FaceTime video chatting has long been a popular and very handy feature in iOS. The ability to keep up with family anywhere in the world, and all for free, has obvious advantages. But one often overlooked aspect of FaceTime is that of its audio function. This works in much the same way as video, but can be used to bolster the call minutes on your mobile phone tariff, and even turn your iPod touch into a mini iPhone. It also means you can essentiallly make phone calls on your iPad.

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What is FaceTime Audio?

This excellent feature allows your iPhone, iPad, Mac or iPod touch to make voice calls using WiFi, or over 3G/4G if your device has a data plan. This type of technology has been around for some time now, going under the name of VoIP (Voice over IP), but FaceTime is a flavour optimised for Apple customers. All you need is for FaceTime to be enabled on your device, and connected to the internet. You don’t even need to know someone’s phone number, as FaceTime can use an email address instead, so long as the recipient has the feature turned on.

Why should I use FaceTime?

Well, it’s free. That means you can save your phone’s call allowance minutes by talking via WiFi while at home, the office, or even in a coffee shop. As this is over the internet you can also call friends or family in other countries, on your mobile, without incurring an eye-watering bill (presuming you have enough data).

Call quality is better too, thanks to Apple using the AAC-ELD codec, which provides HD audio but at low bit-rates and with minimal latency. This means that voices sound richer when using FaceTime Audio as opposed to a regular phone signal. If you have an unlimited data plan you can also chat away while out and about, and there’s also the bonus that if you have an iPod Touch (5th generation) or at the very least an iPad 2, then you can make voice calls over WiFi using the device. Now your kids finally have the iPhone they always wanted. Sort of.

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What limitations does FaceTime Audio have?

As all of the conversations take place across the internet, you will of course need a steady connection, just as you would with a traditional call. It’s also wise to bear in mind that if your data plan has a limit you’ll need to keep a close eye on how long you’re talking when using 3G/4G, as you can eat through your rations quickly when using the feature regularly.

How do I make a FaceTime Audio call?

Enabling FaceTime Audio is very simple. In fact you might have done it already when you initially set up your device. To check, go to your contacts and find someone you know with an iPhone or iPad.

1. Look for a FaceTime option beneath their phone numbers, and then to the right of this should be two icons - a video camera and a phone.

2. Tap the phone and you’ll start a FaceTime Audio call. (If you tapped the camera icon here you would start a FaceTime video call).

You can also place a call via the FaceTime app. Open FaceTime

1. Open the FaceTime app

2. Click on Audio

3. Tap + to add a contact or use the search field to find the contact you wish to call

If FaceTime isn't set up on your device, the steps are very easy.

1. Simply go to Settings > FaceTime.

2. Enable FaceTime using the toggle switch. (You may have to wait a few seconds for activation, and approve the fact that you wish to associate the device with your FaceTime and iMessage).

3. Then select 'Use your Apple ID for FaceTime'.

4. Enter your details, tap Sign In

5. Next select which email and phone numbers you want people to contact you on when using the service. You can be contacted on FaceTime using your mobile number, but also email addresses. You can add a number of email addresses here and pick what you want to show up as your caller ID. 

Now, you've no excuse not to catch up with that distant relative. Oh, sorry.

See also: How to make phone calls on your Mac