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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Maximize the Value of Google Voice with Talkatone

My last post was all about using Google Voice to replace your landline. This week, I wanted to tell you how you can get even more value out of Google Voice by using it to make free calls over WiFi from iOS or Android. If you've ever seen the insane rates mobile carriers charge while roaming, you’ll quickly see why this could be of incredible value.

Right now you might be thinking, “Can’t I already do that from the Google Voice app?” Actually no you can’t, and that's one of the most common misconceptions people have about Google Voice. Let me attempt to clear that up if possible.

Important Update (3-31-14): I just discovered that the Talkatone app described in this post will no longer be compatible with the Google Voice Service as of May 15, 2014. This is due to Google ending support of the XMPP protocol that Talkatone (and other services like OBiTALK) relied on. The good news is that VOIP calling using your Google Voice number is now available using the Google Hangouts app for iOS (voice calling feature coming soon to the Android version). Note, the Hangouts app is not to be confused with the Google Voice app (iOS or Android) that facilitates calling using standard cellular and land-based lines, as well as allows for the changing of Google Voice settings). What follows is the original post:

Google Voice is many things, but when the Google Voice app (iOS or Android) is used from a mobile device, it is NOT a voice over IP (VOIP) app. It cannot make calls without using your cellular minutes. You might be thinking that you are beating the system while travelling, only to find a huge bill when you get home. The Google Voice app uses a data connection to communicate with Google and setup the call, but then the call is made as a standard voice call at those aforementioned insane rates. The primary benefit of the native Google Voice app is to mask your real number when making calls, or to send free text messages.

However, when used from a computer, Google Voice can make VOIP calls using the Google Chat service. So just use a Google Chat app on your mobile device right? Nope. At this point in time, Google doesn't make a mobile app that can make VOIP calls to ordinary phones. That’s where apps like Talkatone come in.

Talkatone connects to the Google Chat service, just as you would from a computer, and allows you to make VOIP calls from your mobile device using your Google Voice number. Even though Talkatone will make calls over 3G/4G data, its real benefit comes when using it over WiFi while roaming. This is because calls to U.S. and Canadian numbers are free using Google Voice. Also, rates to other countries are dirt cheap. For all of the American and Canadian travelers out there, that means that calls made on your next trip abroad could be totally free (if you can find a WiFi Hotspot). You can even setup Talkatone to receive calls to your Google Voice number.

How’s the audio quality? Weeeeelll, it’s not too bad, but it’s not great when using the free version of the Talkatone app. I'll admit though, I haven't yet done extensive testing of the quality. If you have real-world experience with the app, please let me know your impressions of it.

The initial download of the app is laden with ads and offers average voice quality. To get the ads to go away and get higher quality audio, you’ll need to step up to the premium version. The nice part is that they offer a 14 day trial (but the ads remain), or you can sign up for a monthly subscription at $1.99, or even a yearly subscription at $19.99.

Hey the developers have to make money somehow right? I don’t really see this as a bad thing though as my primary use for the app is for saving money while travelling. If you travel all of the time, I don’t think $20 is a lot to spend compared to the hundreds of dollars you’ll spend in roaming charges. Those who travel infrequently can just sign up for the one month subscription. If you think the average call quality is sufficient, you can at least get rid of the annoying ads for a one-time charge of $9.99. At the very least, I highly recommend downloading the free app just in case you need it on your next trip.

Talkatone is available for iOS and Android devices. If you don't already have a Google Voice account, sign up for one here