Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Want to Dump your Smartphone Bill? Review of Scratch Wireless for Free Voice and Data Services

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Many people have smartphones and even more have cellular phones, but most of us are locked into lengthy contracts in order to get data and voice services. A relatively new company launched in October of 2013, Scratch Wireless aims to provide smartphone services to those who don’t want contracts, but who also want to minimize the amount they pay, ad hoc, for voice and data. In fact, you could potentially never have a mobile bill, even for text and voice.

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Scratch Wireless’s business proposition is simple, you buy a particular, pre-configured smartphone from them, sign up for an account, and start doing free WiFi voice calls (and data, obviously). Yes, that’s right, free voice calls. The key here is that as long as you are connected to a WiFi network, you are connected. All of your data is handled by the WiFi connection, and, because of software implemented by Scratch Wireless on their Android smartphone, you can make Voice over IP (VoIP) calls anywhere in the United States. Sure, you can do the same thing with other smartphones, if you use Skype or Facetime or something like that, but those either do not have an actual phone number tied to it or you need proprietary hardware (e.g., an iPhone) to be able to make calls.

When I was offered to test out the Scratch Wireless service, it couldn’t come at a better time for me. My wife and oldest daughter are heading over-seas, to Paris, for a ballet intensive session with the Paris Opera Ballet School, and I was worried that I would have to add some international capabilities to my current cellular service for them. I had heard horror stories of excessive data, voice and texting service charges, and I was considering simply turning off their smartphones so that I wouldn’t be hit with sticker shock once they returned from their European excursion.

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This got me thinking (and asking questions). Could my wife and daughter simply use Scratch Wireless phones to not only communicate with each other while in Paris but also keep in touch with the rest of the family in the US? The answer is potentially – YES, but I’m not going to write about that experience until after it happens. But that is the use case that I’m pursuing. Check back in a few months to find out the results of this real-world test (emphasis on “world”) here.

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However, until the trip to Europe happens, my wife and I are testing out the capabilities of Scratch Wireless. Here is what we have learned thus far:

  • Texting is free, always – as long as you are connected to a WiFi or the Sprint network, you can text, for FREE, to your hearts delight.
  • WiFi Voice calls are pretty good – if you have a reliable WiFi connection, you can make phone calls pretty easily, and the quality is fine.
  • The smartphone is quite capable – the phone is not some cheap, base phone. It’s Android with all of its glory (read below for specs).
  • No bills are nice – as a service, it’s rare to find one that is potentially free, all of the time.

The bottom line – calls work, texting works and data works – if you are connected to a WiFi network, and all of it is free. If you are not on WiFi, you have a couple of options:

  1. Do texting only – if you are in the US and connected to the Sprint network and you see a 3G indicator on the display, you can text for free. Note: this is ONLY in the US.
  2. Get a Voice and/or Data pass – if you do find yourself without WiFi access, and need to make phone calls or update your Facebook status, you can optionally buy either a Daily or Monthly Pass (see below for details).

Oh, and a quick note, you can fully port your existing phone number over to your Scratch Wireless phone.

The Scratch Wireless Android App

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On the phone, there is a handy Scratch Wireless App that provides you with information on the types of services you have available, based on how your are connected. For example, if you are without a WiFi connection, the app says “Texting Only”. You can connect to WiFi networks and then the services available change.

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Once you connect to WiFi, you get more features.

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Also note the yellow and green indicators within the app and also in the upper left-hand corner that provide information on what services you have enabled.

Scratch Wireless Voice and Data Passes

Scratch Wireless really does allow you to control what you want to do with your cellular service, which makes it a particularly good option for travelers, particularly ones coming to the United States from over-seas for an extended stay. If WiFi doesn’t cut it for you, you can get Daily or Monthly passes.

The 24 Hour pass is $1.99 for data and $1.99 for voice. You don’t have to get both, only the ones that you need. For the 24 Hour pass, you get up to 25 MBs of cellular data and up to 30 minutes of voice calling. It’s not much of either, in my opinion, so be sure that you really need it and use it sparingly.

The 30 Day pass is $14.99 for data and $14.99 for voice and you get up to 200 MBs of cellular data and 250 minutes of voice.

These are the only two types of passes available currently. I find these prices to be a bit high for the amounts/caps you receive. But the important thing to remember is that you would use these when you ARE NOT connected to WiFi – which seems to be everywhere nowadays.

Your Passes expire once the time limit is completed (24 hours or 30 days) OR you reach your limits, whichever is first.

The Motorola Photon Q Smartphone

Currently, Scratch Wireless only offers one type of phone. It’s a Motorola Photon Q Smartphone running Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean). You purchase the phone flat out for $269.00 and then it is yours to keep.

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Some quick specs:

  • 4.3-inch touch screen LCD display
  • 4G LTE enabled for fast network connections (on Sprint)
  • Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)
  • Dual cameras (8MP/1080P and 1.3MP)
  • 802.11 b, g, n
  • Bluetooth Class 2, ver 4.0 LE+EDR
  • Micro USB & micro HDMI connectors
  • GPS
  • 1GB RAM & 8 GB ROM with up to 32 GB MicroSD card expansion

If you want to see more geeky specs, head over here.

One feature that I do feel I need to call out is the fact that the Photon Q does have an actual physical keyboard that slides out horizontally so if you are a tactile typist, you will be pleased with this. There are, obviously, on screen keyboards as well.

A Real-World Test

From my wife and my testing here in the United States, the Scratch Wireless service seems to work pretty well. We are able to send and receive texts pretty much anywhere we are. And when connected to WiFi, the smartphone is full-features and all services, including voice, are connected. I’m still testing the MMS texting however as some photos that I texted have not been received yet.

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One thing that I will be testing in the coming weeks is the ability to call-forward my existing phone number to the Scratch Wireless provided number. So, this way, my wife, when she is over-seas, can simply forward all of her regular calls to the Scratch Wireless phone and when that phone is connected to WiFi, she can receive calls made to her normal number.

Check back in a few months, and I will report back on how the Scratch Wireless phone and service performed.

Disclosure Text : I have a material connection because I received a gift or sample of a product for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item or gift after my review period. All opinions within this article are my own. More information can be found in my About page as well as here.

HTD says: Scratch Wireless allows you to cut the costs of your smartphone bill to zero, and still make calls and send texts.

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