Briiing briiing. It’s for you. It’s big savings. Technology has changed drastically over the years, but one thing that hasn’t changed is humanity’s love for nattering at each other over long distances. Email makes it easy and cheap to communicate with loved ones who are on the other side of the country, but nothing can take the place of a meaningful telephone call. But how do you make those calls without having to worry about the minutes ticking down and the dollars piling up? Thankfully, a number of new services let you make free phone calls online over the Internet.
The best way to get started: Familiarize yourself with some of the many ways to make calls at zero cost online, as all offer different features, technology and services. As an example, there are VoIP (Voice-Over IP) programs galore that let you perform unlimited PC-to-PC calls, as well as alternate solutions that allow for PC-to-phone connections, videoconfrencing or video chats, and a variety of apps and services that offer unique calling capabilities. Keep in mind that you may need to download software to make these calls, though the necessary programs are usually free. More importantly, some VoIP telephone services do not support emergency 911 calls, or connect to standard operator reference services. Whichever software you choose to make calls with, confirm that it supports 911 at the very least. If it doesn’t, you’ll want to consider keeping a land line handy for emergencies.
That said, if you’re looking to put pro bono calling capabilities on speed dial, here are five of the many ways that you can now make free phone calls on the Internet.
Google Voice – Google Voice can be used on any Web browser, and it’s also available as a stand-alone app for Android, Blackberry, and iPhone. Essentially, the call management service lets you sign up for one number that can ring all your lines (cell, home, office, etc.) and alternately lets you connect to a destination phone for free. However, calls are limited to three hours in length (after which you will be disconnected, but can simply connect again), and they’re only free as long as you call numbers based in the United States and Canada. If you call foreign countries outside of North America, you’ll be charged a per-minute fee.
Google Talk – Google Talk is a free browser plug-in that allows for unlimited PC-to-PC calls, and free PC-to-phone calls. If you want to make any kind of phone call via your PC, you need to have a microphone headset, which can be purchased at any electronics store.
iCall – With iCall’s software, you can make free calls from your PC to the recipient’s phone. The computer you call from can be located anywhere in the world, but in order for the call to remain free, the recipient must be in the United States or Canada. The program is very easy to use, though calls are limited to five minutes, and you must listen to a ten-second advertisement every time you re-connect.
Skype – Skype is probably the best-known name in VoIP technology. Many people have Skype accounts, which makes it easy to perform PC-to-PC calls. Skype is also great for videoconferencing and video calls, and it has a useful text-based Internet chat service.
FreeBuzzer – Unlike most programs let you make free phone calls over the Internet, FreeBuzzer doesn’t limit you to the United States and Canada: You can make free calls to over 40 countries by utilizing phone-connecting software that’s similar to Google Voice. Your calls are limited to a brief two minutes, and you can only make three free calls in a day, but FreeBuzzer is still a good option if you want to say a quick hello to an overseas friend. Also, the company’s mascot is a mosquito. Charming!
For more help with making free phone calls, visit:
As recently pointed out in a cheekily-named article for Inc. magazine, many of today’s top executive assistants can be found in the form of smartphone and tablet PC apps. And while there’s no replacement for the real deal – a great personal assistant is a rare and valuable find – it is worth noting: These iPhone, iPad and Android alternatives can help those on a budget, or hoping to manage their own appointments, tame their inborn ADD, or life’s increasingly hectic demands. Looking for the top apps to help you organize your work and life? Following is a brief excerpt of several recommended applications:
Tame the clutter of your professional life. Evernote lets you take virtual memos on-demand. You can store text, photos, voice recordings (even and add location tagging) and automatically synchronize updates across your computer, smartphone, and tablet. Keyword, tag, and text searches make for easy information retrieval.
A graphical organizer that lets you save notes, build to-do lists, and assign color-coded tags, fonts, icons, and backgrounds for more effective cataloguing and categorization. From travel itineraries to conference schedules, you can plot it all on a nicely-appointed calendar, and add photos, maps, sketches, and assorted images. You can also create folders and assign unique passwords for faster grouping and storage.
This popular list-making utility keeps you from forgetting tasks and outstanding action items. You can organize deliverables by priority or due date, and receive reminders via email, SMS, instant messenger, etc. Big plus: easy integration with mobile, Web, and desktop apps (Gmail, Google Calendar, Outlook, iCal, etc.) and synchronization across multiple devices.
For more, you can read the full article at Inc. magazine. And as a special exclusive for TechSavvy readers, you can also find more recommendations on the top organization apps for life and work at the following resources:
And remember – while there’s no replacing a real PA with a virtual stand-in, at least these options can tide you over as far as to-do and office shopping lists until you can locate or afford a good one.
Small Business Expert
Essential hints, tips & business advice for startups & entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses are increasingly turning to Apple’s popular iPad tablet PC as an alternative to traditional laptops. Given the mobile device’s gorgeous touchscreen display, user-friendly interface, and infinite selection of downloadable apps, which bestow the ability for the system to double as a growing range of gadgets, we can’t say we blame them. Of course, getting the most out of the gizmo often requires investing in some of the best iPad cases and accessories for businesses available out there as well – a point that shouldn’t be overlooked if you’re pondering adding the system to your IT budget.
Important to consider: While the iPad isn’t right for all businesses or industries, it can make a reasonable complement to or replacement for desktop and laptop systems in certain cases, meaning that it’s vital to consider your firm’s needs and high-tech usage patterns before buying. And, of course, recognize the device’s limitations, as its virtual keyboard, limited battery life and suite of software programs (in some cases less robust than those you’d enjoy on a traditional computer system) may not suit your company’s requirements. However, the following add-ons can help mitigate some of these issues, and bestow additional features onto the iPad, which may make the decision somewhat easier.
As you’ll see in our latest column for Inc. magazine, the range of iPad cases, accessories and add-ons continues to grow and expand in new directions – many highly beneficial for today’s business owner.
This leather carrying case has an integrated Bluetooth keyboard and folding kickstand. Beyond the obvious benefits of protecting your device and giving you a more comfortable way to type, it’s also elegantly designed. Heck, it’s even fashionable. Be prepared to pay for the style, however: Units don’t come cheap.
Digital cameras still produce better images than smartphones and tablets on average, especially under dimly-lit conditions. That’s why you might want to pick up this connection kit, which can import photos and videos onto the iPad via your camera’s USB cable or SD card. Support for JPEG and RAW images, and SD and HD video formats (H.264, MP4, etc.), make it especially handy for social media campaigns or those needing to capture low-light shots at product demos or events.
An all-in-one solution for mobile professionals, this “Bluetooth keyboard speaker system” (read: full-service workstation) provides a physical keypad, stereo speakers, and two USB ports for device charging. Using it, you can videoconference, play music while working, and recharge mobile gadgets all while you’re getting work done.
For more of the best iPad cases and accessories, please visit Inc. magazine.