Call Your Loved Ones This Holiday Season
The 5 Best Free International Calling Apps
Ah, the holidays are upon us once more. This is the time when we start to feel how far away our loved ones are. Many of us live in different cities, states, or even countries from our friends and family.
So, how do you communicate with your family members, and let them know you are thinking about them? There are many apps that offer solutions, but each one lacks different features. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who faces this problem. I’m preparing myself for the holiday season by figuring out what the best method is for me to reach my family back home in India, and I want to share my findings. Here it is: your guide to the best free international calling apps to use this holiday season.
Facebook has its own, native calling platform, which has grown slowly from a social media chatting service to a full-fledged voice and video calling service of its own. Even as they diversify, many still think of Messenger as an internal chat widget. On the flip side, this gives Facebook the advantage of not having fight to integrate itself into users' lives. Messenger offers features such as free app-to-app calls and chats, group messaging and video calling. It does not work with your cell phone carrier's minute plan—a rather limiting feature.
Facebook has been pushing users to download the free-standing Messenger app by eliminating the message inbox from the Facebook app. Since 52 percent of Facebook users access the social media site exclusively through mobile, many who do not want to or don’t have the space to download a separate app might not be accessing their Facebook messages anymore.
This international calling app is making waves in the communication space recently. QuickCall.com markets itself to immigrants and expats, addressing their needs. It also allows free app-to-app calls and chats, and you can buy cheap prepaid credits to call mobile and landline phones directly. In situations where you have no access to the Internet, you may make calls through your minute plan. QuickCall.com has its own telecommunications network and the relationships it has with hundreds of international carriers are hat get you low rates and good connectivity worldwide.
One unique feature of QuickCall.com is that you can buy a virtual phone number from the U.S. or another country as a second line for personal or business calls. It'll be cheaper for you, and free for the person you're calling. Even though it is a rather no-frills experience currently, more advanced features such as end-to-end encryption and a voicemail feature for certain customers are being developed.
[Disclosure: QuickCall.com is a managed brand of my employer, but my review is based on my own personal experience with the app.]
One of the best known international calling options, Skype became famous for its video chatting capability. It’s got a very robust experience, stable enough that you see it on news programs to correspond with people. You can use it to make free calls and chats to other Skype users—it allows group chatting and calling options, even for video calling. You can use the service to send SMS messages to people's cellphones directly, if they do not have the Skype app. One very cool feature is that you can pick your own phone number, even if it's not a local area code for you.
Skype offers inexpensive VoIP services with unlimited plan options, but switching from Skype-to-Skype calls to paid calls is not a very intuitive process. You cannot use a regular telephone like you can with other VoIP services—instead, you must use your computer or the Skype mobile application. There is no voicemail or call blocking option through Skype.
Viber is a direct competitor to WhatsApp, which I’ll talk about a little further on. Its user base is slightly smaller, but it offers many of the same features. There are free app-to-app calls and chats, group messaging capabilities, and the option to make video calls. You must have access to the Internet to use the app.
Viber has a leg up on some of its larger competitors, however. It offers a service called Viber Out which allows you to call regular mobile or landline functions. It’s still easier to contact someone who also has the Viber app, because the Viber Out service is quite confusing to use within the app, but it’s a good feature to have.
WhatsApp got its fame outside of the U.S., and is still not as well-used in the U.S. as its competitors are. There is a giant network of WhatsApp users around the world, which is handy for the free app-to-app calling and chatting that WhatsApp allows, but you cannot purchase credits to call mobile numbers and landlines through WhatsApp. You also must use the Internet with Whatsapp—like many apps, you cannot use your minute plan for calls. You can make video calls with the app, however group video is not yet offered.
Recently, WhatsApp came under fire for privacy concerns. The app, which boasts end-to-end encryption, and has always claimed it protects user privacy, even after acquisition by Facebook. However, in August, Facebook let users know that it would start analyzing data from WhatsApp user behavior to aid Facebook and Instagram advertisers in their targeting. This, and other privacy issues, has caught the eye of privacy protection groups, such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the European Union's privacy chiefs.
Everyone has their own priorities while looking for the perfect messaging app. I don't know that the "perfect" one exists. I value the option to make calls that aren't rooted within the app, and to access the app without Internet, because we still live in a world where there are *gasp* Internet-less dead zones. In the end, it's all about your needs. I hope that you have a wonderful winter holiday and make many convenient and painless calls to your loved ones!
Nisha Katti is a digital marketing professional who works for the telecommunications company SRVR. She specializes in content writing and social media management, among other activities. Nisha is a native of Atlanta, yet her heart will always lie with the magnificent magnolias of Athens, Georgia, where she attended the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Visit SRVR online at www.srvrco.com.