Recently, Vonage released its entry into the discount international calling game. The Time to Talk app values simplicity over all else – many have likened it to a pay phone system, and that’s not too far from the truth. Phone calls are offered in 15 minute increments, with the cost depending on the country you are calling. All transactions are handled through in-app purchases, using your iTunes account. And, like most other calling apps, there is a recent calls list, and your contact list is integrated. So, has Vonage really created the perfect solution to everyone’s international calling woes?
First, and most importantly, the service works. A 15 minute call from Taiwan to New York sounded perfectly clear for the duration of the call, using a Wi-Fi connection that wasn’t particularly strong. (Note: The app only works on 3G connections if you are in the U.S. Or Canada. Anywhere else, you’ll need to use a Wi-Fi connection.) Neither side had any trouble hearing or understanding the other.
The 15 minute cut-off is a little frustrating, and it would be nice to see an easy way to extend your call while you are still connected, instead of needing to buy another 15 minute call after the first one ends. You can buy more minutes in 15 minute chunks prior to making your call, but if you end up not having enough in-call, you’re out of luck. If your call doesn’t take up the whole 15 minutes, don’t worry – the remaining balance is stored in your account and can be used for future calls. It’s worth keeping in mind that you cannot use this service to send any SMS or MMS – it’s a pure calling app, but it’s one that works very well.
Does Vonage fulfill its main objective of providing a low cost international calling alternative? It does – to an extent. 15 minute calls to 100 different countries cost either $0.99 or $1.99, with another 90 ranging between $2.99 and $9.99. Unlike several other discount services, there is no distinction made between landlines and mobiles – the cost is the same within that country, no matter who you are calling.
Compared to the two United States cellular network giants – Verizon and AT&T – the rates are surprisingly close, as long as you are calling from the United States to another country. AT&T’s World Connect Rates from the United States to Taiwan, for example, are $.08/minute to landlines and $.16/ minute to mobile phones, after a $3.99 monthly fee. Verizon is slightly cheaper, at $.06/minute for landlines and $.12/minute for mobile phones, with the same monthly fee. This comes out to nearly equal what Vonage is charging. However, for the United Kingdom, AT&T and Verizon’s rates to call mobile phones ratchet up to $.28 and $.26, respectively, so it’s a mixed bag. Overall, it seems that Vonage is slightly cheaper.
If you’re thinking about using the Time to Talk app while roaming, it’s a no-brainer. AT&T’s World Traveler Plan runs $5.99/month, and features rates like $1.29/minute from Taiwan and $.99/minute from the United Kingdom. Verizon charges a flat $1.99/minute for calls made from Taiwan. You can’t make phone calls from your standard Verizon phone from the United Kingdom, thanks to the CDMA- GSM issue that haunts many traveling Verizon customers. If you’re the world traveler type, there’s no doubt that Vonage bests the major players’ offerings.
Stacked up to other discount options, though, Vonage’s Time to Talk service falls short. Using Skype, calls to mobile phones in Taiwan are $.10/minute, while calls to most mobile phones in the United Kingdom are $.26/minute. Vonage ends up being cheaper for the UK, and more expensive for Taiwan. The same goes for popular calling card service PennyTalk – Vonage is cheaper for calls to mobile phones in the UK, but more expensive for Taiwan. Across the board, though, Skype and PennyTalk’s offerings are typically cheaper than Vonage’s 15 minute rates.
You could do your homework before every trip and nail down exactly where the best deal lies, but Vonage is laying a bet that once you use their service, you won’t bother. They might be right. The best part about Time to Talk is its ease of use. After entering your phone number and home country, you select a country you want to call, buy your 15 minute call, and dial. There are no contracts to sign, no accounts to create, and billing is handled through in-app purchases, and processed using your iTunes account. You never even need to enter billing information. Payment is literally a single button press, even from the very first call you make (or second – the first call is offered free of charge).
Time to Talk is a terrific service, especially for those who are traveling abroad. The app is stable, and sound quality is up to par with any other calling apps on the market. While it might not always be the cheapest option, it is almost certainly the easiest to use – and for people on the go from country to country, that could be enough to tip the scales. The convenience of in-app purchases here can’t be overstated – international calling doesn’t get any easier than this, from set-up to call. The only downside is the potential to be cut off mid-call, but if you’re prepared with enough minutes ahead of time, there’s little, if anything, to be upset about. Time to Talk from Vonage is available now from the iTunes App Store for free.
Update 02/15/2012: The Time to Call App has been replaced with the Vonage Mobile App.