Text messaging is pretty expensive, but fortunately there are a number of great alternatives for your iPhone that will provide the service for free. Of all the options, our favorite is Google Voice thanks to its cross-platform and web syncing plus full control over how you get your messages and who can send them.
- Send free text messages directly from your iPhone
- Integrates with iPhone contacts
- Swipe down to check for new messages
- Push notifications
- Check your texts online, from any browser, when you're away from your phone
- Syncs with Google Voice on a variety of other platforms
- Forward messages to phones or email addresses
- Block unwanted senders
Note: These features only pertain to text messages. For the full feature set check out the official Google Voice page.
The Google Voice app is made great because of the Google Voice service. The app itself is just okay, even though it has some nice touches like swiping down to reload your messages. What's great is that you get your own phone number, you can use that number to replace your existing mobile number, and if you don't like either of those options you can port your mobile number to Google Voice. From there you can text for free, as much as you want, and it works about as well as your paid SMS text messaging service. What really sets it over the top, however, is that you can get a Google Voice app for practically any operating system. Some are official, some are not, but there's almost always an app that will let you text from any other mobile device or computer. All your texts are synchronized so you can respond wherever you want.
Google Voice doesn't have the world's best interface. When you're checking your messages it's actually really nice because you just pull down to reload, but when you're sending messages you have to go to the dialer and then tap the people button just to bring up your contacts. While remembering your phone numbers can be a good thing, realistically it is not your brain's default setting—especially when using an iPhone. Chances are you're going to be browsing through your contacts before you'll be tapping in a number from memory.
What's significantly more annoying, however, is that when you receive a text message notification the app won't be up-to-date. You'll know you have a new message but the app will not, so you'll have to reload your messages and wait for the app to figure it out. If you text infrequently this isn't that important. If you text multiple times per day, or to an excess, this can get a little frustrating. If they need to fix one thing, it's that.
TextFree (Free-ish) is likely the most obvious free text messaging option, and it's also one of the best. Like Google Voice you get a free phone number and can send and receive messages free of charge. You can also send picture messages, which is something Google Voice doesn't really support. Your messages are available online and from any other iPhone or Android device with the app installed. What it can't do is forward your messages to other numbers and email addresses, block unwanted senders, and offer native desktop apps for your computer. Also, it comes with ads which cost $6 per year to remove.
Line2 ($10/month) is designed to provide a phone alternative, which costs a monthly fee, but provides free text messaging. The app is really great and the call quality is excellent, so if you're looking to replace your phone service or turn your iPod touch into an iPhone, it'll come with free text messages too. You can try it free for a month and refusing to subscribe afterwards will often net you a discount.
BiteSMS (Free-ish) is a free app for jailbroken iPhones and it's designed to make your texting experience better. It comes with a lot of nice features, like being able to reply directly from a message notification (without the need to go into the app). It's free to use, but you'll have ads. To remove ads you have to pay $10. If you don't want to use your iPhone's text messaging plan, you can use BiteSMS' service. The cost per message is about 12 cents each and it gets cheaper if you buy additional credits (e.g. $120 gets you 1200 credits). These credits work with local, national, and international numbers alike.
Infinite SMS (Free or $5) is just an interface for Google Voice's text messaging service. If you'd prefer to use it only for texting and don't mind ads (or paying $5 to remove them) then give it a look.
There are plenty of other text messaging replacements for the iPhone, so if you've got a favorite we didn't highlight be sure to share it in the comments.
Lifehacker's App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.You can follow Adam Dachis, the author of this post, on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook. Twitter's the best way to contact him, too.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
The Best Text Messaging Replacement for iPhone