Many years ago when I bought my first Kindle from Amazon it came with an extra hidden feature. The e-reader used the 2g network at the time to create what it called a whispernet. This let you use the built in browser for free for ever. Unlimited internet access for free. The Kindle itself wasn’t quick and a non-touch e-ink screen was poor for browsing but for several years I used the Kindle whenever I was low on data secure in it’s free cost. Amazon soon stopped offering the service to new users and while that old Kindle still works it’s more of a curiosity than practically useful these days. FreedomPop are trying to move into the space. They have an interesting business model – trying to bring freemium to mobile phones. They give you a small amount of data, sms and calls a month for no cost and then let you either pay for a higher tier plan or watch videos and advert and fill in surveys for more data.
The plan has been available in the UK for a couple of years but has gained surprisingly little notice but FreedomPop have now launched a phone to go with their previously sim only plans. Get the £70 phone and you have free calls and data for life. Too good to be true?
Retailer: FreedomPop +
Price: ± £79.99 for the V7 and a sim or the sim is available separately for 1p plus postage.
FreedomPop is a virtual operator that started in the US buying assets from from LightSquared and later Sprint. Virtual operators don’t build out their own infrastructure but rent space on other providers. In the UK they use the Three Network.
They are particularly known for interesting pricing structures and have tried everything from mifi’s that give you extra data if you let other people use them to free basic plans.
The phone provided is a V7 Zyro. This isn’t an exclusive to FreedomPop but is available on Amazon for £87. In short it’s a generic Android phone that skirts the line between budget and midrange with a dual-sim, microSD, a slow but workable 32 bit Snapdragon 210 processor and 16gb of storage. The styling is unremarkable but serviceable with a removable sandstone back allowing access to the removable battery, sims and microSD. Both the microUSB charging port and headphone jack are on the top of the phone and the rest of the phones body is ringed with a chrome bezel. The front of the phone is featureless apart from three soft keys and the screen.
The screen 5″ IPS panel is and unusually isn’t Gorilla Glass but the less well known Dragontrail Glass. The phone also came with a screen protector already (if poorly) attached.
The V7 runs Android 6.0 and FreedomPop have made few fundamental changes to the OS choosing instead to add extra apps. Out of the box this includes a messaging app, a diagnostic app, a visual voicemail app, a phone dialer and an app to manage your account and credit.
Because of the way FreedomPop piggybacks on Three’s networks you need to use the messaging and phone apps provided to make SMS’s and calls but both seem competent if not impressive. The standard messaging and phone apps are also pre-loaded on the device and if you put a second sim in can be used with that.
The big selling point for FreedomPop is the free plan but their business model is predicated on a number of people upgrading to more expensive and expansive plans. By default the phone comes with the Premium 2GB plan for £12 a month and there are also Premium 500 for £5, Premium 1GB for £9 a month and Premium 4GB for 20 a month. There are also add-ons for rolling over data – £1.50 a month to roll over 500mb and £3 to roll over up to 1GB a month.
These plans aren’t badly priced but they weren’t quite what I was looking for. The free plan was hidden under plan management for 2GB Premium but when you find it it’s quite reasonable – 200 minutes talk, 200 texts and 200MB of data as well as free unlimited calls and texts to other FreedomPop numbers. If that’s not quite enough there are some ways to earn extra watching adverts, filling in surveys and signing up for free trials. The extra amounts are not huge – from 7MB up to about 50MB a pop but for five minutes work it might be worth it.
There are a few drawbacks to FreedomPop’s systems. They operate exclusively in data which means if you don’t have a reasonable 3g, 4g or wifi connection you’re going to be out of luck. Three’s official figures put this at only three percent of the population cover outside in the UK at the moment but if you’re in that three percent or indoors you might have some issues. I had some drop out of voice calls and a couple of missed calls which seemed to be because of this but to be fair I live in rural Wiltshire and these problems were inside. The second issue is if you are an international traveller. FreedomPop does have some plans that allow for international calling from around 50 countries but no real option for data.
Finally FreedomPop’s website isn’t well designed and in the couple of weeks between my ordering and getting the phone seemed to be down more often than up. It’s gotten a little better since but is nowhere near what I’d hope for in terms of reliability. Long term this might be because of a large increase in demand with the launch of the V7 but it is worrying.
FreedomPop’s main proposition is to provide you with a basic free service which you can then upgrade as and when you want to. It’s very hard to argue with a cost of free but the levels provided – particularly the 200MB only data – are more restrictive than most people will be happy with.
The ideal user for the plan is someone who has decent wifi where they spend the vast majority of their time and can leave the mobile data switched off most of the time, only turning it on when they need internet access.
That isn’t the majority of smart phone users but I can think of several people in my family who it would be ideal for. The ability to switch on a month long basis to a less restrictive plan is also very useful.
Product dimensions: .8 x 7.2 x 14.7 cm
Item Weight: 146g
Colour: Grey and silver
Materials: Dragontail Glass front and grey sandstone back
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 210
Storage: 16GB on board
MicroSD: Yes, quoted up to 32gb but I had a 64gb working perfectly.
Screen: 5.0″ IPS
Camera 13MP Rear and 5MP Front
Connectivity: USB 2.0
Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n
NFC (Near Field Communication): No
Headset: Included in ear headset
Battery: Lithium Ion Removable battery
Android: 6.0 Marshmallow
Sim: Dual Sim, one 3/4g and one 2g only
Ordinarily in a review of a phone I’d be writing that any phone needs a contract or a pay-as-you-go top up occasionally but this isn’t the case for this package. As long as you’re careful it might be possible to go for the foreseeable future with Zyro and Freedom Pop without spending any money.
FreedomPop is offering something genuinely unique with its free call plan. Getting a small amount of data, calls and texts for free isn’t something that is going to revolutionize the market but for the right person it’s an intriguing prospect.
The plan is one that would work very well for someone who very rarely used their phone, who want a sim for a second backup phone or want to do something different with their phone. In my case I’ll be recommending it to my mother who almost never uses her phone outside of her home (where she has wifi) and will probably use my own sim in a small IOT device I’m setting up to interface with my daughter’s diabetic pump.
The phone that FreedomPop have chosen to bundle was rather better than I expected and if you can get it for the offered promotional price a very good deal.
Overall it’s not for most people but if you fit the target market it might be what you’ve been looking for for years. Well done FreedomPop for actually offering something different. Recommended.
The review is based on the FreedomPop Basic Plan on the V7 Zyro kindly provided by FreedomPop during March and April 2017. This article was first published on the 11th of April 2017.