service and call app, you go through TextNow’s app. Fortunately, the app is really easy to use!
  • Unlimited Calling to Canada. As an additional benefit to using TextNow’s service, you have access to calling anywhere in Canada! 

👎 What We Didn’t Like

  • Advertisements on Free Service. Unfortunately, in order to use TextNow’s free service you have to bank minutes for phone calls and texts by watching advertisements on their platform. This is a big downside to using TextNow and is the price you pay for free unlimited calling and texting. 
  • Poor data prices. If you do decide to use data, the prices associated with TextNow are not competitive with anything else that’s available on the market. Many other MVNOs offer better data prices and much higher data ceilings for people who use more than a few GBs. 
  • WiFi Calling. While WiFi calling is a good prospect, there are a lot of bugs inherent in the software that stem from times when you are in spotty WiFi coverage. The service is able to understand when you are not connected to WiFi where it uses mobile data. But if you are on the edge of a WiFi zone, then it tries to connect you with the WiFi, resulting in a spotty call or dropped calls entirely. 
  • No big data plan. With the intensity of data usage in just about every app, a maximum plan size of 5 GB of data does not allow for much in any capacity. For anyone who has to use data during the day it is unlikely that their 5 GB plan is enough to make it through the month. 
  • No locked number. Users have to pay to lock their phone numbers. This is a strange cost and is a big con and it makes us wary to recommend this service. They reserve the right to change the phone number that the app uses. 

TextNow Services & Features

TextNow, understandably, does not offer a tremendous amount of services or features. They have an application that’s downloadable on just about every app store, and from there, users gain access to all the services and features that TextNow provides. 

TextNow Plans & Pricing

TextNow has five available plans. If you are okay with the low data max from TextNow phone plans then understanding what each of TextNow’s phone plans brings to the table is essential before you make the decision to switch. Their five plans are: 

  • No data for free
  • 1 GB for $9 a month
  • 2 GB for $16 a month
  • 3 GB for $20 a month
  • 5 GB for $28 a month

These plans, on the whole, are a bit more pricey than we would like. Other options offer more data and better service at lower price points, but their free plan keeps them in the ring as a unique and worthwhile MVNO. Outside of the price, users have to give up a lot in order to take advantage of the free plan. They need to watch a lot of ads and have to deal with the third-party app in order to send texts and make calls, but let’s not gloss over the fact that you can have a number and can talk and text for free! 

TextNow uses a third-party shop called Swappa that lets users purchase phones or bring their own devices!

TextNow Phone Selection 

There is an extensive list of compatible phones that will work with TextNow as long as they are unlocked! Utilizing their service at Swappa ensures that the phone will be unlocked and will work with TextNow’s service! When you prepare to switch, think about whether you want to buy a new phone along with your new service or bring your own. Bringing your own phone has a variety of benefits. Some cellular providers have deals to trade in old phones to get great deals on new ones or deals for new customers, but TextNow does not have too many deals going on. Smaller MVNOs oftentimes have less new-customer deals than the larger companies, often tempered by the great plan prices. 

How Well Does TextNow Actually Work?

Call & Text Performance

TextNow has some problems with call and text performance in relation to its WiFi powered service. Since it relies so much on WiFi, if you find yourself in areas with spotty WiFi coverage you are forced to either turn off your WiFi and use their mobile connection or wait and find a stronger connection. The inconvenience of going back and forth with WiFi when you are on the move makes this below average compared to the call and text performance of other phones on the market. 

Data Speeds

The TextNow data speeds run on Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks, and the data is fast! The major problem with these plans is the quantity of data you receive. Between 0 GB and 5 GB, any significant data usage will use up your high-speed data allocation and leave you with 2G data speeds. 2G data speeds are not fast in the slightest. With that low speed, you will be unable to do much on mobile data other than check email. 

TextNow vs. Competitors

TextNow vs. T-Mobile

T-Mobile is significantly more expensive than TextNow, but it offers much, much more to  users. If you have the time, take a look at the T-Mobile phone plans to see firsthand what the differences are. While the price is a significant jump from the free plan at TextNow, you get a chance to see what you pay for with unlimited high-speed data, cell service all over the country, and another bunch of benefits alongside it! 

TextNow vs. Twigby

Twigby is another MVNO that occupies a similar niche. Their plans range from $10 a month and $40 a month, but their most expensive plan is a great unlimited data plan. Twigby has the upper hand over TextNow, we believe, unless you are willing to try out TextNow’s free plan. 

TextNow Customer Service

TextNow has a comprehensive online support portal as well as the ability to submit a request online

What Customers Have to Say About TextNow

“Great app until a few months ago. Will terminate your free account without just cause stating you violated the terms of service. No further information, just terminate. A friend attempted to create a TextNow account only to be rejected for violating the TOS, and she never even got the chance to fully set up the account and never received a free text number. Do NOT be tempted with this bogus app.” - Joe M. (via SiteJabber)

“TextNow has gone crazy. They are confused about how to run their service properly. I read their terms of service before setting up my account and never violated any of their rules. Very surprising to see my account got suspended! Luckily, I have not paid the subscription before my account was taken down. But too bad to see how difficult or hard time they're going through to run their service properly.” - Lorenza. (via Trustpilot)

“Bought a SIM card for $1 with free delivery. Activated and tested on an iPhone. Calls and texts can only be made through the TextNow app, not the Phone and Messages apps. When you go into the Settings part of the TextNow app there’s no obvious way to get back to the screen with calls and text messages, other than force quitting the app. Also, calls made through the TextNow app often don't go through at all - they just keep ringing in the app but there’s no incoming call on the other phone. Sometimes calls don’t go through at first, then after a few minutes when you've already started doing something else, the phone starts ringing and the only way to stop it is to force quit the TextNow app. To sum up, it's a mess. Don't rely on this "free" service. Instead, get the cheapest prepaid plan that will actually work when you need it.

” - DM. (via Trustpilot)

TextNow FAQ

Can TextNow be used without WiFi?

Yes! As long as you have a functional TextNow SIM card, you can utilize mobile networks from Sprint and T-Mobile if you have the credit accrued from watching ads in their app. If you have the ability to gather enough minutes and texts it works well on mobile networks!

Why do I have more than one phone number?

TextNow users have something labeled “my phone number,” as well as a “TextNow number.” Your TextNow number is where your calls and texts come from and is stored in your TextNow app. Your other phone number is there to connect your phone to the network, but other than that it will not be used to send or receive calls and messages. 

TLDR; TextNow is a Free MVNO with Poor Data Prices

TextNow rides on the fact that they offer free service. Using TextNow requires a lot of sacrifices from the users, but users who are willing to make them can create routines that let them enjoy a fantastic and free service!

Sara Nuss
Sara Nuss is a journalist from Pittsburgh, PA that specializes in wireless, dewi, phone plan advice & blockchain.
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