Are you still struggling to meet the ends? If YES, a free government cell phone service can help save the $20-$50 you should have used on your monthly carrier bill. And in this article, we’ll be comparing Safelink vs Qlink to see which is more worthwhile.
Either of the providers could work for you, considering they don’t require paying a dime. But things like data speeds, allotments, and coverage has one better than the other, which we’ll be identifying in this guide.
Verdict: 5 Top Reasons SafeLink is the Best Free Phone
- SafeLink has a wide nationwide coverage
- SafeLink offers free calling to Canada & Mexico
- SafeLink supports mobile phone hotspot/ tethering
- The SafeLink now supports 5G on both Apple & Android phones
- SafeLink has relatively more data allowance (up to 60GB in California)
- SafeLink doesn’t deduct incoming call minutes from your monthly allotment
SafeLink vs Qlink: A Summary of the Free Phones
|Facts||Safelink Wireless||Qlink Wireless|
|Parent Company||TracFone||Hello Mobile|
|Carrier Network||T-Mobile/ Verizon/ AT&T||T-Mobile|
|Free Voice Minutes||At least 350 Minutes [all states except California]||At least 1000 minutes [all states except California]|
|Free Text Messages||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Free Browsing Data||Up to 4.5GB of data (W/ Lifeline only)||Up to 4.5GB of data|
|California Rate lifeline-only Plans||Free Smartphone Unlimited minutes Unlimited texts Up to 6GB of data||Free smartphone Unlimited talk time Unlimited texts Up to 4.5GB of data|
|Extra Data Packages||YES [as low as $5 to $39]||YES [as low as $3 to $55]|
|Mobile Phone Hotspot||YES||NO|
|Monthly Paid Plans||YES||YES|
One of the reasons many people are interested in Safelink is its extensive coverage. In the Access Wireless vs Safelink review, we saw the subcarrier has a deal with all three Major Carriers, including Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.
However, we’ve been having changes on Safelink from the recent Verizon acquisition of TracFone. The changes we’ve seen so far are improved data speeds and ACP + Lifeline allowances in California (from 25GB to 60GB). Then, the company will be transitioning customers on AT&T and T Mobile to VerizonSIM cards.
In fact, SafeLink has already been pushing the subscribers on other carriers than Verizon to switch. But the actual hard switchover will be happening in November 2024.
Qlink Wireless is another of the commonly talked about lifeline programs. Not all discussions have been positive, for sure. But many still love it, starting with its high monthly allotments.
The Hello Mobile brand offers up to unlimited everything, including data, text, and minutes, through an ACP + Lifeline combo. They do throttle the browsing data after hitting the maximum cap. Then again, this is something with mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), except a prepaid name like Cricket or Visible Wireless.
As for coverage, Qlink runs off T-Mobile towers, which have been impressive on 5G coverage in the last couple of months. You actually can tap into the 5G spectrum if you have the right phones compatible with Qlink SIM card. The 5G phone can peak at up to 500Mbps.
Sadly, however, Qlink tends to cap the data speeds, and you’ll notice your 5G phone drops from 500Mbps to 100+Mbps and later 25Mbps.
FYI: ACP is an acronym of Affordable connectivity program.
SafeLink vs Qlink: Comparing Features & Perks of the Free Phones
SafeLink and Qlink free phones, like any other lifeline services, are only available to the underprivileged. You will qualify with a low income or participation in either of the government assistance programs.
The low-income requirement has the mark at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines, whereas the assistance programs include:
- Supplemental security income
- Federal public housing assistance
- Veteran & Veteran’s Survivors Pension
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Food Stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Head Start, Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, and other Tribal-administered assistance programs
You could also qualify for a free cell phone for seniors and disabled with SafeLink or Qlink through Medicare and Social Security benefits. But these two benefits aren’t directly eligible for the service. You’ll still have to meet the requirement for low-income or participation in either of the supported assistance programs.
- Network Coverage
SafeLink is the clear winner in this part. It’s still available through all the Big Three Carriers, which leaves the option to join with the network that best fits your needs. But do remember the operator will soon (in 2024) drop T-Mobile and AT&T deal, leaving only Verizon.
Speaking of Verizon, it has the widest coverage across the country. You should have a usable service with SafeLink even in rural areas like Oregon and Toledo than Qlink. Why so?
T-Mobile, the carrier network of Qlink, is still predominantly in metropolises. If you compared T Mobile vs Verizon map side by side, you’ll actually notice the Midwestern and Northwestern regions are very spotty. The solid signals are in the cities, where, obviously, there are many people.
- Network Roaming
Safelink and Qlink will be splitting the point here. You can get domestic roaming at no extra charge when outside the native coverage areas. But I’ve gone through every sentence on their websites, plus emailed about their roaming partners, and haven’t gotten a response.
Another thing, neither of the two carriers has international roaming yet. You will have to use other means, like WiFi Calling and WhatsApp, to connect with loved ones when outside the country.
- Free Phone Given
Nearly all the lifeline providers with free touch screen government phones usually hand out entry-level brands. It’s only Cintex Wireless and its sister brands Newphone and AirTalk Wireless have more decent phones, including a free iPhone.
In our case here, the kind of phone Safelink gives you varies, whereby they often offer cheap TCL models (model A30/ A507DL) or Alcatel (A509DL). But when these brands are out of stock, you can expect Blu View 2 (B131DL) and sometimes Motorola G Pure.
On the other hand, Qlink usually sends Hot Serrano 3 from Hot Pepper, the same brand that makes its Scepter tablets. If this phone is unavailable when you’re applying, Qlink can send NUU (models A10L/ A11L), Blu View 2, or TCL A30.
When you go through the specs of these phones, there are only basic features without the bell and whistles of the latest devices. However, you can use your own phone with SafeLink or Qlink Wireless.
- Browsing Data Speeds
Similar to the paid services, the browsing data speeds of free lifeline services vary from one operator to another. In a recent Speed test with an iPhone and Google Pixel, Safelink peaked at 430Mbps through Verizon 5G towers. The carrier has capped the 5G speeds at 400Mbps, just like they have capped the 4G LTE speed at 70Mbps.
Qlink also has decent data speeds, peaking up to 500Mbps on the 5G spectrum with a Google Pixel. I’m hoping other 5G phones will record a similar speed rate, albeit only on Android devices. This is so as T-Mobile usually doesn’t share the Apple carrier bundle with its MVNOs. You’ll notice your iPhone doesn’t even have the option to enable 5G under settings.
Tip: I’ve noticed Qlink doesn’t retain the fast 5G speeds even on Android devices for so long. After a while, it tends to drop to 200Mbps, then 100Mbps, and later 25Mbps.
The case of Safelink-Verizon is still an ongoing investigation. I’m not sure if the speeds are permanent or just a strategy to have people switch from AT&T and T-Mobile SIM cards.
- Phone Plans & Pricing
The monthly phone plans you get with any lifeline carrier currently vary on whether you apply Lifeline-only or ACP + Lifeline combo.
When we compare Qlink vs SafeLink Wireless allotment, your service for the next 12 months will be as follows:
|Qlink Wireless||SafeLink Wireless|
|Lifeline-Only Plans||Unlimited texting, 1000 talk minutes, WiFi calling feature, 4.5GB of High-speed data||Unlimited texting, At least 350 talk minutes, Free calls to Canada & Mexico 4.5GB high-speed data (6GB in California)|
|Lifeline + ACP Combo Plan||Unlimited texting, Unlimited talk minutes, WiFi calling feature, Unlimited data (28GB of high speed)||Unlimited texting, Unlimited talk minutes, Free calls to Canada & Mexico, Unlimited data (60GB of high speed in California & 25GB for other states), Up to 15GB of mobile hotspot data in California & 5GB for other states|
- Safelink does charges on the calls to customer care unless using 611
- Safelink now offers up to 15GB of mobile hotspot in California
- Qlink talk minutes count for both incoming & outgoing calls
- Qlink still hasn’t introduced a hotspot for mobile phone
- Both Qlink and SafeLink will hard stop your data after reaching the monthly limit with lifeline-only plans
- Both Qlink and SafeLink are now throttling data with the Lifeline + ACP Combo plans.
Commonly Asked Questions:
How much data does SafeLink give you a month?
The data SafeLink gives you a month varies with the type of free government phone plan chosen. If you choose the SafeLink lifeline-only plan, the monthly data is 4.5GB (6GB in California). Then the SafeLink Lifeline+ACP combo has unlimited data, with 25GB of high-speed (60GB in California) allowance before dropping to 2G.
Does SafeLink give free replacement phones?
SafeLink does give free replacement phones on various occasions. One of the “occasions” is when your previous SafeLink phone has malfunctioned within the warranty period. The second occasion is during network compatibility issues, like when transitioning the old Customers of SafeLink-AT&T or SafeLink-TMobile to SafeLink-Verizon.
Will Qlink give me a phone?
Like other lifeline providers, Qlink will give you a phone for free when joining for the first time. The kind of phone the carrier gives you is an HP Hot Serrano 3. And if that’s not available, you can expect an NUU or Blu model.
How many free phones can I get?
Unfortunately, you can’t have multiple free phones with your lifeline account. You can only get one phone per household. If you apply for multiple phones, the provider/s will disconnect them and you may be disqualified from ever participating.
A free government phone can help you keep in touch with the rest of the world while at the same time cutting down your monthly bills. You just have to qualify, which is easy as long with proof of low income or participation in a government assistance program.
When we now compare SafeLink vs Qlink, they both are pretty awesome as you can get 20+GB with a lifeline & ACP combo. 4.5GB of high-speed data (with the lifeline-only plan) is also not bad off, considering no bill will come.
As a matter of fact, I’d personally recommend the lifeline-only plan, then redeem the ACP benefit with a fixed internet provider. The likes of Frontier and Xfinity bring you a Free broadband connection per month.
Regardless, SafeLink is still my favorite recommendation, especially with its extensive coverage. The option to tether/ hotspot with your phone is also handy, and so is the free calling to Canada and Mexico.