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Technologies like Skype have been around for some time, letting us make calls from our computers. The iDevice revolution put VoIP calling in our pockets, but services like Skype are actually rather limited. Yes, you can Skype or fring on the 3G network now, but only to other members of the same service. Skype can call Skype and fring can call fring, or you can pay to make calls to numbers outside of their service. Not a bad deal if you're calling another country, but paying to use your iPhone data package you already paid for to call your buddy seems like a raw deal to us.
Not surprisingly, a couple apps have come up with an interesting alternate form of calling.
As suggested by one user in the App Store reviews, Talkatone from TalkMe.IM, Inc. does what any number of Google Voice related apps should do. Instead of merely piggy-backing on your iPhone's 3G calling plan and using your cell minutes, Talktatone takes advantage of the free in-browser calling provided in Gmail, and brings it to your iOS device. (Google provides free stateside calls for at least the remainder of 2011.)
Talkatone Works Like Magic
We don't know what funky magic Talkatone is working, but we love the idea of using our data plans, whether 3G or WiFi, for making the same kinds of free VoIP calls we could make from our computer. Only instead of leaning forward to the monitor and shouting at the built in mic on our desktop, we're doing it directly on our iOS device. Except for the shouting part. Sure, it works best if you have an iPhone, but slap a mic-enabled headphone on and you'll be making phone calls from your iPad in no time.
Talk on the Phone or the Computer
Sign in to your Google account through the app, then all your Gmail contacts are right there on your phone. You have the option of selecting just from your iPhone's contacts, your Gmail contacts, or blending the two. If your Gmail contacts have phone numbers, they'll turn up in your contacts list and you can easily dial their number. Tap on their name and you can text them, call them, or even call their computer if they're online and have set up their Gmail accounts to make phone calls.
Phone Icon = Phone Contact; Icon = Gmailer
All your usual contacts turn up as well and you can call them straight through your internet connection or send them SMS texts to their phone. There's a keypad for dialing numbers not in either address book, a recent listing of calls made, and a place for favorites, just like the iPhone's phone app.
It's a Small Font, But You Can Change It
At this time, Talkatone doesn't provide MMS, but that that's a small price to pay for essentially making your iPod a cell phone whenever you have a WiFi signal. Any call, to anywhere in America, free through your non-iPhone iOS device. No catches. Of course, quality is sometimes spotty, and move too far away from the WiFi signal and your call will get dropped, but long-time AT&T customers won't be astonished.
See? Even 3G Works & Makes Calls, Texts, Etc.
Set up and usage was as easy as possible, and texting worked simply and easily too. The big surprise here was finding out that apparently Google uses one Google Voice number for phone calls and a separate one for SMS messages, as we had two new numbers turn up in our caller IDs. The app could use a few spit and polish elements to its UI (the bubbles of chat are a bit clunky and the default font size is microscopic) but other than that, Talkatone is one of our most prized finds in the App Store.
Crisp App Ltd.'s fone pro (also available in ad supported free version) decides to tackle the VoIP gorilla in the room, Facebook. While adding your Gmail contacts to your address book is great, and while being able to call anyone at all in the United States (if you're in the US too) is brilliant, you can see the limitations.
fone pro calls Facebook over 3G Data
At this point, Facebook has around 700 million users, a considerably bigger demographic than just about any online space, and while we're sure your social circle is a bit smaller, fone pro can contact just about any of your Facebook friends. Your first obvious step is connecting the app to your Facebook account and from there you can chat with your friends or call them.
What People See on the Other End
The app interface is relatively minimal. A key icon logs you in and out of chat, an arrow button gives you more options for sending messages. Your online friends have their profile picture next to their name and a small green dot in case you missed it (or the slivered moon for inactive but online folks). Offline people are below in a separate category and their names are gray and they have no profile picture.
Who Wants to Chat, Ladies?
Tap a name and you can see your chatting history with that person or you can press the Chat or Call button. The first one allows you to chat with any of your Facebook friends online -- and if you've ever used the official iPhone app's chat connection you'll know immediately how much more awesome this one is. From here, you can even send pictures to your friends (hosted temporarily on fone's servers, a link will be provided to allow your friend to download this picture to their computer). However, click on "Call" to see the magic.
The moment you press "Call" in your chat screen, your Facebook friend receives a link to a fone pro site. If they click on that they'll be taken to the fone site, where their computer's mic and speaker settings are probed. If everything works out, they'll be speaking with you directly from your iPhone or iPod directly to them on their computer. If you're online through fone, your friends can call you from the computer by typing /call in their chat with you.
This is What Happens When You Call
Unfortunately, there's no app to app communication, so if your friends have fone pro on their iOS devices, there's no connecting between them for a conversation. It's strictly iOS app to Facebook computer user, which is a bit of a shame.
Send Pictures, Be a Congressional Rep -- Wait, nm.
fone pro is dead simple to use, but we've had trouble with the call quality. While it works over 3G or WiFi, on some calls we hear an echo on our end, and in some cases our friends hear us as though we were deep in the Grand Canyon echo echo echoing up the hills. Call quality is in definite need of improvement, while the UI is as simple as it needs to be.
While Facebook has 7 times the user base of Gmail, Talkatone isn't limited just to Gmail users. From here, you can literally call anyone in the United States or Canada for free. fone pro on the other hand turns your multinational friend list into free calling wherever on the globe a Facebook friend is signed in to that social giant's chat service. Both offer an unbeatable service, but in the end we have to go with Talkatone as our winner here. The quality of calls were better, we could reach our friends who were signed in to Gmail (and had set it up right), we could call anyone in the US we wanted, but most importantly, Talkatone had beautiful sound quality. fone pro left us wanting something to be desired with so much echo echo echo echo.