How To Make Calls from Your Android Tablet
At first, the idea sounds plenty strange. Why would you ever want to call someone from your tablet when you have your phone right in your pocket? Tablets are large, ungainly things that simply can’t fit inside most pockets. They aren’t very portable—at least, not in the sense of a traditional cell phone—and most of them don’t have constant cell signals anyway. And then there’s holding a tablet up to your face, a decision most people will agree makes you look ridiculous at best and like a lunatic at worst. It’s a matter of size and ergonomics, where the tablet just isn’t as portable as a cell phone.
But wait—what if there is something to placing a call from your tablet? For instance, who hasn’t had their phone break in one way or another, whether the cause be a cracked screen, malfunctioning charging port, or anything else of the sort? And tablets typically have far better battery life than their smaller, more mobile counterparts, so you could theoretically save your phone’s battery life for the things that really matter. And this doesn’t even consider the price of international calls, something that can add up quickly on your cell phone’s bill. And suddenly, maybe using your Android tablet to place calls isn’t such a ridiculous idea.
So if you’ve decided you’re good with placing a phone call through a tablet, the next step is figuring out how to go about something like this. It isn’t immediately evident—most Android tablets don’t have a cellular signal built into them, and none of them have dedicated dialer applications designed into their system architecture. This isn’t the end of the road, however—using some apps downloaded from the Play Store, you can get calls up and working on your Android tablet in no time. No matter your reason for wanting to place a call with an Android tablet—and, as we detailed above, we do believe there are some good reasons—we have you covered with our guide to phone calls on Android tablets.
Apps to Download and Use
We’ll start where many of our How-To guides start: with a trip to Google’s Play Store. There are a ton of possible choices for calling apps on Android, but only a few of them are worth your time. And surprise, surprise—you’ve probably heard of most of them. Still, let’s cover each app and why you should or shouldn’t use it, depending on your specific use case.
- Google Hangouts and Hangouts Dialer: This is a two-fer app, meaning you’ll need both Google Hangouts and the Hangouts Dialer app to use this on your tablet. That said, it’s also one of our favorite methods. Even as Google continues to jerk around Hangouts and transform the app into a more business-oriented video chat application, most of the consumer features remain intact as well. Google’s oldest still-alive messaging app doesn’t just handle IM and video chat—you can place a call within Hangouts to any number, including landlines. Even better, most calls to the US or Canada are entirely free over the internet, making it an easy choice when selecting from calling apps.
- Skype: Of course, what is a list of calling application’s without Microsoft’s infamous video chatting app. Skype is used all over the world for connecting with friends, family, employers, and anyone else who needs to be contacted at a moment’s notice. Skype isn’t free like Google Hangouts if you’re looking to place a call to a cell phone or landline in the US, but the prices are pretty competitive if you pick the right plan for you.
- Talkatone: While not quite as big of a name as Hangouts or Skype, Talkatone’s mobile app has been installed over 10 million times on Android, and is trusted by thousands daily to handle their phone calls from a tablet to their phone. Talkatone offers entirely free calling and texting to US-based numbers, and you even get a US-based number of your own for returning callers. Wi-Fi calling support makes Talkatone one of the best choices for most users, though as a smaller company, their devices have far more bugs and downtime in their online services.
Any of these three apps would make a great choice for your tablet-calling needs, though our top recommendation goes to Hangouts and Hangouts Dialer. Google strikes the right balance between reliability and fair pricing (with free calls for most users). Talkatone is a great option for those looking for an entirely free service, as well as one that features built-in texting and MMS support—and are okay with dealing with various bugs and slowdowns that occasionally have hit the service. And Skype is a great alternative, but it does feature a unique barrier in its pricing—the cheapest plan is $2.99 a month, with no “free” tier in sight.
Whichever service you choose will mean each calling experience is a little bit different, but all three apps are well-designed and easy to setup. For this reason, we won’t be covering the early steps of setting up each app here—rest assured that each app simply requires creating or signing in with an account for the individual service, and reaching the call page for each app. These apps do all require a real phone number to be connected, however, so if you don’t have an actual phone, you’ll have to borrow someone’s in order to receive and enter your confirmation PIN. But instead of a deep dive into setting up each app, let’s take a look at how to place a call from each application.
Placing a Call Over Wi-Fi
Each app is a bit different when placing phone calls, but they’re all pretty similar in practice. Hangouts—and Hangouts Dialer, by association—are a great middle ground between how Skype and Talkatone work. Google uses their Voice service to give your tablet a phone number. If you already have a Voice account, your number will automatically be paired with your tablet and your Google account; if you don’t, it’s quick and free to make a new Voice account. Once you reach the dialer page—or your Contacts page if you choose to sync your account’s contacts—you can dial in a number. It does have to be a nine-digit number, though, complete with an area code, or else Google won’t allow you to place the call.
Once you’ve entered the number, Google will allow you to call from your tablet. You’ll receive a price estimate at the bottom of the screen, and for most US-based numbers, it’ll be entirely free. Once you hit the green Call button, the call will start. If it’s your first call, you’ll want to give Hangouts permission to record audio.
Rest assured it’s necessary to activate the mic and play your audio back for the person on the other side of the call—Google isn’t storing or recording your audio. In our tests, Hangouts delivered clear audio quality on both sides, though this will depend on the mic quality on your tablet for obvious reasons. When the call starts, your tablet will be in a “speaker” mode of sorts, but it’s easy to switch this to a more traditional private volume in the top-right corner.
Talkatone’s services are pretty similar. Once the app is setup and you’ve chosen your new number—in a nearly identical process to Hangouts—you’ll be brought to the call screen. Once here, something becomes immediately apparent: Talkatone isn’t designed for tablets. It’s clearly a phone app that hasn’t been scaled for larger displays, and it doesn’t look nearly as good as Hangouts’ Dialer app. Even worse: There are two large banner advertisements taking up room on both the top and bottom of the device. Talkatone also keeps a persistent notification in your notification tray whenever the app is running. To place a call, you can choose from your device’s contacts, favorites, or use the included dialpad to enter a number. Unlike with Hangouts, you can call numbers with less than nine digits, but you’ll want to make sure you enter an area code when using Talkatone.
Placing a call feels near identical to Hangouts, but with one big exception: call quality is noticeably worse than what was created through Hangouts. Though we could make out what our test caller was saying, both callers reported static on their ends of the call, despite using the same wireless connection used in the Hangouts test. The call screen is just as featured as Hangouts’ but we did find the design and layout to be less than appealing, with a strange bright-yellow tone and larger-than-usual navigation tools. But just as we saw with Hangouts, you can change how the speakers work (either using the default speakerphone mode, or by navigating the sound to a volume similar to an earpiece). Placing calls on a tablet with built-in front-facing speakers worked well, but for those looking for something on a tablet with back-facing or bottom-facing speakers, calling someone without using speakerphone mode might be a bit awkward.
Skype’s application is cleaner than what we saw with Talkatone—and unlike the other two apps, you won’t need a phone number to verify your account. But Skype is also the only of the three applications that requires either a minimum $3/month subscription or a credit purchase in quantities of $10 or $25.
Calling over Skype is similar to both of the other services, with a sound quality similar to Hangouts, but it’s a shame that Skype doesn’t offer a free tier for placing calls to US-based numbers. With a company as big as Microsoft behind Skype, it’s a shame they can’t offer the same options as both Google and Talkatone (the latter of which, of course, being a much smaller company.
Placing a Call Over a Cell Network
Any of the above apps can be used over a 4G or 3G network if your tablet supports SIM cards, but two of the biggest carriers in the US take it a bit farther. Both AT&T and Verizon Wireless offer specific tablet capabilities for specific tablets operating on their bands. If you bought your tablet through Verizon Wireless, for example, you probably noticed your tablet came with Verizon Messages, the Verizon-made messaging app that has attracted a ton of fans through their smartphone line. As long as your phone supports HD Voice on Verizon’s network—which is most newer phones on the service—you can connect your smartphone’s number through Messages’ settings, and your tablet can function as a secondary phone, taking and placing calls using your standard number. Verizon even supports switching between your tablet and phone without having to hang up the phone.
AT&T, meanwhile, offers a similar function with their NumberSync service. Once again, your phone will require the AT&T Messages app, and a phone that supports HD calling. Both services feature simultaneous ring, and as for AT&T, you don’t even need to be near your smartphone to answer a call on your tablet—useful if your phone is in another room or area while charging. You can read more details—including FAQ’s and device compatibility—about AT&T NumberSync here, and Verizon Messages’ calling features here.
A Word About Emergency Services
It’s important to note that Google Hangouts, Skype, and Talkatone all do not support emergency calling within the United States and most other countries, due to requirements regarding how emergency services like 911 track your number, location, and information. If you’re looking for an app to replace your phone entirely, these services will not be able to reach out to emergency numbers. Most of these apps warn you during setup, but reiteration of this fact might save a life. Because of US law, all smartphones, regardless of carrier, can place emergency calls even when roaming on another network or when lacking a SIM card, so if you’re looking to drop your phone entirely, you might want to keep it on you without a SIM card in case you ever require emergency services.
For the most part, tablets can’t quite reach the freedom of a smartphone when it comes to calling, but it can be a great secondary device as long as you’re willing to use a secondary number—or, in the case of Skype, pay for credit or a monthly subscription. In our review of the three main services, we found Hangouts to strike the right balance between call quality, cost, and features. Talkatone, unfortunately, takes a hit in both the app design and the call quality categories, and while Skype might be a well-designed app with great call quality, it isn’t any good for someone looking to drop their phone plan entirely.
Overall, calling from your tablet is a bit of a hassle unless you can use the Verizon and AT&T-exclusive syncing features between your phone and your tablet, which also require a monthly subscription for every smartphone user. With Google Hangouts, the idea of tablet-calls comes close to perfect, so long as you have a solid Wi-Fi connection. If you can’t use your phone for whatever reason, Hangouts is a great choice—but it won’t replace your phone forever. And if you do choose to use your tablet as your standard day-to-day calling device, do yourself a big favor—invest in a good pair of earbuds with a built-in mic. You’ll thank us later.