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Free cell phone service has been a subject on the Clark Howard Show for years. But after some early stumbles, I’ve finally found a free service that fits my lifestyle and budget.
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The challenge of finding a good truly free phone service
FreedomPop was one of the first free phone services to come on my radar. With this service, you buy a cheapo Android phone for around $99 or less from the company, and then you get 200 talk minutes, 500 texts and 500 MB of data free each month.
Well, I’d tested FreedomPop a few years ago and found the reception of the calls to be very spotty. The texts were fine and so was the data, but since I still do a lot of talking, FreedomPop didn’t really make sense for my life.
At that time, my phone situation was that myself and my wife hadn’t yet entered the smartphone orbit. We had feature phones and paid $25 a month to Metro PCS for each line. We were on an unlimited talk and text with no data. I paid for both our phones, so I was paying $50 a month for two phones with no data, which totally fit our lifestyle at the time.
Then earlier this year, Metro PCS seemed to be getting more and more unreliable for call reception. We weren’t under any contract, so we decided to look around for a new provider. My wife wanted to get a smartphone so she could get pictures of her friends’ kids on the phone and share pics of our kids with family.
She made the decision to jump to AT&T and now pays around $40 for unlimited talk, text and 2 GB of data (with rollover), which is plenty for her since she doesn’t do heavy video watching on the phone. She’s a pretty light data consumer.
For a month or so following her move, I debated about staying in the feature phone world and continuing to pay $25 a month to Metro PCS for unlimited talk and text. But I decided to get with the times and get a smartphone.
I was dead set on lowering my monthly bill, not increasing it, as I made this move. I entertained the idea of Republic Wireless for a minute, but my wife had tried that service briefly for a few days last year and we found it unreliable. (I know you may have a very different experience with Republic, but that was ours!)
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I’d heard Clark allude to a service called RingPlus.net and decided to give it a try. Like a lot of these modern mobile players, there’s no contract so I figured I didn’t have too much to lose.
You’re allowed to bring your own compatible device so I got a Moto e for $39 at Best Buy and popped in the SIM card. Just like that, I found myself ushered into the world of the smartphone.
I’m on a plan called the Michelangelo that requires a $10 auto top-up deposit to a credit card — but there are no other monthly fees. So I paid $10 upfront back in January and now each month I get 1,000 talk minutes, 1,000 texts and 500 MB of LTE data for absolutely FREE!
Because I’m almost always on wireless, I never even come close to putting a sizeable dent in the 500 MB allotment. Plus, I’m not a particularly heavy data user myself. I have an app to listen to podcasts and another app that pays me to use my smartphone and that’s it! I don’t do any social media from my phone and I don’t watch streaming video.
RingPlus runs on the Sprint network. One of the funny things about RingPlus voice service is that when you place a call, you hear an advertisement. I guess that’s part of how they make their money. (Clark would definitely approve of listening to an ad to get free phone service!)
The ad usually promotes a popular song — Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” or Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do” are just two examples — with a prompt to press five for more info and a link to buy the song.
Instead of music, you might also hear a news snippet — “Texas Panhandle Engulfed By Dust Storm” and “Myanmar: Magnitude-6.9 Earthquake” were both recent ones I heard. The goal is to drive ad revenue by getting you to a news site like BBC News or USA TODAY to read more about the stories they tease.
Sometimes, though, you get something crazy and off the wall from TMZ like “Yanet Garcia: Butt Implants?”
I don’t do a lot on my phone so this plan is a perfect fit for my life. But it may not be for yours!
For me, the only cost associated with the RingPlus phone is when I send or receive a picture (MMS). That costs me four cents a pop to share or receive those pictures of the kids. Right now, I have $7.56 left in my account from the initial $10 deposit I made in January. So all I’ve paid for nearly three months of free phone service is $2.44! You’ve got to love that!
The Michelangelo plan requires a positive balance at all times, so when my balance eventually does drop to zero — probably sometime in 2017 — then my credit card will be charged another $10 and I’ll start all over again.
RingPlus has a variety of free and paid plans. Check them out!
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