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With everything that modern smartphones can do, it’s easy to forget that you can still make calls with that device in your pocket. From Snapchat to text messaging, most people stay in communication with others without a traditional phone conversation.
Tablets are similar to smartphones, but you probably don’t think of calling people with your tablet. As it turns out, though you’d look pretty silly holding a ten-inch screen to your ear on the street, it’s easy to use your Android tablet to make phone calls.
Whether your tablet will serve as your only phone or you want your tablet to function as a backup phone on the go, here’s how you can set it up for phone calls.
Words of Warning
Before we start, there are a few notes you should take into consideration when using your tablet as a phone:
- We’re primarily dealing with calling to the United States in this article. Most of these services provide calling to other countries, but rates vary.
- Legally, none of these services are proper replacement for a traditional phone. You cannot contact 911 or other emergency numbers using these apps.
- Calling via your tablet requires an internet connection. Thus, you’ll need to be on Wi-Fi at home or have a data connection for your tablet on the go, which costs money depending on your provider. Beware of data overages if you’re on a limited plan.
- Don’t forget that you should get a pair of earbuds or even an Android-compatible headset if you plan on making lots of calls from your tablet, otherwise you’ll be using the built-in speakers and mic.
What FaceTime and iMessage are to iOS, Google Hangouts is to Android. It’s a shame that Hangouts hasn’t caught on as the excellent all-in-one messaging app that it is. With Hangouts, you can message, voice call, and video call anyone with a Google account, all for free.
If you’re interested in calling people with Android phones using your tablet, check if they use Hangouts first. If so, you can call them using a Hangouts call from right within the Android app. This is the easiest way to place a call with your tablet, but it requires the other party to use Hangouts as well.
Thankfully, Google also lets you call any phone number using Hangouts. For this, you’ll need the free Hangouts Dialer app on your tablet. In my testing, outbound calls came from my cell phone number since I’m a Project Fi subscriber; you’ll likely be prompted to set up a Google Voice number if you haven’t already.
Google’s calling rates page explains that almost all calls to the United States are free, but some may cost one cent per minute. If you try a call that isn’t free, you can add credit within the app. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Google integrated most features of Google Voice into Hangouts. Google Voice still exists on its own, but Hangouts gives it a nice front end.
While Hangouts is integrated into the Android experience, Skype is still the most popular video calling application around. Skype on your Android tablet can, of course, call other Skype users for free, but we’re interested in Skype’s ability to call landline and cell phones.
Unlike Hangouts, Skype doesn’t provide free calling, and its payment plans provide several options. The easiest option is to purchase Skype Credit, which you use up whenever you make calls. You can purchase $10 or $25 at once, and enable auto-refill when you’re running low if you prefer. Calls in the USA cost 2.3 cents per minute; other rates are based on the country you’re calling, not which country you’re in.
If you plan on using Skype regularly, a subscription plan might be a better choice. For Americans, the North America Unlimited plan, which costs $7 per month, provides unlimited calling to mobile and landline phones in the US, Canada, Mexico, and surrounding islands. Other folks can purchase the World Unlimited plan for $14 per month, which includes unlimited calling to landlines in 63 countries and mobile phones in eight additional countries.
While Skype is more expensive than Hangouts, it’s certainly affordable. Those who rarely use their tablet to call and stick to the USA can probably get by with Hangouts, but if you occasionally call internationally, $10 in Skype credit should last you a while.
If you don’t fancy using one of the big two apps above, Talkatone is a solid app that lets you call phones inside the USA and Canada for free. After installing it, you’ll need to provide either a phone number or email address for a verification code. The app has you create an account with your email address and name, then provides you with a phone number from your area.
If you have contacts on your tablet, you can easily bring a number up and call someone. The app worked fine in our testing. Aside from an optional $10 in-app purchase to remove ads in the app, you shouldn’t encounter any charges for calling in North America.
Get to the Phones
A tablet certainly isn’t a device made for calling, but with a bit of work, you can set yours up to do so just fine. Having a backup device or alternate phone number is quite handy, and with these services you can make phone calls no matter what device you have on hand.
Don’t have a tablet yet? Don’t buy one just for calling; in fact, you really don’t need a tablet anymore.
Do you ever use a tablet to make phone calls? Let us know if these apps are helpful for you, and be sure to tell us your favorite tablet dialing apps in the comments!
Originally written by Justin Pot on August 8th, 2013.