Ringo, a new app for iOS, Android and Windows Phone, wants to be the new Skype — at least when it comes to international calling via smartphone. The app has potential and could be a money-saver, but it also has limitations.
Let’s say you have a close friend or business contact in the United Kingdom, and you live in the United States. You want to call your British bud on his smartphone regularly from your smartphone. Using Skype’s app and a Skype pay-as-you-go plan, you’d pay 8 cents a minute for this privilege. Skype also offers monthly calling plans, which are a better deal. A monthly calling plan to the United Kingdom, to reach either landline or mobile phones, costs $3.50 per month and includes 60 minutes. That works out to 3.5 cents per minute.
Calling your Brit friend’s mobile using Ringo would cost 6 cents per minute. No plan is required, or even offered.
Both options are cheaper than using many wireless carriers' international calling plans. With AT&T, for instance, you’d have to get a monthly European calling plan for $30/month, which includes 30 minutes — equaling $1 per minute. T-Mobile offers what’s probably the best deal among wireless carriers: you’d pay $15 per month for unlimited, international mobile-to-mobile calling.
But back to Ringo. The people you call don’t need to have the Ringo app installed on their devices. All they need is a landline or mobile phone number. Ringo doesn’t use the Internet to make calls, so it doesn’t tap into your data plan. However, it does use your plan's voice minutes. The app automatically assigns a local phone number to your British friend, so the calls you make from the United States only eat into your regular voice minutes; you don't need an international calling plan.
So if you’re using Ringo to call from the United States, all is good. However, if you went to the United Kingdom and used Ringo to call people back home, Ringo would still need to use cellular service. That means you’d need to pay your carrier’s international roaming calling rates. It also means Ringo is not the best option for calling home while traveling overseas.
Also worth noting: Ringo doesn’t have Skype’s geographic reach. Currently, Ringo is available in 16 countries. Skype says you can use it to call "all standard fixed and mobile numbers in the world," including satellite phones.
Ringo gives you a credit to try its service. In my tests, the call quality sounded just as good as a regular iPhone call on AT&T. The app is also easy to set up and use.
If you need to make frequent phone calls to people in one of Ringo’s 16 countries, and you want to do it from your smartphone, Ringo is worth a try. A monthly Skype is still probably a better option.