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How to Text Message

R U texting yet? It's a great way to stay in touch — and it can even save you money

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Slash your cellphone bill, text for free

Transmitting text messages costs wireless carriers practically nothing, but you'd never know it from the amount some of them charge. For those on pay-per-text plans, those 20-cent charges can add up quickly. You can shop around for deals, but why not pay nothing? It takes a little more effort, but it'll save you money. Here are a few of my favorite cost-slashing messaging options.

Google Voice: It's hard to beat "something for nothing" on the Internet. With Google Voice, you get a free phone number you can use to make coast-to-coast calls at no charge. Sign in to Google Voice, type in the number you want to dial and Google then routes the call to your own home phone. What does that have to do with texting? Well, your Google Voice number also works for sending and receiving free text messages within the United States, although it restricts your messages to text only (no photos or video).

Owners of Android or Apple phones and tablets can download the Google Voice app and get the same benefits on their mobile devices, using data plan coverage instead of cellphone minutes or racking up text charges.

Textfree: Like Google Voice, Textfree gives iPhone, iPod, iPad and Android users a phone number from which you can send and receive free text messages. You can also access Textfree through a standard Web browser on your computer. Textfree allows picture messaging and provides texting to more than 25 countries, making it a good choice for contacting friends and family abroad.

WhatsApp: If you're going to be texting only with a set group of people, WhatsApp could be the ideal choice, especially if your list includes international correspondents. WhatsApp is available for Apple (99 cents from the iTunes store), Android, BlackBerry, Nokia, Symbian and Windows Phone devices (free for the first year, 99 cents a year thereafter). Be aware that both the sender and recipient of messages must have WhatsApp accounts. But the payoff is worth a little coordination: You can send and receive unlimited text, photo and video messages, and hold chat sessions with a group.

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DUMB PHONES AND FACEBOOK: Spencer Kelly reports on how Kenyan entrepreneurs are convincing the tech goliaths like Facebook, Google and Microsoft to jump over the Atlantic and use "dumb phone" technology.

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