No Apps or Data Required: 5 Tools That Inform You Using Only SMS

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You don’t need a data plan to get information from the Internet: sometimes a text is enough. Whether you’re temporarily away from 3G connectivity or just avoid paying for data plans altogether, this can come in handy.

You’ve maybe forgotten that SMS exists, using one of the many messenger apps on the market today instead. But whether you use them or not, text messages work without data, which can occasionally be life savers.

Cool Websites and Apps have explored a few SMS-based tools that give you data over texts before, but it’s such a fascinating subject. It’s just cool to see developers thinking of new uses for such an old protocol, and building on top of it. Here are a few great tools we’ve found lately.

Prompt: Get All Sorts of Information with Just a Text


Have you ever been away from Wi-Fi and data, but wish you could still quickly look up the weather? Or a stock quote? Prompt is a simple SMS service you can use to instantly access all kinds of information using only text messages. After signing up you can start a command using the appropriate keyword, then provide the context needed. You can get flight status information, directions, word definitions and more.


You don’t need to install anything, and it doesn’t matter what kind of phone you have: all this takes is the ability to text. Here’s the complete list of commands Prompt offers as of this writing:

  • @track: Track UPS, FedEx, USPS and DHL packages.
  • @calc: Unit conversions and calculations.
  • @flightstats: Check flight status with FlightStats
  • @directions: Get directions from Google Maps
  • @translate: Translate words with Google Translate
  • @hn: Show the latest Hacker News headlines.
  • @whois: Search domain whois records
  • @dictionary: Word definitions by Merriam-Webster
  • @nyt: Get top stories from NY Times
  • @time: Get the time with
  • @trademark: Search for US trademarks.
  • @weather: Weather forecasts by Weather Channel
  • @wikipedia: Search for entries on Wikipedia.
  • @xe: Currency conversion by
  • @stock: Get stock quotes from Yahoo! Finance
  • @zestimate: Get a house price estimate from Zillow.
  • @list: Add items to your shopping list.

More commands are sure to come, and would-be developers can also contribute their own code to the project to build new integrations.

Alternatively, if you’d like to set up a SMS command line, my colleague Ryan once explained how to control your computer over SMS.

Poncho: Timely Weather Updates Over SMS

Most people only need to know about the weather at specific times throughout the day: heading to and from work. Poncho is a service that gives you two weather updates for your area over SMS or email, meaning you can find out what conditions are like regardless of whether you currently have access to the web. It’s like a friend of yours is sending your weather updates twice daily.


Poncho recently released an iPhone app, so you’re not limited to SMS updates if you don’t want to be. But as of right now, SMS integration means you can get your weather updates over text. Just click outside the box advertising the iPhone app to get started.

HangKeys (iOS): Play Hangman with Anyone Over SMS

Texting with bots is all well and good, but human interaction is what texting is really about. If you don’t have anything in particular to say, HangKeys is a fascinating iOS keyboard that lets you play a game of hangman with anyone else using only SMS messages.


Setting this up will take a little effort, but once it’s working you need to only switch your keyboard to play with your friends. And because keyboards work in any apps, you’re not limited to SMS: this should work with Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or any other way you chat with friends. Give it a shot.

TextStagger (Android): Send Text Messages on a Schedule

We’ve outlined tools for scheduling text messages on Android before, but it was years ago. So here’s a more modern tool for the job: TextStagger. It features a modern user interface, and lets you schedule messages to go out later.


What you use this for is up to you, but I’m sure you can imagine something. Does your husband ever tell you to remind him of something, only for you to then to forget to remind him? Set up a scheduled reminder right now, then forget about it.

Infomagical: Fight Information Overload

Do you have trouble concentrating? Or accomplishing your goals on time? Infomagical is an SMS-based five day project you can participate in to try to improve yourself. You’ll pick a goal, then get daily reminders to stick to that goal. The initial five day run is over, but you can participate any time you want by signing up.


The experiment is part of Note to Self podcast, a technology show about being human. To learn more about Note to Self, check out our interview with host Manoush Zomorodi

What SMS Tools Do You Love?

I could go on: I’ve explored how to make your dumb phone smart using IFTTT, and the best offline Android apps for living without data. But I want to hear from you.

What are the coolest tools you’ve found for getting information entirely over text? Put some highlights below, or just ask a question and I’ll see if I can help. Looking forward to the conversation.

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