Love your Android tablet, but wish it could make phone calls? Stop wishing: all you need is the right software. You’ll be making calls to phone lines and mobile phones in no time (but it probably won’t be free).
Whether you don’t own a phone or simply don’t want to put down one device to pick up another, it can be useful to call regular phones on your tablet. After all: many tablets already have a built-in microphone and speakers. Which software is right for the job? Good question. Let’s go over some options.
I made calls using the tablet, without a headset, and using a combination mic/headphones I previously used with my phone. No configuration was needed either way.
You knew it was going to come up, so I might as well get it out of the way. Microsoft’s Skype is the web’s most famous telephone replacement, and unlike most Microsoft products is available on every platform — Android included. The Android app for Skype was recently refreshed, so if you recall this app being slow and ugly it might be time for a second look:
How’s the call quality? If you’re familar with Skype you know what to expect: decent calls provided your Internet access is fast enough. There will, of course, be occasional glitches, but there’s not a lot of lag and people sound real.
As for cost, that depends. Subscriptions give you unlimited calls to particular locations – $2.99 a month, for example, means you can call unlimited numbers in the USA and Canada. But you can also pay per minute. Here’s what the rates are like for that:
- USA/Canada: 2.3 cents/minute
- France, Mobile: 35 cents/minute
- Germany, Mobile: 25.3 cents/minute
- India: 9.2 cents/minute
Note that these rates are pay-as-you go; there are subscription rates for all regions. Also note that calling landlines is cheaper than mobile. See all rates here.
Skype offers great value if you subscribe – unlimited calling to any country for an affordable subscription. For one-off calls, though, it may not be the best value. Test it out yourself, though: download Skype for Android and give it a spin.
Google Voice, Via Talkatone
Google Voice is weird. After a hype-filled launch in 2009, Google seemed to largely forget about this service – which provides US users with an online phone number that connects to several phones, while also providing online SMS and voicemail.
There’s not even a simple way to make a phone call at google.com/voice – just a button that will connect some other phone with the number you type. Users can make calls, but need to do so in Gmail or Google Hangouts for some reason.
What? Google claims the future of this service is full integration with Google Hangouts, and that’s probably for the best – it’s a phenomenal service without a user-friendly interface.
As you might be able to guess, the official Voice app can’t make calls on a tablet – it relies on conventional phone lines to do that. There are, however, third party services that use Voice to make calls – and Talkatone is among the most popular.
Sign in using your Google account and you’ll have a standard phone interface:
From here you can call your contacts or dial a number. Call quality was pretty good in my tests, though there was a considerable delay.
The big advantage here is price: calls and texts to the USA and Canada are free from within the USA. Check out other rates on Google’s rates page, but here’s a quick rundown of a few major countries:
- France, mobile: 10 cents/minute
- Germany, mobile: 10 cents/minute
- India, mobile: 2 cents/minute
Check out Google’s complete list of call rates if you’re curious. The cost savings over Skype are significant, but note that there are no subscription rates for heavy callers. Google users can also use Hangouts to make free voice and video calls to other Hangouts users, regardless of which country they’re in – similar to Skype.
Read more about Talkatone, if you’re interested.
Skype and Google are probably the big two when it comes to VoiP, but they’re not the only players – not by a long shot. Fring’s mobile-first push into the space was quick, mostly because of its group calling features. Google’s Hangouts makes that less unique, but there’s still a loyal base of Fring users out there. Read more about Fring to find out what it’s all about.
Fring offers a service for calling regular phones, called Fringout. Audio quality is pretty good, though users have complained of echoes when compared to Skype. Rates are reasonable, albeit disparate:
- USA (mainland): 1.2 cents/minute
- Canada: 0.7 cents/minute
- France, mobile: 33.2 cents/minute
- Germany, mobile: 8.5 cents/minute
- India: 2.9 cents/minute
One More Thing…
Note that, depending on your tablet, call quality might be iffy because of hardware limitations. If people complain about not hearing you consider looking into combination microphone/headphones or even a bluetooth headset.
After all, your tablet isn’t exactly designed to rest beside your head as you talk into it. Still, being able to use the tablet to make calls is nice. Which service do you use for this? Let me know in the comments below.