How to make free phone calls, even on your tablet

Some people still use their phones to talk, not just text and surf. If you’re one, you can also cut costs when dialing.

So long as you’re on Wi-Fi – whether it’s your existing wireless network at home or a free Wi-Fi hot spot – you can take advantage of apps that let you make free “VoIP” calls (Voice over Internet Protocol) on your smartphone or tablet.

And while there are a couple of limitations, you can also make free phone calls now on smart speakers, such as Amazon Echo or Google Home.

Here’s a look at what you can use to make free phone calls (without using up mobile phone minutes) and any caveats you need to know.


Free calls to any U.S., Canadian number


Some iOS and Android apps that let you make free phone calls over Wi-Fi have a “catch,” such as requiring a specific app (such as Skype, FaceTime or WhatsApp); needing a home service from the same company (such as the magicApp, tied to magicJack) or having to earn credits by watching ads or inviting friends to use the app (such as the ePhone or TalkU apps).

What’s more, some apps only let you dial out but not receive calls.

But one I found called Talkatone (iOS, Android) was the best “no strings attached” solution. You get an incoming phone number, call quality is surprisingly decent, and you can text for free, too.

After you download the app to your smartphone or tablet, it sends you a verification code via text or email, or you can sign up with Facebook. Then you get an incoming phone number assigned to your device, but you can choose a different one. I was given options with various U.S. and Canadian area codes.

As with most other VoIP solutions, you must first acknowledge these services do not support making 911 emergency calls, as your physical location cannot be assessed through your “virtual” number (if you’re unable to communicate with the operator you’re talking with, for instance).

Now you can dial any 10-digit mobile or landline phone number, as you would with any other phone, but you don’t need to pay a dime so long as you’re on Wi-Fi.

There are banner advertisements, though, plus there are optional in-app purchase options should you want no ads, international calling and advanced features such as call forwarding, and so on.

Talkatone says your incoming phone number expires if you don’t use the app for 30 days, unless you buy some credits to keep it going.

Are these apps secure, you ask? That is, are VoIP calls more susceptible to eavesdropping, especially with little-known app developers? Don’t use these apps if you’re concerned unless they guarantee end-to-end encryption.


Free worldwide calling


Apps such as Talkatone are great because the person you’re calling doesn’t need to have a specific app installed. But you can only call someone in the U.S. and Canada for free.

What if your family, friends, partner or colleagues are in Europe, Asia or South America?

For free calls over Wi-Fi, to anyone in the world, both the caller and recipient need to use the same app – and many let you place a video call, too, for a more meaningful chat. And in some cases, you can do a group chat with multiple people.

Popular apps include Skype, FaceTime, Google Duo, Viber, Tango, imo, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, to name a few.

Should you want to call a landline or mobile phone number, however, you’ll have to pay for the privilege with apps such as Skype, but with reasonable rates.

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