santaphoneYes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and its name is GoogleOomaGrooveSkypeFringTangoViber.   Perhaps we should just stick with Santa Claus for now.    But whatever his name is, he offers the gift of free access to your loved ones, not-so-loved ones and even people you really will never love but with whom you’ve gotta talk.   You know, like your accountant or in-laws.     Combine Santa’s gift along with a tablet and WiFi connection and you’ve got an amazing, smart, portable free phone-like device.    Did I forget to mention free?

 

GOOGLE VOICE
My personal favorite is Google Voice.    I’m an Androider and long-time Google user so its cost (FREE) and its integrated phone/email/contacts management system is very user-friendly.      I have used Google Voice for over six years and, most recently, on my Nexus tablet to make domestic phone calls.   Aside from the free calls, it also allow me to synchronize my text messages, missed calls, voice mails, and contacts across multiple devices. More importantly, however, I love the fact that I can use the same phone number on any and all devices. This not only means texting on tablets and Web browsers, but calls from any phone with a Wi-Fi connection.  HOWEVER, it isn’t available for mobile devices!
Google Voice can be used to make free PC to phone calls and free PC to PC calls.    It can get a bit complicated and I recommend that people use free or low-cost apps, such as Spare Phone,  to make all of Google Voice’s functions easier to use.  It is complicated only because Google Voice is actually connecting your phone to the destination number through Gmail.  I suppose you could call this a free “phone to phone” call.To use Google Voice to make free PC to phone calls, install the free Google Voice and Video Chat Plugin, also called the Hangout Plugin. Once installed, you can make free calls from the Chat or Hangouts area in Gmail to real phones using just your PC microphone and speakers.  PC to PC calls, usually called voice chat or video chat, can be made using Google+ Hangouts.
Currently, free calls made with Google Voice are limited to three hours in length, at which point you’ll be disconnected. However, nothing stops you from calling the same number over again as many times as you like so this is more of an occasional annoyance than a restriction. Not to judge, but if you need to talk to someone for more than three hours, perhaps you need to reevaluate your communication skills. Google Voice are free only if you call numbers based in the United States or Canada. Calls to numbers outside the US and Canada will incur a small per-minute fee.
Recently,  Google blocked third-party apps and services from the ability totap into its XMPP network, which was the way that they provided you with free Internet-based phone service.   The affected apps are ones that offered free VoIP calling from mobile devices — including the popular Groove IP app for Android.   So mobile Wi-Fi services have been compromised by this Google move.   Google is expected to unveil voice calling via Hangouts for Android users sometime this year, but until then……..
GROOVE IP
Groove IP has figured out a work around the recent Google move. The company has pushed out a new update that lets you link its app up with a free calling service called Ring.to. When you open the app after the update, it’ll prompt you to sign up for an account and pick a new phone number (an option that’s apparently exclusive to Groove IP users). The whole process takes about 20 seconds and involves no personal details beyond your name and email address.  It is a short term fix, at best.
OOMA
If you’ve purchased the Ooma, as we have recommended in other posts,  then you can download an Ooma app on to your Apple mobile device that will allow your mobile to connect to the Ooma network — at no extra cost.    Unfortunately, the same free app isn’t available for Android, at the moment.   However, Ooma claims a $9.99 app is available at Google Play for Android phones…..but not tablets.   It hasn’t gotten very good reviews, so we can’t recommend it at the moment.
SKYPE
Unlike Google Voice,  Skype is a member-based calling service.  You can only get free service if you connect with another Skype member through that person’s Skype account.  I’ve used Skype for almost as many years as I have Google Voice. Skype works quite well on Android phone and tablets, especially for those with a front-facing camera. Along those lines, a recent update enables landscape calling for tablets that offer a front-side shooter, which is pretty cool.
FRING
Like Skype, Fring is a “member-based” calling service in which you can  call other Fring users around the world for free. Video chat and messaging costs nothing.  In cases where you need to call a landline or mobile that’s outside your country of origin, the FringOut option provides inexpensive rates. Android phones and tablets that feature front-facing cameras can take advantage of video calling with up to four friends at a time. Fring is a great place to start for those looking for a Skype alternative.
TANGO
Another popular cross-platform service is Tango, which  works for desktops as well as other mobile devices.  It offers free international voice and video calling as well as messages and photos. Recent updates to the Android include support for sending audio messages, sharing photos to Facebook, and avatars and video filters for calls.    (Some of the features require Android 4.0 and higher to work properly). One of the great benefits of using Tango is that is stays on even when the person is not using the application so you don’t have to miss a call because you are logged out.
VIBER
Viber, like the other member-based VoIP services,  offers free HD voice calls and messaging with other Viber offers free HD voice calls and messaging with other Viber users across the world and it works on cross platforms including, iOS, Android, Windows Phone & Blackberry. Users are also able to send recorded video messages along with photos and videos right from their phone’s gallery. The great thing about Viber is that you don’t have to create a traditional ID with a password, rather your phone number becomes your identity and the app scans for your contacts that are already Viber users, adding them to your viber contacts automatically.   It’s a nice feature.