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May 23, 2013 — by Wesley Johnson
A text message is made up of a very small amount of data. That fact has caused many to wonder over the years why it costs so much to send one. Search the internet and you’ll find many in depth articles attempting to find the reason behind the cost. Despite all the effort, though, no one has arrived at a logical conclusion. A few years ago, the always on the rise price of text messaging inspired me to drop my plan and seek an alternate method of using my phone to communicate with friends without having to actually talk to them. My quest eventually led me to the greatness that is Google Voice.
Before I explain to you what Google Voice is, allow me to tell you what it was: GrandCentral. This service, created in the early 2000s by a company bearing the same name, granted its users the ability to use one telephone number on multiple devices – cell phones, land lines, PCs, etcetera. Their slogan was “one phone number for all your phones, for life.” Google, apparently keen on the idea of one number to rule them all, purchased the company for approximately $50 million in 2007. Google quietly retooled GrandCentral over the next two years and rereleased it in 2009 as Google Voice.
Now that you’ve had your history lesson, let’s talk features. Google Voice offers the following: one number for calling & texting on multiple devices (note: calls use your data plan in lieu of phone minutes), text plan-free texting (note: texting uses your data plan, too), insanely cheap international calling rates, transcripts of voice mails emailed and/or texted to you, and more! Unfortunately, that impressive list of pros comes with one big con: porting your current number to the service will require you to pay a $20 fee, break your current cell phone contract (another, larger fee) and start another with a different number. If you elect not to port, you’ll be asked to pick from a list of alternate numbers that use your area code. The one you chose and your old number will ring through to your device; however, the Google Voice features will only apply to your new number. The service is officially compatible with Android, iOS (iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch devices); it is accessible on Windows Phone 8 via third-party apps like MetroTalk, GoVoice and Free Talk (Google’s web-based app works as well). Sidebar: I used GoVoice during my brief time with Windows Phone 7 and it worked pretty well. Have I piqued your interest? If so, visit voice.google.com to give it a go yourself.
Several other, less-robust apps exist that allow free-to-cheap texting on mobile devices. Apple has cornered the market on this with iMessage. Introduced with iOS 6.0, iMessage allows for free texting between Apple iDevices. Using Google Voice in tandem with Google Voice works quite well for me. I do fear that when I ask people if they have an iPhone after they give me their number will think I’m a snob, though. In the future, perhaps I’ll pass new friends a copy of this article so that they understand.
Here are three of the aforementioned less-robust free-to-cheap text/instant messaging mobile apps with a brief description.
Text Plus offers free texting & calling through a randomly assigned number. Unlike Google Voice, it allows you to send photos and use it as a walkie talkie. Here’s the negative: its advertisement supported and the number you’re given doesn’t use your area code. The later may cause those you call to mistake you as a telemarketer and ignore your call. Those two negative factors aside, Text Plus offers a fairly enjoyable user experience.
(Android, iOS, Blackberry and Windows Phone)
This well-designed app is actually a cleverly disguised instant messenger program for your phone. Your phone number acts as your screen name; you may call and text (videos & photos, too) anyone on your buddy list for free. Features include humorous voice filters, walkie-talkie functionality and animated emoticons (this probably isn’t your thing, but your kids will love it). The big disadvantage to KaKao Talk is that the people you converse with must be on the service.
(Android, iOS, Blackberry, Nokia)
Like KaKao Talk, IMO is essentially an instant messaging program for your phone (when you think about it, texts and IMs are like distant cousins). It’s unique in that it pulls multiple social & IM contacts – Facebook, Google Talk, Yahoo, Skype and more – into the app and allows you to message them on the go. There’s an IMO exclusive messaging service, too. This is all presented to you in a clean and easy to use interface
Searching your app store of choice for the phrase “free text messaging” will present to you many more options than the ones I’ve highlighted here. I trust these three apps. No matter if you try one of these apps or decide to seek out another, be sure to closely pay attention while setting them up. Not every app store is curated; therefore, there’s a slim danger that something nefarious could find its way to your phone. Better to be safe than sorry.