The holiday season is the perfect time to talk with family and friends at great length and with much frequency – which is expensive to do if most of them live on the other side of the world to you (as they do for me).
When I first moved away from home I had to use a public call box and cheap international calling cards, laboriously punching in the international dialing code, the phone number AND the 16-digit card passcode, then enduring shouted conversations, feedback on the line and a dodgy connection to reassure my parents I was still alive (this was before Internet cafes took off, let alone free Wi-Fi). Then I graduated to the heady world of Skype on a desktop and using headphones (the built-in microphone was useless!). Now, with my smartphone permanently glued to my hand, all I need to do is to call up one of the many (free) smartphone apps available to video call, voice call or message anyone I want to globally – for free.
Here are my favourites:
Works on: iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Bada, Nokia
- Free text, voice calls, photo messages and location-sharing with Viber users
- Doesn’t require a Wi-Fi connection, you can use your 3G or 4G connection too, useful when you are out and about
- When you add Viber to your smartphone it instantly integrates with your own contact list to pull any existing contacts already using Viber into your Viber address book
- Automatically adds new contacts to your Viber address book if an existing contact in your phone book joins Viber
- No registration, passwords or invitations required
- Option to call non-Viber landline or mobile numbers at low rates with ‘Viber Out’
- Also has a desktop option for both Mac and PC
- NO video
- Connection can be a bit spotty
- Long conversations with friends where you don’t necessarily need video
- Free local calls with friends
- Keeping in touch with local friends to make arrangements when travelling overseas when you don’t want to use international roaming; just hang around outside a Starbucks or somewhere with a free Wi-Fi connection and call and text who you want (I used to agree to find a Wi-Fi connection at a certain time, couple of times a day, so I could make plans with friends/they could get hold of me when we were out and about traveling).
Works on: iPhone, Windows Phone, Symbian, Nokia, Blackberry
- Free texts and photo messages cross-platform, using your phone’s data plan
- Once installed it accesses your contact list so anyone on the list that has Whatsapp will show up as a contact.
- Doesn’t work on Android
- Text messages only so you need to use a separate app if you want to call someone
- Quick, free text messages with overseas friends
Works on: iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry
- Free video and voice calls
- Cheap calls to landlines (once you have loaded credit)
- Share screen option if on a desktop or laptop
- Three-way phone call (good when talking to multiple siblings!)
- Also works on desktops, devices, tablets, televisions and skype-ready phones
- Connection can drop out, video sometimes freezes
- Use with parents who might not be very tech-savvy.
FaceTime (and FaceTime Audio)
And of course, for anyone on iPhones you have access to FaceTime which gives the user free video calls with any of your contacts who also use an iPhone; and if you both have iOS7 then you can use the new Audio Time, that uses up less bandwidth.