Always be sure you can reach the important people in your life.
Our digital nomad lifestyle means that we work while we travel. Because of this, we are always looking for reliable, easy and inexpensive ways to keep in touch with clients and family.
If you use your iPhone or Android extensively (or you know someone working or traveling internationally who does), the Vonage Mobile app is worth downloading. Use it for free calls to any phone number in the U.S. and Canada in the short-term, and consider integrating the service into your communication toolset in the long-term as more users sign up for it.
Skip ahead to:
- Vonage Mobile Download and Setup: Basic vs. Digital Nomad
- Review and Testing: Ease of Use and Quality
- Vonage Mobile vs. Skype and Google Voice
- Giveaway: $150 in Vonage Mobile Credit to Use Worldwide!
Until now, we’ve relied on a Skype Online US-based number and occasional purchases of Skype credit when we need to make phone calls around the world. Recently, Vonage approached us with an opportunity to test their new Vonage Mobile app (iPhone and Android) that offers:
1) free international calls and texts to other Vonage Mobile app users
2) cheaper global call rates than Skype
3) a limited time offer of free calls to all phones (landlines and mobiles) in the U.S. and Canada.
We are tough customers. We want things to work well and in unusual locations and circumstances, but we also want things to be cheap. We both carry unlocked, jailbroken iPhones (3GS and 3G, at the moment) so we also need solutions that can work within our constraints.
So how did the Vonage Mobile app measure up?
The Vonage Mobile app keys off your mobile phone number. So if you have a stable mobile number, set up is straightforward on your iPhone or Android smartphone.
- Download the app and follow the instructions to enter your mobile phone number.
- You will then receive the activation code via SMS or by phone call. Enter your activation code and get started.
- Vonage Mobile will then scan your contacts list to see who else is using the app. You can immediately call or text them for free.
- For contacts not using Vonage Mobile, you can send them a text message or email letting them know about the Vonage Mobile app.
Digital Nomad Setup
Then, there are the location independent nomads like us who break things, test the boundaries of reasonable use, and frequently swap SIM cards out of our smartphones as we move from country to country.
In order to avoid having to re-register our local mobile number with Vonage Mobile every time we change locations, here’s our workaround for stability:
- Audrey registered a U.S.-based Google Voice number. Instead of receiving the activation code by SMS, she opted to receive it by phone call. (Note: If you do not have a U.S.-based Google Voice number and are outside the United States, here’s a workaround to get one)
- Dan registered our Skype Online U.S.-based number, using the callback function to obtain his Vonage Mobile activation code.
Note: We also tested the Vonage Mobile app by registering it with our local Mexican mobile number and that worked fine as well, but we switched it back to ensure that we have one stable U.S.-based number associated with each of our Vonage Mobile accounts.
Jailbroken iPhone note: If you happen to be using a jailbroken and unlocked iPhone, you should ensure your Push Notifications are working properly. This will allow Vonage Mobile call alerts to come in just like an ordinary mobile call even if you are not in the app at the time of the call. (If your phone is not jailbroken, consider yourself fortunate and disregard this note.)
Once the Vonage Mobile app was installed on both our phones, we tested a few scenarios. As with other VoIP services, call quality will vary depending on the connections (e.g., Wi-Fi or data/3G) being used to make the call.
Calling other Vonage Mobile app users:
- Ease of Use: The process is simple. Open the Vonage Mobile app, click on “Contacts” and then on “Free Calls” tab. Just tap the name of the person you’d like to call. You’ll have your choice of “Call Free” or “Text Free.”
- Quality: Calls made to U.S. cell phones will depend on the quality of the recipient’s data connection (mobile data or wifi). Audrey’s call to her mom was dropped a few times because of spotty 3G connection on her mother’s end.
Calling landline and mobile numbers in the United States:
- Ease of Use: Find the contact you’d like to call in your Vonage Mobile contacts list. It uses your iPhone or Android native contact list (i.e., no need to maintain another contact list a la Skype). Tap the number you wish to call. Alternatively, you can use the keypad to manually dial the number you’re calling. You will be asked if you want to continue calling using your mobile plan or Vonage Mobile credit.
Quality: The sound quality was very high, as if it were an ordinary phone conversation. Head-to-head, Skype seemed to edge out Vonage Mobile in terms of call quality and volume. However, it was never raised as an issue or impaired any of our calls.
Texting another Vonage Mobile user:
- Ease of Use: Use the same process as with calling another Vonage Mobile user, but click “Text Free” and then tap your text message and send.
- Quality: No apparent issues. Texts were delivered immediately.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “So what?” Skype does all of the above if I use the Skype mobile app and buy credit. What makes Vonage Mobile different?
- Vonage Mobile is an app, there’s no PC/Mac involved. The idea: more and more people are using their smartphones for everything and prefer them for calls and texts. We spend a lot of time on our Macs, so we’ll continue to use Skype for PC-to PC calls and messaging.
- Works off a mobile number or VoIP endpoint (e.g., a Google Voice or Skype Online number) instead of a username: This means that you have a fixed number that people can contact you on anywhere in the world (if you have a Wi-Fi connection). Maybe you’re thinking, “I do that already by roaming with my mobile provider.” Maybe, but Vonage Mobile can make it much less expensive. Note: Skype does offer this option via its Skype Online Number service at a cost of $60 per year. We’re considering letting our Skype Online Number lapse next year and using our free Google Voice numbers with the Vonage Mobile app to achieve the same.
- Cheaper phone calls: Vonage aims to keep global call rates to landlines and mobiles 30% lower than Skype.
- Texting is easier: Skype-to-phone text messages are a pain in the arse and often expensive. At first glance, Vonage Mobile makes this much easier.
- No video: At the moment, Vonage Mobile does not offer video calls. According to Vonage, “It’s on the roadmap.” But for now, if you want to be able to wave at family and friends as you talk, you must look somewhere else.
- Vonage Mobile vs. Skype Rates: The following chart tells the story and compares Vonage Mobile and Skype call rates:
How is Vonage Mobile Different than Google Voice?
Admittedly, other than number forwarding, our experience with Google Voice had been limited. It’s possible to achieve free calls to North America with Google Voice using the Talkatone iPhone app (iOS versions 4.3 and above only) and for Android phones supposedly using GrooveIP. However, in our testing, call quality on Vonage Mobile was noticeably better than Google Voice. Vonage Mobile app setup was also much easier.
Our Recommendation and Advice:
If you and your circle of global personal and professional contacts use smartphones extensively, Vonage Mobile can make staying in touch easier and much less expensive. It also can offer a cheaper way for others to contact you while you are traveling. If, however, you spend virtually all of your time communicating through your laptop, this will obviously not be a useful app for you.
Free calls to the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico: For a limited time, Vonage Mobile is offering free calls to the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. So if you have family and friends in any of these places, now is the time to download the app, catch up and talk your hearts out.
We’ll update this article with our findings as we continue to use the Vonage Mobile app. Questions, thoughts and comments, please share them here.