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.
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.
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.