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FreeTone review: A free calling and chat app with too many hidden costs

The FreeTone app delivers on its promise of free text messaging and calling within the US, but it's inconsistent and the ads might be enough to turn off most people.

Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
6 min read

FreeTone (iOS|Android) is a cross-platform app that allows you to call or text any US phone number for free, without eating into the minutes included in your cellular plan. Instead, FreeTone acts as a VoIP solution, using your data connection to facilitate the voice and video calls, along with text message delivery.



The Good

FreeTone gives you a secondary number so you can call and text people for free.

The Bad

The app is riddled with ads at every turn. There is currently no syncing for those who install it on multiple devices. Text messaging is unreliable.

The Bottom Line

If you're looking for a spare number to deal with people from Craigslist or similar services, FreeTone does the job, but with the syncing problems and so many ads, there are better apps out there.

Think of it as an instant-messaging platform such as Skype, only instead of relying on usernames you use phone numbers.

With unlimited calling and texting to any number in the US, FreeTone is appealing as a Google Voice competitor or even a means to replace your phone number. Unfortunately, it falls short on both counts.

FreeTone offers free text messaging and phone calls (pictures)

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Getting started

Setting up FreeTone requires that you create an account. You can opt to enter your information by hand, or connect the app to Facebook or Google+ to speed up the process. I used my Google+ account and found it a bit odd that the app requests permission to post to my circles. Try as I might, I still haven't come up with a sensible reason this particular app would need to post to my circles. Nonetheless, I was able to adjust this particular setting and proceed.

Once you've created an account, the app will request the area code you'd like a phone number in and assign a number to you. The entire process only takes a few minutes, depending on the method you use to sign up.

Texting and calling

The interface of FreeTone feels similar to WhatsApp (iOS|Android) or Kik Messenger (iOS|Android). When launching FreeTone you're immediately taken to your inbox. From there you can view your messages, compose a new message, view your address book or launch the phone portion of the app to make a call.

Within a text conversation you can send a picture, video, voice note, your current location and attach myriad files from cloud services such as Dropbox. But one thing to note is that sending a picture or video in a conversation will result in FreeTone creating a link that's then sent to the recipient. So unlike other chat apps, you can't receive picture or video messages inline using the FreeTone service.

As far as reliability, on a few occasions when messaging my wife I would receive duplicate messages, even though she'd only sent the message once. Other times her messages were never delivered to my account at all. Clearly, you want a messaging app to be reliable whether it's free or not, so it makes it hard to recommend FreeTone over the popular chat apps I mentioned above.

Calling is a little different. Placing a call is a familiar process: open the dialpad and enter or select the contact you'd like to call. Calls I placed were clear, with only an occasional delay or echo. One thing I liked is that I could use FreeTone to create a separate phone number for services like Craigslist, for example, where it's wise not to give out too much info.

No multiple device syncing

One selling point for a cross-platform app that aims to replace your traditional phone number is that it can be used from any device you install the app on. FreeTone fulfills this promise, but it's the syncing that's the problem.

I installed the app on an Android device, as well as my iPad and iPhone. The only problem is, whatever messages I sent from one device would stay there, while messages sent from another device would be locked in there. Further complicating using multiple devices with the app is that received messages are only delivered to one device.

In other words, if you're texting someone from your iPad, then leave it on your desk and walk away with your iPhone, new messages will continue to be delivered only to your iPad. I was unable to figure out how the service determines which device messages are delivered to. At one point I thought it was the last device you sent a message from, but my theory was debunked after sending messages from my iPhone and watching a different device light up as I received replies.

The app simply doesn't work efficiently across multiple devices, which is unfortunate and inexcusable for a communications app in 2014. At the very least it should only allow you to be signed into one device at a time, similar to how BBM handles multiple devices. That way the service would know which device you're currently using and where to deliver new alerts. Sadly, FreeTone does not.

Earning credits

Placing or receiving both text messages and phone calls within the US to another number of the same origin is completely free, though the app makes it confusing to ascertain at first. Even with free calls and messages advertised in the App Store listing, upon first launching the app and seeing references to credits and methods for checking how many credits a call is going to cost made me second-guess the free claim.

With a little digging, I was able to see that most calls and texts are free as promised.

So what are credits? For starters, the only reason you'll need credits is if you plan on calling or messaging someone out of the country. Credits can be earned by watching video ads, completing offers such as installing (and launching certain apps) or watching "premium" videos. The option to purchase credits starting at 99 cents|69p|AU$1.29 (for 40 credits) is also possible through an in-app purchase.

Credits can also be redeemed for sticker packs, sound packages for alerts and color themes through the FreeTone Shop. So basically, aside from long distance, the credits currency is used for cosmetic changes.

In other words, your credit balance is prominently displayed atop your inbox, which is what immediately gave me pause. But while you'll need it for some things, you'll be able to make free texts and calls as advertised.

Ads and more ads

Littered throughout the entire app are ads, randomly appearing inline with messages in a text conversation and other times pretending to be a conversation in your inbox. The frustrating part here is that the ads aren't consistent in when they appear. For example, at one point during testing I went to tap on a conversation only to have it replaced by an ad (and the conversation shifted down in the list) at the last possible second. This resulted in me inadvertently tapping on the ad.

Eliminating ads altogether is possible through in-app purchases. For 99 cents you can remove ads for a month, or $4.99|£2.99|AU$6.49 will banish ads for a year. Nothing is truly free, I suppose, but just be aware that the ads can be pretty aggressive.


The lack of true multiple device support and the occasional hiccups with message delivery make it difficult to justify FreeTone replacing your phone number. In fact, to me, it makes this app a nonstarter.

To make it worse, the ads can get really annoying and employ tricks that have them appear suddenly, so you'll accidentally touch them when you intended to do something else.

While I wouldn't recommend it as a replacement for your regular calling app, FreeTone can still be useful. You can still make calls and send texts if you watch out for the ads and it will be occasionally useful as a secondary number when you don't want your recipient to have your real contact info. But there are plenty of great free apps already that let you send texts, and the headaches in this app just aren't worth the effort.



Score Breakdown

Setup 7Features 4Interface 5Performance 5