In this feature, we look at some terrific apps for making free online phone calls using the iPhone. If you make many phone calls on your iPhone, it's worth taking the time to set up a free online phone service. Because the iPhone is a modern smartphone, apps can use the iPhone's persistent internet connection to make and receive free phone calls online.

This feature looks at the following:

  • What is the easiest way to make a free online phone call?
  • Which free online phone call apps offer the best audio quality?
  • What is the best app to install to make free phone calls when abroad?

Free online phone call services are officially known as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). Some VoIP services are well known, such as Skype, and some are up-and-coming, like WePhone.

With a VoIP app on your iPhone, you can make and receive free audio calls to people using the same app. All of these phone apps and services enable you to make free calls to anybody else using the same service, but each has its own special features. Some of them can also connect to a landline or mobile network to place regular phone calls; others are easy to set up, and some enable you to send free text messages. Each app in this feature is terrific in its own way, but which is the best free phone call app?

Placing a free audio call on the iPhone is ideal when you and the other person are in different countries. Placing overseas phone calls can be expensive, but with a good phone app you can place a call for free. Just be careful when you are abroad that you do not end up paying data roaming charges (because the phone call is over the internet it uses your data charge, and data can be expensive when you are overseas).

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1 FaceTime audio

FaceTime Audio for iPhone

If both you and your friend are using Apple devices, FaceTime's Audio Only mode is the easiest way to make free phone calls. You don't even need to install an app, since FaceTime is preinstalled on any iOS 7 device (and many earlier versions of iOS too, but the audio-only feature is only available on iOS 7). Follow these steps to place a free phone call using FaceTime:

  1. Tap on FaceTime and Contacts,
  2. Locate the person you want to call (use the Search box at the top to find them if your list is too long).
  3. Tap the FaceTime Audio icon (shaped like a phone).

You can chat to each other using FaceTime Audio just like you would with a normal phone call. On the FaceTime Audio display screen are icons for Mute, Speaker and Contacts, and you tap the red End FaceTime icon to finish the call.

See also: FaceTime Audio to come to Mac with OS X 10.9.2 Mavericks update

2 Skype

Skype for iPhone

Skype is a big name in free online phone calls. You can download the Skype app from the App Store and use Skype to place free phone calls to other Skype users. Skype has an advantage over FaceTime in that it can work with Skype on other devices, such as Android phones and non-Apple computers; Skype is therefore a more rounded service. Skype can also place calls to landlines and mobile phones, but for this you'll need to put credit on your Skype account.

Best for: Skype is best for people with lots of contacts worldwide.

See also: Skype review

3 Truphone

TruPhone for iPhone

Truphone is one of the leading rivals to Skype, and while it offers largely the same functionality it has a couple of neat features that make it worth investigating. Firstly Truphone uses intelligent routing to place the audio via Wi-Fi or Cellular (picking the best network for the call); this results in higher-quality audio conversations.

Truphone also offers a service called TruSIM that gives you a local number in countries where Truphone operates. TruSIM means you can place and receive phone calls using a local phone number, so other people can contact you by phone and pay local rates.

Best for: Truphone is probably the best choice for world travellers.

See also: Truphone for iPhone review

4 WePhone

WePhone for iPhone

WePhone is another good option for making free phone calls. It has similar features to other services here, but is easier to set up and use than any other service in the list. There's no registration service required, and you can add phone call credit as an In App Purchase.

WePhone is a lot cheaper than regular phone calls and you can record calls. Where things get odd is that you pay extra for higher audio quality, with a Standard, Gold and VIP service. But WePhone is an easy system to set up, so if you're looking for a service to make phone calls on a regular basis to non-tech savvy friends, then WePhone is a good option.

Best for: WePhone is best if you have non tech-savvy friends.

5 Viber

Viber for iPhone

Another free voice app to look at is Viber. Viber enables you to send texts and calls for free to other Viber users (the service claims over 200 million).

One neat thing about Viber is you can have extremely large group conversations with up to 100 people involved at once. Viber has also got a lot of quirky features like stickers and emoticons (Viber is aimed at a younger market). Viber is easy to use, and if you're trying to keep in touch with younger family members, or friends, this is a good way to make the conversations more fun.

Best for: Viber is best for keeping in touch with the kids.