While waiting for my broken mobile phone to be replaced, I decided to try to use my fourth-generation iPod touch as a mobile phone. I realized that I would be limited to using it when I could connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi. As it turned out, that was the least of my challenges. NOTE: This article was written from an iPod touch point of view. However, the information applies to both versions of the iPad.
Skype: Free app, inexpensive calls to landline phones
My first task was to find an app that would allow me to make phone calls over the Internet (VoIP) and to send text messages. I already knew that I could do this with my Skype account, so I gave the Skype app a try (free, app2.me/2378). Setup was easy, and I had no problem making phone calls. However, calls to landline phones and other cell phones cost a little over two cents a minute. This can add up if you have long-winded friends. I was also able to send text messages. Messages cost 11 cents each, which I consider exorbitant. Even worse—you can't receive text messages—you can only send them. I needed to find another SMS solution.
Free SMS with Gmail, Yahoo!, and Hotmail accounts
Here's a nifty method I discovered with these Internet accounts. Create an e-mail in one of the accounts, but instead of entering the recipient's e-mail address in the To: box, type in the mobile phone number plus @teleflip.com (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org). When you send the message, Teleflip will convert the e-mail to a text message and send it to the recipient's phone. The receiver will be charged any normal fees by the carrier, but the message is sent free. I discovered that whenever I sent a text message from my iPod touch, a signature was automatically inserted that said, "Sent from my iPod." This pesky tag takes up 17 characters, which is valuable real estate in a text message. You can manually erase that each time or go to Settings >Mail, Contacts, Calendar >Signature and edit the tag line or delete it altogether to conserve space.
TextPlus 4: Send and receive free text messages
TextPlus 4 ($0.99, app2.me/3688) gives you a free phone number that others can use to text you. You can send and receive unlimited free text messages. In addition, you can send the same message to as many people as you like at the same time. You can join communities, search for friends, and create and search by profile. You can also personalize your messages with photos, emoticons, and signatures. The only drawback: you must send a message every few days or you will lose your phone number. The text messaging service is free, but it displays ads on the app. The ad-free service costs $2.99. More information is available on textplus.com.
Textfree with Voice: Free calls and text messages
TextFree with Voice (free, app2.me/3694) is the best app I examined. Not only does it allow you to send unlimited free text messages, you can also make free phone calls using a free phone number that you select. You can log into your Textfree account (pinger.com/textfree) on your computer to send messages. You can also chat with your friends in Facebook by logging into your Facebook account.
Textfree with Voice is an ad-supported app that works on iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad (iOS 3.0 or higher). If you wish to hide the ads, it will cost you $5.99 per year. Be sure you download the "with Voice" version. Textfree Unlimited (free, app2.me/2335) is also available, but it's limited to text messaging.
The phone calls can be free too. All you have to do is download recommended games for which you will receive free calling credits. If you need additional calling minutes, you can purchase them at the rate of $1.99 for 100 minutes.
The app's Favorites tab allows you to associate photo images with your favorite contacts for easy reference. You can also pull up your complete iOS contacts list. You can send MMS as well as SMS. A little camera icon next to the text input box lets you to send a cute, ready-made emoticon, a picture you choose from your Photos folder, or you can take a picture and send it. You may select text notification tones, ringtones, and themes. Another icon on the bottom tray shows your most recent inbound and outbound activity with a time and date stamp. Include a signature if you wish, or you can turn off the default signature (Sent from Textfree).
Other VoIP phone apps
In my search for the perfect solution, I tested a number of VoIP phone apps. In addition to the ones mentioned elsewhere in this article, I looked at the following:
- iCall Free VoIP (free, app2.me/2850) lets you make free calls in the United States and Canada. There is a small fee for international calls.
- Truphone (iPhone: app2.me/3689, iPod touch: app2.me/3690, iPad: app2.me/3691) lets you make free calls to other Truphone, Skype, and gTalk users. There is a charge for all other calls.
- Fring (free, app2.me/2329) lets you make free calls to Fring and other Internet services. There is a charge for all other phone calls.
- Google Voice (free, app2.me/3692) does not have full functionality on the iPod touch or iPad. Google assigns you a free phone number. However, you cannot make calls using this number on the iTouch or iPad because it knows that they are not phones. You can have GV connect to another number to make calls for you. I direct it to my Magic Jack VoIP number on my desktop computer and that service makes calls for my iPod touch. You can use the number Google assigns you for texting purposes, both outbound and inbound.
- Vopium (free, app2.me/3693) allows 30 free calls and 30 free SMS to any local and international number when you sign up. Thereafter, there is a fee involved. But you can make free calls to Truphone and Skype users.
An (almost) perfect solution
Remember that you must have a Wi-Fi connection to use your iOS device for VoIP calls and text messages. Nowadays, Wi-Fi is nearly ubiquitous. However, it can be a bit of a nuisance finding a hotspot while traveling. I've discovered that more and more public rest stops on the freeways have Wi-Fi now. Another hint is that sometimes you can be surprised with a Wi-Fi signal from tiny rural libraries. Anyway, it's dangerous and often illegal to drive and use your phone, so you are really safer pulling off the road to place calls.
The right app and a nearby Wi-Fi hotspot can turn your iPod touch into an almost perfect phone solution. Try it out and see how it works for you. You might end up ditching your cell phone wireless carrier. Even if you keep your iPhone, I highly recommend that you load TextFree with Voice on it in case of emergencies.