Vonage Mobile: Free International Calls for the Traveler and Digital Nomad

Vonage Mobile

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:

Background Story

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?

Bedouins Looking for a Mobile Phone Signal at Wadi Rum, Jordan
Staying connected. Bedouins seek a signal at Wadi Rum, Jordan.

Vonage Mobile: Basic vs. Digital Nomad Setups

Basic Setup

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.

Dan Checks Google Maps on iPhone - Madhabpur Lake, Bangladesh
Staying connected in Bangladesh. With Vonage Mobile and a local data plan, it would work.

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.)

Vonage Mobile Review and Testing

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.

Vonage Mobile

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.

Vonage Mobile

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.

How is Vonage Mobile Different than Skype?

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:

Vonage Mobile and Skype

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.

Disclosure: Vonage has compensated us for our time in testing the Vonage Mobile app and writing this review. However, the article and recommendations above are based entirely on our own experience.

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Comments

  1. Kae Lani says

    Wow! That was an in depth view on vonage. I’ve always seen commercials for this service, but never considered using it myself, or even that there was an app for international calls. Goodbye international SIM card, hello vonage! Thanks for the tip.

  2. says

    Good to know you guys reviewed this- I trust your opinion! I’ve heard of Vonage but didn’t know much about it. I tried to answer the question who I would call but it didn’t work- I would call my dog- since this is make believe I’d like to hear him talk.

  3. says

    @Kae: The Vonage Mobile app is relatively new. The company has adopted a similar strategy that the applied to VoIP landlines to mobile. We were skeptical at first as we are big Skype users, but can definitely see the advantages of this app as we are on our iPhones more and more. Yes, this is definitely much better than international sim cards!

    @Jennie: Great answer! Can you imagine what sort of voice he’d have?? Sorry for the trouble with the widget – I’ll see if I can play with it to make it work easier next time.

  4. says

    @Nicole: Yes, this app would work great for your upcoming trip to France. If both you & your husband download it then you can chat & text for free. Otherwise, you can call home for free (using wifi at hotel/cafes) over the next couple of months. Enjoy and have a great trip!

  5. Rob says

    Well, I already *know* who I’d call first, because I did it already. Rather than bother someone human with a “I’m just testing my new App” call, I phoned the NRC Time Number in Ottawa, Canada. 613-745-1576. The very same number I always gave out whenever some business that didn’t need my phone number insisted on my giving it to them.

  6. says

    This post could not be better timed, Audrey & Dan! I cannot tell you how often I am asked questions on this very subject. I’ve already sent the link to 3 people and downloaded the app. I’m talking next week in San Francisco about mobile technology and travel and if it’s okay with you I’d like to refer to this post if/when the subject of long distance calls and staying connected comes up. Really great info as usual.

  7. says

    @Rob: Great answer! I’m laughing imagining the look on someone’s face when they think they are calling you and get the NRC Time Number instead. Hope the app works out in your upcoming trip to Turkey.

    @Jen: Great! Thanks for passing this on and for downloading it yourself. I’m curious to hear your experience of using it in the States (we tested it in Mexico). And yes, please refer to it during your talk next week. I can see the app being so useful for people who travel internationally and want to continue to use their smartphone…but without all the roaming charges. Good luck with your talk!

  8. says

    I’ve already made a comment about how excellent this post is, but I’d call my friend Tanya in Manila. She gives me valuable feedback on my blog and we’re pretty much always skyping. She’s just as global and roaming as me so we would both have thoughts about it. We’ve tried What’s App too, but that also has the wifi need. Again, great post!

  9. victoria valencia says

    this is an awesome product and will be much appreciated,because it will us save us a ton of money when travelling@Q

  10. says

    Thanks so much for this review. We have a project in Palestine and the mobile charges are crazy–both ways. We will definitely be trying this over the next few weeks as our staff heads over there.

  11. says

    @Victoria: We do hope that this app will save you money when travelling and make it easier for you to stay in touch with family and friends. Safe travels!

    @Filipa: Calling parents is always a good choice! Notice how I called my mom :)

    @Lisa: As long as your Palestinian partners have access to wifi or 3G/data, this should definitely reduce your mobile charges. We know from experience how punitive long distance mobile calls can be. Really hope this works for your program. Could you let us know as your staff goes over and tests it out?

  12. says

    We’re always looking for more ways to stay in touch with everyone back home. This comparison is really helpful! We’ll keep our fingers crossed for the $50 and put Vonage to the test against Skype for ourselves… so far it sounds great :)

  13. Megan says

    Thanks for putting this up! Skype has not been working very well on my Android here in England, so when I read this, I figured I had nothing to lose by trying it. The sound quality is so good!! And the signal rarely delays like it has been doing on Skype. Awesome find! :)

  14. Megan says

    Oh, and I called my grandma who just got out of the hospital. I was travelling around and didn’t have my computer, so it was brilliant being able to talk to her!

  15. says

    @Jim: We’ve been using the Vonage Mobile app a lot lately, especially with the free calls to the United States at the moment. Look forward to hearing how Vonage Mobile compares with Skype. As more people are using smartphones as they travel, this is a great way to keep your mobile number but avoid roaming fees.

    @Megan: Thanks so much for sharing your experience using the Vonage Mobile app. Glad to hear it worked well with your Android when you needed it. I love the story of calling your grandma – hope she’s recovering and doing well.

    @Adam: Always need to be in touch with mom because she still does know best :)

  16. says

    And we have winners!!

    Selected by Random.org for the entries with the maximum number of points (8):
    1) Adam Groffman
    2) Jim Karlovsky

    Winner of the most creative response to “who would you call first?” is Jennie Zeiner. We love the idea of being able to talk to one’s dog and hearing his “talking voice.”

    We will contact you individually to deliver the prizes!

  17. says

    We have tested Vonage to Vonage texts and calls with our staff in Palestine over the last few weeks. As reported above, the quality is similar to Skype and dependent on wifi signal. We did notice a delay of several seconds on several calls, but worked around this. We have not yet tried the Vonage-to-land line or Vonage-to-mobile calls yet but will report once we do.

  18. says

    @Lisa: Thanks for reporting back on how Vonage worked in Palestine during your recent trips. Yes, the trick is the quality of the wifi connection. But, glad it worked OK and allowed you to talk with colleagues. We found that the quality of calls to landlines was really good as well.

  19. Aravind says

    Nymgo is much much cheaper than ur vonage….I am always preferring nymgo only,because its giving very low rates for international calls

  20. Rob says

    I’ve never heard of nymgo, but how much cheaper could it be? Vonage is almost free.

    And it *is* free for 99% of the calls I want to make when traveling. And it worked perfectly in Turkey and throughout Scandinavia for me. And with Vonage I get to support an American company, as I also use them for phone service at home.

  21. Rob says

    Additional experience on the Vonage mobile app.. up until just a short while ago.

    I had a few dollars credit when I used the app in New Zealand a few weeks ago, and after I returned to the USA and re-installed my Verizon SIM the credit was gone.

    I phoned Vonage mobile support to ask about it and first they claimed not to be able to find me, and then, magically, the guy got permission from a supervisor to restore my credit. Which he did immediately.

    When I started to explore what had happened he was very anxious to get off the phone and almost hung up on me.

    I don’t know if this is vonage systematically trying to steal a few bucks from people or what, but it left me feeling a little odd. I shall watch them carefully from now on…

  22. says

    @Rob: Thanks for the update and heads-up on your latest experience with Vonage Mobile and their app. Sorry to hear that you had that experience.

    If anything else develops or you have other interactions of note with customer service, please keep us posted!

  23. Mansour Zaki says

    How can I install vonage on my note 2 while im using a vodafone egypt line. It keeps telling me that this item isn’t available in my country.

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