With bloated fees for everything on your cell phone carrier, it's easy to get frustrated when you or someone on your family plan goes over your text message limit.
To combat this, app developers have taken advantage of mobile broadband access to bring free texting to your smartphone. And they're not-surprisingly some of the most popular apps available. While many of the free texting services are ad-supported, it's still a small price to pay for a new phone number where you can send and receive unlimited texts.
We took a look at the best smartphone messaging apps for all major platforms. Each one offers unlimited text messages or instant messages and are either free or cheap to download. Either way, you'll save.
Tip: Make sure you enable push notifications for each of these apps so you receive your new messages instantly.
Kik is a BBM alternative that works with iPhone and Android.
Kik takes what people love about BlackBerry Messenger and brings it to all three major smartphone platforms. Like BBM, messages on Kik are sent almost instantly and you get a notification when it is delivered and received. The app is free, and you get unlimited messages.
Kik scans your address book for new friends, so be sure to add your phone number when you register so they can find you.
Google Voice gives you a new number to text from
When you sign up for a Google Voice account, you're getting more than an alternate phone number. You can also send unlimited free texts from Gmail or your phone. Google Voice's smartphone app sends you alerts when you receive new texts, just like the app that came pre installed on your phone. Your conversations are saved online too, so you can view them later.
Click here to get the app for Android, iPhone, and Blackberry.
Fring will connect you to the major instant message networks
Fring is a messaging app that connects to the major instant message networks such as AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, MSN, and Facebook. You can also make voice and video calls to other Fring members for free, even if they are using a different phone. Chances are, your contacts use one or more of these networks, so running this smartphone app in the background is a good move.
textPlus gives you a real number for free, but you have to deal with ads
textPlus is an iPhone-only app that assigns you a real phone number for sending and receiving text messages on your phone. The service assigns you a phone number, or you can pay $1.99 to pick one from your area code. Other features include the ability to send photo messages (it only works if recipient is using the app too) and view profile photos for your contacts.
The service is free and supported by ads, but you can remove them by paying $2.99 per year.
TextNow will forward your calls to your phone
Like TextPlus, TextNow will assign you a new phone number to text from your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. If someone calls your new number, you can have the call instantly forwarded to your phone or voicemail.
TextNow is free for the ad-supported version, but you can pay $0.99 per month or $5.99 per year to hide them.
Meebo is an all-in-one instant message client
Meebo's smartphone app is similar to Fring. You can log in to all the major instant message services with one screen name and it supports AIM, Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, MSN Messenger, Facebook, and ICQ. Both Meebo and Fring are great options, but we like Meebo's interface better.
WhatsApp Messenger works on almost every major smartphone platform
WhatsApp is a simple messaging service for smartphones. In addition to texts, WhatsApp also allows you to send unlimited multimedia messages such as audio, video, or photos within the app. And unlike many of its competitors, the service is ad-free.
Textfree will charge you to hide ads
If you don't mind looking at ads, Textfree by Pinger is another solid option. This iPhone-only app will assign you a new phone number that you can send and receive texts from. Beyond that, it's pretty straightforward. The app is free, but if you want to hide the ads, you'll have to pay $5.99 per year. Download it here.
Our Pick: Google Voice
Only Google Voice has it all without charging for extras: You can choose your own area code (assuming it's available), you never have to see ads, it's available on iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry, and it doubles as a secondary phone line with voicemail. We use it. We love it.