About two months ago, we started an adventure in cell service with FreedomPop. With a trusty Galaxy SII in our pockets and a $20 activation fee, we began the quest to find truly FREE cellular service. Now, there are two things to think about when you talk ‘free’ service. One, nothing is ever free. Two, service can mean very different things to different people. Knowing that, let’s take a quick look at how well FreedomPop delivered.
Voice Service: The freebie plan through FreedomPop includes 200 minutes of voice usage, 500 text message and 500MB of WiMax data. Now, WiFi data is completely free, but voice and texts still count against those totals. By finding friends with FreedomPop, you also can earn extra data (50MB per friend, per month) to increase that cap. The limits are good for someone that uses very little service, but for realistic usage, most people would need more unless they are constantly around WiFi.
Moving forward from the limitations, we have a very solid little plan for the smartphone starter. When comparing it to a plan like the $5 Republic Wireless plan, the deal becomes stronger. The hardware cost, if you don’t have a phone that will port in, is as little as $119 for the Samsung Victory LTE. This compares to the Moto G that RW offers up price wise, but offers LTE data unlike the 3G counterpart from Republic. Of course, for as little as $399, you can step up to the iPhone 5. Our little decrepit Samsung Galaxy SII activated on the service just fine though, so the $20 activation fee was all we paid to get rolling.
Voice calls over the WiFi connections were good, though the dialer software often got confused and had two calls going at once. Very strange, but again, for a free service, it’s almost to be expected. If you are careful about when and who you call, this won’t be an issue for most people. Call quality, on the other hand, was very good on both the cellular and the WiFi networks. There seemed to be a slight delay in some conversations, but probably not more than a second at most. It seemed like the stronger the data stream, the shorter the delay was.
Messaging with the FreedomPop Messenger App was a breeze. Though, most users may opt for a data centric messaging option like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or even Skype. 500 SMS messages are great when you need them, but many users will blow that cap in a number of days, if not sooner.
With great options, including Google Voice and Hangouts being available, it’s hard not to think that 500 emergency text messages wouldn’t do the trick for someone. Basic communication can be done with many other apps out there, so we don’t see the lack of SMS messages as a major issue.
Moving forward to the actual data speeds that you will be using to get those Facebook updates and tweets read, the download speeds were fine coming in in the 4-8Mbps range. The uploads, however, were a major issue. Since this would be the path that your outgoing voice uses, the quarter to half Mbps speeds were not adequate for quality calls.
Since FreedomPop uses only the Sprint data network, calls aren’t routed over the CDMA voice lines. Calls are made via the software using a VoIP dialer instead. Again, if you are around WiFi, you won’t have much of an issue, but this is where someone like a Republic Wireless really has an advantage with their $10 a month plan. They roll over to the cellular network for calling when WiFi isn’t to be found. FreedomPop doesn’t have this option as all the calls are placed as VoIP over the data network.
Overall, FreedomPop isn’t a solution for everyone out there. It is for the light user that might need a phone to take in the car for emergencies or someone that just wants to have a messaging service that goes with them on the road. The lack of Sprint’s network quality really hurts FreedomPop’s appeal. That said, if you are around a good WiFi connection consistently, the quality of the cellular network won’t come into play very often and in those times that it does, you can always fire off a quick text just to let someone know that you are in a poor coverage area and will call them back when you can.
Our FreedomPop experience doesn’t win us over completely, but then again, we were dealing with a 3 year old, used Galaxy S II that runs on WiMax. We would love to have FreedomPop send us a new LTE device to test out and update this review further with, but we won’t hold our breath on that.
The bottom line on the service, it is free, and it is worth more than that price. If you find yourself needing a bit higher usage limits, grab the yearly plan for $79.99 that includes unlimited talk, text and 1GB of high speed data every month. That puts the cost under $17 with that Samsung Victory and unlimited service every month. If you are looking at a value provider, it doesn’t get any cheaper than that.