Do you like free stuff? I definitely do.
Call me a skeptic, but the word “free” almost always comes with strings attached.
Free is usually the gateway for you to buy something — like the tasting a piece of cheese on a toothpick or drinking a tiny sized coffee at your corner supermarket, or it comes with a catch.
Case in point, my recent run-ins with free stuff included a bakery with a sign that said “free bread.” The catch? It was a few days old.
Download a free app and be subjected to seeing ads within the app, unless you upgrade for $2.99.
There’s No Such Thing As Free
FreedomPop is a mobile service that has a very limited, but free plan.
In order to reap the benefits of keeping it free, you’d have to spend the time to understand how to avoid the pitfalls of “the catch,” and trust me when I say there are many “gotchas” that FreedomPop has cleverly woven into their terms and conditions.
It’s not to say that you couldn’t take advantage and save money — there were plenty of satisfied and grateful customers who happily sang the praises of FreedomPop’s inexpensive service. And seriously, when’s the last time you saw a free plan offered by Verizon or T-Mobile?
After learning the ins and outs of FreedomPop, I thought it was a great product geared to those who:
- Don’t mind keeping track of how many minutes and data are being used each month
- Might want to try it for a month or two to see if it’s a good way to save some extra bucks each month
- Don’t use their phones all that much and prefer not to be locked into a plan with a contract
- Those who have solid WiFi at home
FreedomPop is a mobile service that has a very limited, but free plan. You have to be careful about how much data you use and make sure you understand what is (and isn’t) included in the free plan.
What is FreedomPop and How Does It Work?
FreedomPop is a mobile network operator that uses another carrier’s cell towers to provide service. It currently uses AT&T and Sprint.
FreedomPop offers WiFi and calling from anywhere, free unlimited calling and texting (between FreedomPop phones) free international calling from over 60 countries and access to over 8 million hotspots nationwide.
While FreedomPop is technically free for your first year, it comes with lots of limitations, because again, there’s no such thing as 100 percent free. They adopted the freemium model, which means they’ll give you a small amount of data, text, and voice calls for free, and then expect you to “upgrade” or purchase their bells and whistles a la carte.
In this case, the add-ons are in the form of data. Think of it as a free app that you can use, but need to pay if you want to unlock more treasures.
Is FreedomPop a Scam?
When I first looked through many of the negative consumer reviews about FreedomPop, I realized a lot of the complaints were perhaps caused by unrealistic expectations, not reading the fine print or being confused by it, and in general, thinking they could take advantage of the limited but free service without fully reading the fine print.
FreedomPop seems to cater to the crowd who don’t want to pay for expensive cell phone service but also may not use their phones a lot within the month.
I think FreedomPop’s free plan could be a really viable choice if you understand how to use their service and what limitations you will face. It may also work if you have WiFi at home and can make most of your calls while tethered to it since you won’t incur any data usage this way.
However, it will take away from your 200 allotted calling minutes each month.
The most important thing you’d need to stay vigilant about is the amount of data you’re using each month. For someone like me, having to keep track of how much data I’m using on my phone is just not really on the top of my to-do list. I’d happily pay Sprint for my unlimited data plan each month to not have to do that.
If You Want to Try FreedomPop, Here’s What to Expect
Here’s the free stuff you can get for signing up.
If you bring your own unlocked phone, you can get 200 minutes (or around 3 hours) of talk time, 500 text messages and 200 MB for free. If you’re wondering how much 200 MB translates to, just remember there are 1,000 MB in 1 GB.
Let’s say you stream a movie on Netflix on your phone — you can expect to use about 1 GB per hour for standard definition and 3 GB per hour for high definition. So, you can forget watching any videos or movies with 200 MB.
What Happens When You Run Out of Data?
Here’s where the upgrading, also known as spending-money-part comes into play with FreedomPop. It costs $0.02 per additional megabytes of data that you use. Two cents doesn’t sound like a lot, but it can be if you’re not keeping track.
Going back to the Netflix example, if you’re streaming a movie for two hours at 3 GB, that’s 6 GB or 6,000 MB that you’re using.
Assuming you get the first 200 MB for free, you’re paying an extra $116 for the 5,800 MB you need. That’s basically the cost of a cell phone family plan from a big-name carrier.
Whenever you go over your data, you’re automatically billed a Top Up charge of $15.
What is Topping Up?
Once you are within 100 MB of your free 500 MB of data, you automatically get hit with an “Automatic Top Up” of $15. When this happens, you’ll see a credit of $15 added to your account to pay for any data overage, which is billed at $0.02 per MB.
If you continue to use your data, the process repeats until you hit a limit of seven automatic top-ups.
In order to turn off the auto top-up feature, you have to sign up for FreedomPop’s Safety Mode service for $6.99 per billing cycle. If you don’t want to pay for this, you’ll need to actively monitor how much data you’re using and stay below the data usage trigger.
Tip: For iPhone users, go to Settings > Cellular > scroll down to cellular data usage and it should tell you how much data you’ve used. Download a free app called My Data Manager to keep track of your data.
Ways to Earn More Data
FreedomPop gives you incentives to spread the word about their service. You can earn 10 MB of data per month for inviting friends and family members to sign up.
You can also fill out various offers, take surveys and download software in order to earn more data from FreedomPop. If you have some time to spare, it might be a good way to earn more data.
What Kind of Phones Can You Use With FreedomPop?
FreedomPop offers mostly cheaper, older, and refurbished model phones such as the LG G4, LG Tribute 2 and Moto E. You can check out used and refurbished phones on FreedomShop.
If you’re not happy with these older models, you can use your own phone too. You just have to make sure it’s unlocked. (If you’ve purchased a phone as part of a contract from Verizon or T-Mobile, it’s most likely “locked” by that network so that it only works with that particular carrier.)
FreedomPop gives you instructions on their site for how to port your number from your old carrier.
If you want to buy a phone from FreedomPop, they don’t have installments plans. You have to buy the phone outright, which can be pretty pricey.
What Kind of Plans Are Offered?
There are three plans that FreedomPop offers and are broken down by:
- Cell phones
- SIM cards
- Internet devices (such as hotspots)
If you go over your plan, you get charged $0.02 per MB and $0.015 if you have a higher data plan with them. Here are their current plans:
- Free 200 minutes 500 text, 200 MB data
- 500 MB: $12.99 per month, Unlimited talk, Unlimited text
- 1 GB: $19.99 per month, Unlimited talk, Unlimited text
- 3 GB: $29.99 per month, Unlimited talk, Unlimited text
- 4 GB: $34.99 per month, Unlimited talk, Unlimited text
How’s the Coverage?
FreedomPop has solid coverage in the U.S., thanks to Sprint and AT&T LTE.
You can put in your ZIP code when you land on their homepage to find out whether your area is covered or not.
Here is a map of wireless coverage in the U.S. from FreedomPop’s site.
If you use FreedomPop internationally, you can expect to see a mix of networks. You can use their roaming services with their Global SIM card. It works in over 25 countries. Their GSM 4G LTE does not allow roaming.
Here is a list of overseas countries (mostly Europe) where you can use Global SIM roaming with FreedomPop:
United Kingdom, Austria, Norway, Hungary, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Slovakia, Germany, Belgium, Ireland, Croatia, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Greece, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Finland, Poland, Czech Republic
Downsides of FreedomPop
The biggest con for using FreedomPop is the fact that you need to stay on top of your data usage.
A helpful article from Engadget featured a story by a woman who had used FreedomPop’s service for a year. She didn’t purchase a phone through FreedomPop, but rather, a hotspot device. In her detailed review, she said she chose the $20 monthly plan for her whole family.
Sounds lofty, but she said after learning how to maneuver through the pitfalls of getting automatically charged, it worked out well and she was satisfied.
Here are the two most important takeaways from her experience:
1. When to look out for the auto top-up fee
Auto top-up feature kicks in after you use 400 MB of data. Even after you reach the 500 MB limit, the data doesn’t get shut off. You get billed $2 per 100 MB.
2. She created a rule for using the device
After anyone in her family used the hotspot, they made the device that was tethered to it (i.e. iPad, iPhone) “forget the network” so it wouldn’t auto-connect and “start sucking down data when you think you’re using the home network instead.”
Helpful Tips to Know About FreedomPop
Here are the top tips for you to know if you’re thinking about signing up:
- Their free tiered service is only free for a year. After that, you pay $10.99 for the same service but without a contract.
- There’s a one-time $15 fee for downgrading to the free plan. But the credit is refundable (it’s similar to a security deposit).
- When you send texts over WiFi, it still counts towards the 500 text message allotment within the month.
- Talking minutes over WiFi also count towards the 200 minutes you get each month.
Tip: A hack to get around this is to install Google Hangouts on your phone and get a free Google Voice phone number.
Is FreedomPop Worth It?
Hopefully, you’ve gained enough knowledge to make an informed decision regarding whether or not you’d like to try FreedomPop.
If you’re willing to put in the work and stay on top of your data usage, it could help you save on your cell phone bill — up to $800 a year. According to FreedomPop’s site, a monthly cell phone bill averages to $148 (this data comes from Verizon Wireless customers).
If you’re ready to try it, a Google search will turn up lots of helpful resources from Reddit threads to forums on FreedomPop’s site. Without the forum, I would’ve never learned that using minutes actually mean you’re using data too.
Learning how other customers are dealing with pain points or using clever tricks to avoid getting hit with fees helps minimize any surprises when you get your bill.
If you decide to use FreedomPop, let us know how it works out for you in the comments below!