Using your phone without paying a penny

Imagine a world where you can use your phone to do phone things: texting, using apps, and yes, even the occasional phone call—but without paying $30+ a month to your corporation of choice.

To those willing to accept a few minor drawbacks, this world can be a reality.

Choices, choices, choices

Perhaps you’ve heard of free texting apps such as Nextplus, TextMe Up, or the appropriately-named ‘Textfree,’ but you probably don’t know that these days they’re solid enough to completely replace your phone plan.

Apps like these offer local phone numbers, voicemail and unlimited picture messaging—all for free. Phone calls and texts are paid for by ads displayed throughout the apps. (For those who can’t stomach them, there are usually in-app purchases available to remove them.) Many of the popular free texting apps feature good user interfaces with Material Design, app shortcuts, multiple device support, chat bubbles, and even voicemail-to-text transcription.

Even Google has a phone service that can be used without paying a cent: Google Voice. The app received a major facelift in early 2017, and will only continue to be improved. While Google Voice isn’t (yet) marketed as an app to replace your phone service, it can do just that!

The ‘Fine Print’

So why isn’t everyone flocking to apps like these and telling all these US carriers to take a long walk off a pier? Without a cellular plan, these apps work only on Wi-Fi. Frequent travelers who dare to text-and-drive are out of luck. Outdoors-enthusiasts aren’t the target market, either.

But for some people, this isn’t a problem. Wi-Fi connectivity is almost everywhere these days (you can even pay to get Wi-Fi in your car), and it’s only becoming more widely available as time goes on. Those of us who spend most of our time indoors (students, people who work-from-home, tech readers who’ve never glimpsed the sun) always have access to Wi-Fi. And even without a connection, your device won’t be useless. Google has been working on adding support for more offline features: voice commands, downloading music automatically, and even web searches.

It’s possible

Severing ties with your phone company may be a scary thought, but I encourage you to investigate the possibility. It’s not for everyone, but it might just be a more viable option than most people assume. I’ve been using Android devices for years now; first an HTC One M7, then a Nexus 5X, and currently a Moto G Play. I’ve never paid a penny to text, call, or use data.