The Best VoIP Apps for iPhone, iPod Touch, & iPad

As our smartphones continue to become more “smart” and less “phone,” we all still need to make calls sometimes. However, the carriers’ rates for voice minutes can be a little overwhelming (especially when added to data and texting plans). With today’s data speeds, VoIP is a legit option for many people who want to avoid forking over heavy loads of cash. In addition, those with an iPod touch or iPad who would like to make calls can use these as well. These are our top choices.

A Quick Primer

For those new to this: VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. It simply describes methods of making voice calls over an internet connection. It’s a data-only phone call. On our mobile devices, that means using WiFi or your smartphone’s data plan to make and receive voice calls (i.e., no voice minutes).

VoIP is generally only going to be an option for those with a solid data connection. Of course any decent WiFi connection should be fine. While your cellular data connection doesn’t have to be 4G (not an option on iOS anyway), using anything less than 3G isn’t recommended.

Also, those with connections that frequently drop in/out may have problems with VoIP. For those users, we would only advise going this route when connected to WiFi.

There are many options, so we’ve narrowed it down to the two that stand head and shoulders above the crowd.

Skype

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Skype has become so synonymous with VoIP that it’s almost become like Kleenex is to tissues – people use the brand name to describe the general product. Fortunately for us, their service lives up to the billing. It’s high-quality, simple to use, and very reasonably priced.

The Skype app for iOS does everything Skype on a desktop does. It can make calls over both WiFi and 3G. While video chat and instant messaging aren’t our focus here, Skype’s app offers those as well.

Services & Pricing

If you’re only going to call other Skype users, the service is free. To get the full VoIP experience, though, you will want to sign up for a SkypeOut calling plan. This lets you call any number in your country. That will run a very modest $2.99 per month for unlimited calls in the US/Canada.

You may also want to get your own phone number, so your non-Skype-using friends can get in touch with you. That price can vary. Normally it is another $60 per year, or $18 for three months. But if you first subscribe to a SkypeOut plan – then you can get a discount that drops it down to $30 a year, or $12 for three months. In order to get the discount, however, you must sign up for the SkypeOut plan before signing up for the online number.

Overall, depending how you pay, it will add up to around $5-6 per month for your own phone number and the ability to call any phone.

Quality

If your connection is good, voice quality on Skype-to-Skype calls is extremely crisp and clear. It is superior to most landlines, and often sounds as if you are in the same room with the person.

Skype-to-landlines or Skype-to cellphones is still solid, though not nearly as high-quality as Skype-to-Skype. It usually has some very slight latency (delay between you and the person you are talking to), which is something to watch out for with any VoIP provider.

Cons

Previously, the biggest drawback to using Skype on iOS was having to wait for important updates. The company is notorious for taking a long time to deliver important new features that they have promised.

Calling over 3G, iOS 4 multitasking functionality, video calling… all were major updates that Skype dragged their feet on bringing to iOS. Many customers were disgruntled and annoyed while they waited for Skype to finally bring these features to the table.

Thankfully, the list of those important updates has been mostly exhausted, so that gripe may not be so relevant anymore. iPad users are still waiting for their version of the app, but at least the iPhone version can be scaled up and run on the iPad (jailbreakers can even use RetinaPad for much sharper scaling).

Many have also been aggravated with their customer support. Until recently, the only way to get in touch was through Skype’s forums, though they have finally added email support. We contacted them recently, and (despite being handed off from agent-to-agent and having to re-explain the problem several times) the responses were lightning-fast and they ultimately cleared things up.

Bottom Line

Skype lives up to their reputation and offers a quality, affordable package. The two biggest drawbacks – updates and customer support – shouldn’t be as much of an issue now as they once were. It is easily one of the two most highly-recommended VoIP apps on iOS.

Talkatone

Many people make the mistake of thinking that Google Voice is a direct competitor to Skype. But Google Voice is not VoIP. It probably will be at some point, but right now it isn’t. Presently, GV uses callbacks and forwarding to let you use a “cloud” number on any number of existing phone lines. This opens the doors to all kinds of fun tricks and work-arounds for the tech-savvy (some of which do involve VoIP) but GV is very different from Skype.

However, the calling that Google offers in Gmail is VoIP. Talkatone, while not directly associated with Google in any way, uses Gmail VoIP calling to let you make free calls on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. As long as you have a Google Voice account, you can use Talkatone to make free calls. It works over both WiFi and 3G, and you can both place and receive calls. It doesn’t use a single voice minute.

So there must be some complicated setup involving routing your number through seven servers and forwarding it to your uncle’s Commodore 64 in order to work, right? Nope – it’s as simple as pie to set up. The app walks you through everything you need to know the first time you use it. All you do is enter your Google Voice account info, set your GV line up to forward to Google Chat, and you’re set.

Talkatone also has Google Voice texting built into the app, but our testing found it to be clunky, awkward, and not recommended for SMS over the official Google Voice app.

Quality

If you’ve ever used Gmail calling, that’s exactly the quality you’ll be getting here. Calling other users on Gmail (or friends who are also setup through this app) will give you the clearest calls. Standard calls to phone numbers are “good enough,” but nothing stellar. While Skype’s quality doesn’t excel in that area either, they do have a small lead over Talkatone in that department.

Optional Add-ons

There is also a premium option for those who want access to multiple accounts. The premium service also gives you an option that allows for a higher-quality compression rate. We tested that compression method, though, and it doesn’t make enough of a difference for us to recommend. The premium account is available as an in-app purchase for $2/month or $20/year.

Drawbacks

Is there any reason not to use Talkatone? If you want to pay as little as possible, you can’t do any better than free.

The biggest catch here is that the “free” part will only apply through the end of 2011. That expiration has nothing to do with the developers of this app though. The Gmail calling that this app is using is only going to be free until New Years’ Eve. Google announced that earlier this year. After that, you’ll have to pay up to Google or go with another option.

Also, for those who don’t mind shelling out a few bucks a month right now, Skype does have slightly better quality and less lag than Talkatone (it isn’t bad with either service though). Skype also has video chat, so it may be convenient for some people to initiate their voice and video calls from the same app.

Unlike Skype, the Talkatone app does have iAds that display on the screen. While they aren’t extremely intrusive, this is how the developer is making his money. If you like a 100% ad-free experience, that could be another reason to go with Skype.

Bottom Line

If you don’t mind getting something for free that you’ll eventually have to start paying for, this may be the best way to go. The quality is almost equal with Skype and you don’t have to pay a dime in 2011.

Honorable Mentions

We believe that Skype and Talkatone offer all of the quality, functionality, and value that you need. But if you’re a stickler for options and want to investigate the playing field further, here are some other VoIP apps:

Fring

One of the companies that is most obviously trying to compete with Skype is Fring. Instead of offering unlimited calling plans like Skype, Fring charges on a per-minute basis. Calls to the US are just under a penny a minute. Fring doesn’t offer a phone number.

In addition to offering their own service, Fring also serves as a solid SIP client. An SIP provider is essentially a provider of VoIP service that you can use with a variety of applications. Fring is one (of many) of those applications. If you do go the SIP route, we highly recommend Sipgate for both pricing and quality.

While a VoIP app’s interface could seem trivial to some, Fring has an odd, puke-colored UI that isn’t helping things. Also its ringtone sounds like a Sesame Street DJ scratching a recording of a phone ringing. It could use some work.

It’s a solid choice, but we’re hard-pressed for reasons to recommend it to anyone over Skype or Talkatone.

Line2

While Toktumi’s Line2 app offers pretty much the same features as the other services do, they do add a few extra perks and market it in a completely different way.

Line2 touts that it’s an option for those with shoddy connections (AT&T in big cities) who want a second line on their phone. One of their unique features is the handing-off of calls from WiFi to 3G. So if you’re in a call at the office (on WiFi) and you’re on your way out, it will switch to 3G without dropping the call. This could be handy for lots of people.

Line2 also offers free unlimited text messaging. The number that they issue for you (you can choose the area code) will be the same for calls and texts. Of course Talkatone will offer the same thing, as you can easily text from your Google Voice number.

The biggest drawback to this otherwise phenomenal provider is the cost. At $10 per month, it’s about $48 per year more than Skype, and $120 a year more than Talkatone. If you really want the call hand-offs and texting, this could be worthwhile. Otherwise, we don’t see its being worth the extra dough.

 

  

Comments

  1. Peter Sisson says

    A few clarifications: Skype mobile does not support conference calls, so it doesn’t have all the features as the PC version as stated above.  

    Main differences between Line2 and all these apps are subtle but important.  Line2 has call waiting so you can juggle calls and not miss calls when on the line. Also, if you get a call to your regular iPhone number, Line2 does not drop the VoIP call.  All these other apps drop the VoIP call, so you could never use it for an important call because if one of your friends calls your iphone, your call is instantly dropped. Also Line2 allows conferencing for up to 20 people managed on the phone, and allows you to transfer live calls. Finally, Line2 has live phone-based customer support from US-based employees.

    Little differences like this and those you mention in the piece are subtle but very important if you really want to move the majority of your calling to VoIP, especially if you want to use it for work-related calling and texting.  That’s why Line2 costs more.

    Thanks very much for the honorable mention!  We are striving to earn the top spot soon! :)

    • Jeremiah Fleming says

      Good points for Line2 as a business app, Peter.  You really should check out the iFusion (www.thefusionphone.com) as you guys are missing a big business oppportunity.

      • JennaMarie says

        Yes, Jeremiah is right, I have an iFusion and its great for any remote worker or someone who travels often such as myself.

      • Amyhart2003 says

        I have an iFusion and it’s perfect for any remote worker. I think skype would benefit from doing business with you guys as well.

  2. Deadringer2 says

    Textfree with voice is by far the best VoIp out there. All incoming calls are free and you earn free minutes by downloading apps (many also free) and using them once. Be sure to check it out.

  3. Anonymous says

    Recommended correction:  Google Voice is indeed a mobile VoIP service in the USA when used in tandem with an app like Talkatone; GV uses the Google Chat function to send and receive voice calls.  For those in the USA, Google Voice is indeed an alternative to Skype.

    • techgal says

      Talkatone best quality is that it’s free. People must make sure they choose the correct settings. Otherwise, it will use minutes from your plans. I learned the hard way. I will say however that tech support is great at Talkatone. They are extremely helpful. They need a lot of improvement on push notification and updates on status. There are constant problems with receiving calls and being notified of incoming calls. Since I haven’t used the other apps mentioned, I can’t make the comparison. Talkatone’s call quality is not constant.

      Can you please explain your comment about Google Chat function? Thanks in advance.

      • Anonymous says

        Google Voice, for USA users, allows voice calling directly through the PC – using the “Google Chat” interface within gmail.  That is how Talkatone provides this capability as well, I believe, which makes Talkatone (and Gmail) direct VoIP applications.  One does not need another phone line to use Google Voice for calls if you are within the USA.

        • techgal says

          Thanks for the explanation. I now have the GV app on my iphone in addition to the Talkatone. Unfortunately, I can’t just use the GV app for calls. It deducts from mins. I read on another blog, to use Talkatone for calls and Infinite SMS for texting. That’s been working good. I wish Talkatone was more consistent. If anyone finds anything that offers FREE calls more easily please post.

          Thanks again!

  4. Gordon Staley says

    The Skype portion of the article mentions video for the iOS version. I can’t see how to activate that on my iPad 2. Any suggestions?

  5. Gordon Staley says

    The Skype portion of the article mentions video for the iOS version. I can’t see how to activate that on my iPad 2. Any suggestions?

  6. Peter Clark says

    I am using Axvoice and wonder if any of these apps will run with that without any problem. Can anyone help me answer my query? I will be really grateful.

  7. Lisa.D says

    For me and my friends Freephoo works pretty well. This voip app is available at http://itunes.apple.com/se/app/freephoo/id411865638?mt=8&ls=1. for free download. I was worried if there were any hidden charges but nothing to worry about, I started making calls the moment it got installed. The advantage of having all my friends on the same network is that we chat endlessly for free.

  8. Aron Reeds says

    I am an enthusiast who loves trying something new. I just gave Freephoo a shot and must say its good! Its clarity and connectivity are great and whats more calls are free. I also read that they have added new countries like Greece and Turkey to their premium list. So Freephoo users can call up any land or mobile numbers in these countries at a very low cost.

    • Liam29 says

      i too share the same spirit when it comes to trying new things. I was suggested by a friend to try Freephoo and so i did out of curiosity. But now seriously I like it a lot. It gives you the liberty to call any of your friends on freephoo for free. i am planning to suggest its premium pack to a couple of friends of mine who have relatives in foriegn countries. 

  9. Ben.Benny says

    I thought only our group was a fan of Freephoo, but i am happy to see you all. It is our way of saving out pocket money and still staying in touch. The voice is petty clear on  both sides and we hardly experience disturbance even while travelling. Super like this app :-)

    • Kelly says

      Freephoo sure has some fan following, Ben. Add me and my huge friends’ group to this club. We all have tried freephoo on or the other time and feel that its a great app. Its very smooth and quick. Its top feaure should be its clarity and connectivity through 3G and WiFi. Heard that its premium pack is extended to few more countries now.

  10. Norman says

    My first experience with Freephoo was pretty good. I just downloaded it a couple of days back and made a few calls. As making calls from iPad is new to me, i was a little hesitant. But i am very comfortable using Freephoo. It responds so quickly and voice is pretty clear on both sides. Hoping to try new things with Freephoo in future.

  11. Norman says

    My first experience with Freephoo was pretty good. I just downloaded it a couple of days back and made a few calls. As making calls from iPad is new to me, i was a little hesitant. But i am very comfortable using Freephoo. It responds so quickly and voice is pretty clear on both sides. Hoping to try new things with Freephoo in future.

  12. Tom Bucceri says

    TextFree with Voice gives you your own phone number. It allows for free texting picture messaging. You can also make free voice phone calls to other TextFree users. You can make calls to non-TextFree users very inexpensively. And TextFree is always giving away free minutes if you download free game apps to your iPhone or iPod Touch. I added minutes this way three times this week! You don’t have to use the games.

    You can also use it for FREE with Google Voice.
    1. Get your TextFree phone number
    2. In your Google Voice settings add your TextFree number (set it up as a home or office phone).
    3. Under Advanced Settings, allow “Direct access to voicemail when calling your Google number from this phone”

    When you make a call with Google Voiceon your iPhone or iPod, select TextFree as “the phone to use”. TextFree will start ringing your Google Voice number on your iPhone or iPod. Answer and it will make the connection.

    Surprisingly, the quality of the call is very good. Much better than when I make a voice call on AT&T’s cell phone network. 

    And best of all, you use none of your TextFree, minutes. If you’re using your data plan to connect to the internet, you will use those bytes. But if you using Wi-Fi, it’s FREE!

  13. Sophiaj28 says

    the first voip app i tried on my iPad was Freephoo and its quite good. I have kind of stuck to it coz i really enjoy its service. Its very flexible as it works on 3G and WiFi and along with that i get good clarity. It also helps you to reach people in more than 58 countries at a very reasonable rate…. it surely is a good choice.

  14. Nathan says

    Good to see that so many people are trying Freephoo and share the same expression about it…
    Its really a good app and for me a must for my iPad. It completes my joy making calls form the iPad. I too am a fan of its clarity, simplicity and free calls.

  15. Pablo Reyas says

    I’m Using Bria http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id373968636?mt=8  with http://en.kryptotel.net/kryptomobile.html for my iPhone.
    And is a great service! I can do Encrypted VoIP calls to a very low cost, so in addition to my money, i put my privacy safe too.
    I recommend it ;)

  16. Pete Townshend says

    Does anyone know of a solid option for Canadian users? Unfortunately our CRTC (the Canadian equivalent to the FCC) doesn’t allow none Canadian companies to offer telephony services in Canada. So, while I can Skype out, I can’t get an incoming number. No Google Voice at all, and even Line2 can’t hook me up with a phone number. Since I’m looking for a business line solution, Line2 would be my top choice, so I’m looking for something comparable that works in Canada.

    • Darin says

      Pete, Line2 works in Canada. I ported my Calgary landline to Line2 about two years ago and have not looked back. I also know other people who got new Toronto numbers on Line2. If there are currently no numbers showing up for your area code, contact Line2 Support directly. They can often make arrangements to get you a number.

      I have the Pro plan, so that I can use all the additional call routing/filtering options. It also includes access to a simple Mac/Windows desktop softphone.A few things to note:- no SMS in Canada, yet- I can’t seem to call Canadian toll free numbers with Line2. I assume it’s because the service originates in the US and the toll free numbers have restricted where the call can originate from.- Turn off the “cellular” option, because it calls a US number to make the connection, which will incur a toll unless your mobile plan includes free US long distance. The VoIP options work great, though, even over 3G.

    • Donna says

      Fongo in canada is an amazing app. Wonderful quality and canada wide is free and covers a lot of cities plus expanding all the time. Their international xalling and texting is cheap and it has free voicemail and you can forward calls. It is way better then any other voip app out there and is only available in canada

  17. Rytis says

    VoxSun is also an interesting choice for a VoIP provider. Although the plans start at 15$/month, you get unlimited calls, a second phone number and many nice features. It’s intuitive and has more advanced options. There’s also lots of customizable parameters to allow you to setup your mobile exactly the way you want it to be. It might not be ideal if you’re not using a lot of minutes, but it really is worth it if you call a lot.

  18. George Mobile says

    We’re still working on our Beta version of the application, but we believe George Mobile will be a great alternative to these existing services. We consolidate all of your social media discussions and offer unlimited Text and Talk plans.

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  20. Costa Rica Private Detective says

    Our investigation agency uses an array of different communication tools. Skype works the best for these types of iphone apps. VOXER is also another communication tool (walkie-talkie) you may want to check out.

  21. Yello says

    Yello – http://www.myyello.com

    We have recently launched Yello for android, ios and blackberry. Yello connects. Freely, easily and simply! Yello free “Mobile Dialer Application’’ allows Yello users to call, text and send multimedia messages freely to other Yello users worldwide.

    You can also make calls or send messages to non Yello users at very cheap rates.

    100% Free, Simple to Use, Best Sound and Video Quality – Yello’s cutting-edge technology ensures that the sound & video quality you get is much better than any regular phone calls as it the latest & state-of-the art-technology with easy use.

  22. Margot says

    VOIP apps promise many things. One of the recently launched apps, http://www.maraconnect.com seems to be fulfilling them! I really like its simple navigation, quick connectivity and clarity. Enjoying the free calls and texting on MaraConnect platform. I am inviting more friends, more the better!

  23. Kyle says

    Hey Margot I too tried MaraConnect just recently. I love this app, specially how simple its navigation is for a new user. Its also very cool that the app actually gives you free talk minutes to give it a try. I am inviting every1 that I can to join :-)

  24. Maritn says

    I use Smartgroshen app, simple, good quality of voice and sync with your phone contacts. Get 0.5 euro at start.

  25. davidson says

    Smartgroshen app is a good app. It is simple,quality of voice is very good and also very low rate.

  26. Jack says

    With Smartgroschen app, you can make cheap phone calls to all mobiles and landline in the world from your smartphones and tablet without sim card.

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