Of the two communication apps that Google announced at I/O, Duo surely seemed like the less interesting one. Video calls have been done again and again, and by now, if you have someone you want to talk to and see at the same time, odds are you already have your preferred way of doing that. But my last few days with Duo have shown me another side to the story. Duo isn't trying to revolutionize video calls, it just wants to approach them from a more modern perspective, one that builds on our smartphone-carrying habits, our needs for immediacy, and our disdain for complexity.
This week's updates are rolling out and Google Maps is among the first to bring something new to the screen. Version 9.20 doesn't seem to have any huge features, but there are some very notable improvements. A shortcut has been added to the Timeline to allow for quickly adding a place to your history, there's now a setting to control whether turn-by-turn instructions are given during voice calls, and Maps will now pair your reviews with any pictures you've submitted.
Placing a voice call over Google Hangouts is a nice way to save some money. If you and another user both rely on the service, you can start chatting with anyone regardless of where they live. But placing a call to a traditional phone number comes with a few more restrictions.
On the positive side, Google has announced that it's loosening a major one for users in India. Now residents there can place international voice calls using Hangouts.
While Indians can place calls to whichever countries they choose, only those placed to the US or Canada are free. Yet that alone makes the service a good option for the many people who need to stay in touch with family, friends, and co-workers in North America and the Indian subcontinent.
Good news if you make a lot of short calls overseas. Google had started offering the first minute of Hangouts calls to 25 countries at no charge. It only lasts through the end of 2014, but that's still not a bad deal.
Verizon pre-announced its VoLTE service a few weeks ago, but now it's rolling out. Customers can finally start taking advantage of VoLTE calling starting today—that assumes people still make phone calls, which is debatable. You need to have a supported device of course, and there are still a few caveats.
Nearly every phone sold in the last few years has a 4G LTE radio, but when you place a call it's still falling back to traditional 3G technologies. The all-IP voice technology known as VoLTE (voice over LTE) is still in the early days, but AT&T is beginning its rollout this very month on May 23rd.
Now that Facebook has paid $19 billion for WhatsApp, what's next for the mobile messaging app? Voice calls, apparently. According to TechCrunch, WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum announced the upcoming feature at Mobile World Congress earlier today. With this new functionality, the app will even more directly compete with the likes of Skype, KakaoTalk, Line, and Viber. Though, without video support, it still won't be an all-encompassing solution just yet.
Voice calls will be different from the voice messaging that WhatsApp already offers. The latter feature essentially functions as an audio text message, not anything remotely resembling a live conversation.
Looking to save a few bucks by using VoIP apps instead of voice minutes? I hear you. It's not exactly difficult to find a plan offering unlimited talk, but with a new Sprint MVNO popping up every couple of weeks and such affordable deals as T-Mobile's $30 5GB prepaid plan still lingering around, it's worth taking a look at cheaper options. Viber's latest update has rolled out, doing its part to make transitioning to VoIP all the more attractive.
Viber 4.0 comes with support for Android tablets, allowing users to more comfortably bounce back and forth between multiple devices. It also rolls out new instant voice messaging, which lets users hold down a button to speak outside of calls.
Facebook has been on a real push to take over users' phones as of late, with Facebook Home, Chat Heads, and updates to its official and Messenger apps. Today, it goes a step further, offering full, free voice calls to US users. This is the same feature that rolled out to Canadian users late last month.
The service requires Facebook Messenger to be installed (naturally) – to initiate a call, simply head into your contact list, open a message, and hit the "I" in the top-right corner. You should see an option for "Free Call" in the list; if it's white, the users can receive a call.
While there are advancements in almost every aspect of smartphones on a nearly daily basis, there is one area in which phones have seemingly been the same for years: voice calls. More specifically, call quality. Sure, we have nifty tools like VoIP and the like, but, overall, the quality of conversation whilst talking on a mobile network could use some oomph.
That's exactly what Fraunhofer IIS, looks to bring to the table at Mobile World Congress next week. This advancement in voice calls allows for full-HD quality, will run completely in a VoLTE (voice-over-LTE) environment, and sounds absolutely incredible. It sounds as if you're in the same room with the person with whom you're speaking.