9 of the Best iPhone Apps that Let You Call for Free
One of the advantages to the “app culture” we live in, is that there is an app for almost everything, as Apple emphasized in its famous iPhone campaign. One of the most interesting app categories out there are VoIP apps, or apps that enable you to call over the Internet as opposed to cellular lines. The obvious advantage is lower call rates, but there are many others such as the ability to make a call even if your cellular reception is poor or non existent.
The following are 9 mobile apps that enable you to make voice and/or video calls for free or at extremely reduced rates:
This app is at the top of my list not only because it enables you to make calls completely free, but mainly because it is integrated with your phone book. That means you do not need to sign up for the Viber service or open an account like on Skype. In addition, the company is about to release an Android apps and in my experience with Viber, and I use it quite often, the call quality is far superior to others and often as good as a regular GSM call. The obvious down side is that both sides need to install the app in order to call.
While Viber lets you call others with the app, NetTalk lets you call all landlines in the U.S and Canada for free. The app is designed well and requires pretty much no setup on the part of the user. The call quality is excellent and just like Viber, the app is free. With NetTalk you can also record conversations and import your phone book and favorites, then call them for free over Wifi or 3G. Yep, this one is pretty much a no-brainer.
Fring is an old-timer in the VoIP space and works on its own network, much like Skype. The company used to allow Skype calls through the Fring app, but then one day, out of the blue, Skype shut down access. Since then, Fring has released multiple versions of its app on various platforms including iOS and Android, and the latest innovation it released is four way video chat over 3G. You can also make cheap international calls using Fring Out, similar to Skype. For me, Fring’s major down side is the fact that you cannot see your friends categorized by network so you don’t know who is on Aim, Gtalk, Facebook, etc. Other than that, Fring is a great solution.
As opposed to the apps mentioned above, Tango specializes in free video calling across iPhone and Android. It is the only app that allows users on both platforms to video call, but in my experience, the app is a little buggy and seems to have somewhat of a personality of its own. In Tango’s defense, its stability has improved significantly since the first version and I have used it many times between iPhone and Android successfully.
Nimbuzz, like Fring, used to enable its users to Skype on mobile phones, until Skype disabled that feature. Nimbuzz is one of the main players in the cross-platform IM apps and like Fring enables you to call other Nimbuzz users for free and has Nimbuzz out for cheap international calls. I have been a fan of Nimbuzz for years and its fully customizable UI is something I find convenient and lacking in some of its competitors. Nimbuzz recently announced that it has hit the milestone of 50 million users. Another significant advantage that Nimbuzz has is that it is truly cross platform, available on every smartphone platform worldwide.
Vonage is a leading name in the VoIP space and even has an iPhone app for its customers. However, this app is different. It is free and allows you to call your Facebook friends for free. Your friend needs to have the app installed but once it is, you can call them free of charge and in my experience, the call quality is superb. The app is super simplistic in its design, which in the case of many mobile apps enables an intuitive and seamless experience for the user.
This one is a little different. TalkBox has taken off in popularity lately, and more and more friends join the service every day. With TalkBox, you can essentially push a button to talk to your friend in real time, sort of like voice SMS. The app works flawlessly and in the months that I have used TalkBox, I have never once encountered an issue of any kind. Other TalkBox features include group chat, one click photo transfer, sharing audio on Facebook, and conversation history. All in all, this app gets a “Highly recommended”.
I stumbled on this app accidentally, and I am very happy I did. Vtok enables you to make video calls to your Gtalk friends. The new Android 2.3 also supports this so using Vtok, you can call your contacts in Gmail whether they are on a PC or a mobile phone. The app is well designed and works perfectly. You can also chat with Vtok then switch on the camera, both front and back. This is a gem of an app for Gmail users.
Of course, last but not least, with over 600 million active users and a recent Microsoft acquisition of $8 bilion, Skype is the king of VoIP, both mobile and desktop. The iPhone app also supports video, but the Android version does not. Yet. All in all, both the sound and video quality is superior, but there is one UI issue that drives me nuts. There is no way to chat with a person using the iPhone app when your camera is activated, so you cannot chat and video chat in the same call. Maybe it’s just me, but that is a definite down side when it comes to user experience. Other than that, the app is great.
Of course, a simple search of the words “free calls” in the App Store will produce dozens of results, but these are the cream of the crop when it comes to VoIP apps on iPhone… If you have any others that you recommend, please let us know in the comments or on Twitter, I am @Hilzfuld.