Free Voice Calls for iPod & iPhone

Can an iPod make FREE Mobile Voice calls?

Magic Jack appI normally don’t feature any Apple ™ products on this site. Personally, I dislike the closed, proprietary Apple ecosystem. However, I have many friends with iPhones and therefore, I have some interest in trying to assist them.

One of those friends asked if asked whether he could use a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) service on his iPod. Since I have done such with my Android devices, I did some research to determine if – and how – it could be done. Before I give you the answer, let me explain a bit about VOIP.

A few years ago, I realized that there was a way to “cut the cord” for landline phone service. I purchased the Ooma device and connected it to my Internet router and plugged my phone into the device. Since then, I have BETTER phone service at a very small cost. For more info on using Ooma, check out the articles here and here.
Recently, an Ooma competitor, MagicJack, came up with an update to their home VOIP device. I bought their MagicJack Plus product to compare it to the Ooma & similar services. I found the MagicJack Plus to be the most economical home VOIP service available at this time. See my review here.
Last year, I discovered a way to do almost the same thing for my MOBILE phone service. I bought the GrooVe IP application for my Android device and started using it to make and receive free calls via my mobile devices. See my review of the app here. The review also includes some good information about the issues concerning “locked” mobile phones.
One of the issues of mobile VOIP is that you MUST have some source of radio connection to the Internet. In order to overcome that limitation, I purchased the Verizon MiFi device and their service. See my review of that device here. This device connects to the Verizon data network (including their 4G LTE network) and provides WiFi access to up to 5 devices at speeds up to 12 mbit. However, it does require a 2-year contract and a monthly service fee. But, it allows me to use any WiFi-enabled phone – with the appropriate VOIP app – to make and receive mobile calls anywhere on Verizon’s LARGE network. BTW, the phone (or tablet, etc) does NOT need an additional cell phone service! You can even take the SIM card out of a GSM phone and it will still make/receive calls!.

So, back to the question of VOIP on Apple’s iOS devices… The answer is YES! There are several services available but none of them seems to be such a complete solution as the GrooVe IP application (Android ONLY.) T-Mobile’s “Bobsled” app provides OUTBOUND only calls (for free) but does not yet offer any way to receive calls via VOIP. (See my review here.) The best solution that I have found is the Magic Jack app for iOS.

The Magic Jack appoffers both outbound and inbound calls that do not use minutes on your iPhone. I have only tested it on an iPhone and an iPod, it should work on any iOS 5+ device.  When you first install the app, it goes through an initiation script and then offers the new user three options:

  1. You can make outbound only calls (anonymously) (Note1)
  2. You can request a “number” from Magic Jack that others can use to call you (Note2)
  3. If you own one of MJ’s devices, you can associate the real phone number of that device to the app (Note3)
Call quality – Due to the fact that I do not own any Apple devices, my LIMITED testing was on my friend’s two devices. However, in our limited testing (connected to a 15Mbit Internet cable modem), the voice quality was excellent. There was absolutely no static and the quality was as good as any phone that I have ever used.
UPDATE: When I called my friend today on his iPod (on slow DSL <2 Mbit) his voice was clear but I heard some choppiness on the end of each phrase or sentence.

However, the “devil is in the details” (as the old adage goes). Just like their home VOIP service, the Magic Jack application has some strange problems.Here is a list of some issues that you should be aware of before you install this app:

  • Magic Jack does NOT do customer service – except via a link to CHAT on their website. This is an issue with ALL of their products, which are “served” by the same 3rd party chat company. Also, the chat link is hidden. You have to locate some fine print at strange points on several pages and go through at least 5 clicks – PLUS answer a question trying to get you to use their FAQ articles instead. (Here is a link that may shortcut that fiasco.) After you finally find the chat box, it takes a few minutes for an agent to come online. In my case, I spent about 20 minutes online answering the same few questions over and over – and then the agent gave me WRONG information. I had to DEMAND a supervisor in order to be transferred to a different agent who was able to help me (within the the very limited scope of options that MJ allows.)
  • Magic Jack’s Terms of Service are the worst I have ever read. You can read my comments about this issue in my MJ review here. This issue is also shared across all their services.
  • The Magic Jack online control panel is both awkward and severely limited in options. Getting to the control panel is (again) a maze of looking in the fine print, logging in to your account, and then trying to figure out what you can or cannot do there. This is also an issue shared across all the Magic Jack services.
  • All outbound calls must include the area code. With many other VOIP services, you can assign your choice of a default area code. Then, any calls to that area code can be dialed with just 7 digits. However, Magic Jack does not offer this option on any of its services.
  • The Magic Jack iOS application suffers from the same lack of control as their online control panel. Although it is a “no-brainer” to recognize option 3 as preferable, once you elect to associate the app to an existing MJ device and its phone number, there is no way to change it. (Note3) So, I STRONGLY recommend that you start with one of the other options. Also, it is very important to set up an account with MJ via the application. This will tie your email & password to an online account as well as the app.

Summary: Overall, this app is the best solution that I have found for doing FREE voice calls on iOS devices. It is not available for Android but then, the GrooVe IP app on Android (not available on iOS) is MUCH better. Other, similar apps for iOS suffer from either being limited to outbound only (BobSled), or just within a specific network (Skype, etc), or too complicated to set up (those requiring SIP accounts), or require a monthly service charge. One possible exception that I hope to test soon is the Talkatone app.

NOTES:

  • Note1 – I did not try this option but I can see how if it is as described, it could be used for BAD reasons.
  • Note2 – The “number” that you are assigned is a ten-digit number. It does display on the receiver’s CallerID but they cannot dial it directly. Them must dial a special (unpublished) number – 305-878-8255. When they get the recorded message, then they must enter the MJ “number” assigned to your device. It is a kludge but it does work.
  • Note3 –  IMPORTANT: If you select option 3 and associate to a number, there is no real way to change to a different number  or option later!

If you have used a VOIP app on your mobile device, leave a comment below 

 

 

 

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One Response to Free Voice Calls for iPod & iPhone

  1. Sneak says:

    Did you ever review Talkatone?

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