Need a disposable number? Or an effective way to juggle work and personal lines? It's easier, and cheaper, than you think.
Rick BroidaSenior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
If you've ever had to juggle two
, you know it's a special form of torture. Two phones to carry. Two phones to keep charged. Two phones to answer!
Unfortunately, that's the reality for so many folks who need a second number. It might be one phone for work, another for personal. Or maybe you're active on Craigslist, Etsy or a dating site and keep a second phone so you don't have to give out your personal number.
Wouldn't it be great if you could have two phone lines on one phone? Turns out you can. Below I've rounded up some notable apps and services that add a second line -- including a couple that won't cost you anything. (Unfortunately, one of the best in that category -- Sideline -- recently abandoned its free option.)
The difference between a second line and Wi-Fi calling
Before I delve into them, let me clarify one thing: A second line means a second phone number, one that works more or less like the first one. That means people can call you on that number and you can make outbound calls from it, typically by way of the provider's dialer app. It might be a disposable or semipermanent number, but in the end, it really is the equivalent of a second line.
If you're simply looking to make or take calls without using any of your plan's allotted monthly minutes, or you're traveling internationally and want to leverage a Wi-Fi hotspot for free calling, check out apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Skype. They let you call other users (of those same apps) at no charge.
Burner was born from the notion of the "burner" phone, offering temporary, disposable phone numbers via an app instead of an actual phone. More recently, however, the service has expanded to include permanent-number options. Thus you can purchase credits to use on something like a "mini burner," good for 20 voice minutes, 60 text messages and 14 days of operation. Or subscribe to a plan, starting at $4.99 a month, that gives you unlimited everything. (Newcomers, take note: The credit system is a bit confusing, and pricing isn't spelled out anywhere except on one of the support pages.)
Burner has also added a three-line option, at $14.99 a month, and Burner Connections, an API system that lets you set up text-message bots via Evernote, save voicemail and photo messages to Dropbox and so on. All subscribers get robocall and spam blocking via Nomorobo.
Flyp aims to give you not just one extra number, but multiple numbers. That makes it a strong option for freelancers or folks who manage multiple businesses.
Each line includes unlimited calls and text messages, plus custom voicemail along with your choice of area code for that number.
You pay $7.99 a month per line, or $79.99 annually, and you can operate up to five lines on one phone.
The old standby for free phone service, Google Voice lets anyone with a
account choose a phone number and then gives you plentiful options for managing calls made to that number.
Most likely, you'll want them to ring your mobile phone. But calls can also be routed to one or more additional lines: office, home and so on.
You can use the Google Voice app to place outbound calls, send and receive text messages, toggle do-not-disturb mode, and play voicemail messages, which are also transcribed to text, a handy extra.
It's a great service, not to mention totally free, and recent updates have made the mobile app less clunky and confusing.
Hushed offers a little something for everyone, starting with a free disposable phone number that's good for three days. If you need it a little longer, the seven-day plan costs just $1.99 and includes 20 voice minutes and 60 text messages (including SMS).
If your goal is something a bit more permanent, Hushed charges $4.99 per month for unlimited messaging and minutes -- a competitive price for number-permanence.
Want a better deal? StackSocial continues to offer a lifetime Hushed subscription for $25, though you're limited to a combination of 300 SMS or 500 voice minutes per year. (It's basically the second number you're getting for life; service may eventually cost you extra.) Whatever you choose, options include a custom voicemail message and support for call-forwarding.
What used to be the best second-line deal in town is now one of the most expensive. Pinger's Sideline no longer offers free accounts -- the service will cost you $9.99 per month.
You do get a lot of features, including choice of area code, custom voicemail, voicemail-transcription, automated replies via text and optional number porting. But the long-promised autoattendant option (a potentially major benefit for business owners) and international calling have yet to arrive. They've been listed as "coming soon" on Sideline's site for well over a year.
Before there was Sideline, there was Textfree. Thankfully, the latter is still free, though only up to a point. All text messages and inbound calls are free, but you get only 60 minutes for outbound calls to non-Textfree users. Beyond that, you'll need to pay: $1.99 for 100 minutes, $4.99 for 400 minutes and so on.
If you don't use your Textfree number at least once within 30 days, it will be reclaimed, though you can always get a new one. Alternately, you can pay $4.99 monthly to keep it, which seems a little a steep, given that you don't get any extra voice minutes. Want to remove ads from the app or add voicemail-to-text? Those options cost $2.99 per month each. It's also important to note that Textfree can't be used for 911 calls.
One big point in favor of Textfree over many similar services: You don't need a "first" phone number to use it, just an email address. That means you can leverage it on a phone that's not currently activated or on a tablet; calls get routed over Wi-Fi. Plus, it supports messaging in a browser, which some people find more convenient than messaging by phone.
Have you found another second-line solution you like better than any of these? Or have you tried one of these already and found it good, bad or somewhere in between? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Originally published November 18, 2016. Update, April 23: This article has been updated with current pricing and features.