I’m learning that access to the internet while cruising is much more widely available than I initially believed. At first, I thought we’d set off cruising and once we’re beyond cell tower range in the United States we’d be “off the grid” as far as internet access goes. Thankfully I was wrong with that line of thought. I follow several sailing blogs and almost all mention fairly reliable internet access at popular cruising locations.
This obviously is great for being able to maintain sailing blogs and keep updated locations and such, but what about actually keeping in touch with close friends and family? We’re gonna be setting off on our own shortly after our kids graduate from high school, so we’ll still want to maintain contact with them and other family members. Phone calls, internet chat, video calls? I started wondering what’s the best way to make any or all of these happen, so some research ensued.
Google Voice [http://google.com/voice/]
Currently, I use Google Voice for making calls. I’ve used the service for years…since it was released, in fact, so I’m most familiar with this method.
First, you must sign up with a US-based telephone. After doing this, you’ll have a Google Voice phone number. With this number you can now use the internet and various smartphone apps [through WiFi] to make and receive phone calls. If everything I’ve read is true, with this setup you can call TO the US or Canada from anywhere in the world free of charge while on WiFi. You can also receive calls FROM the US for free. Free for those calling you from the US also since you’ve got a US number.
Google Voice can be used through cell coverage on 3G/4G anywhere, but I’ll focus on WiFi usage here since using cell service outside the US will cost. Granted, they’re low rates, but using the service through WiFi is free, not just cheap.
Easy: Use Google Voice on your cellphone [doesn't have to be activated with cell service] with an app called Groove IP. This app is specifically for Android phones, but I’m sure there’s a similar version if you’ve got an iPhone. With this app, you can make and receive phone calls via WiFi on your cellphone using your Google Voice number. This will work with Android phone or tablet as long as it’s WiFi-capable.
Easier: Connect to WiFi anywhere in the world and log in with your Google account. Open your Gmail and make a call straight from there.
Sometimes you may have to use an IP masker [small program you load on your laptop] to hide the fact that you’re not in the United States, but I’ve read that you don’t always need that; it really depends on which country you’re in, apparently.
I’ve actually only used Skype a couple of times. For the most part, after the complicated setup, it was fairly intuitive and got the job done. What I didn’t like most about Skype was having to download and install the program on my computer. I prefer having a more simplified experience by using internet-based services instead of having to install software. Granted, it’s much easier to install and use Skype on tablets and smartphones, but I’ve only used the PC-based version so far.
Skype is a phone, text and video messaging service. It’s cross-platform, so you don’t have to have the same operating system as the person [or people] you’re talking to. Skype is free to use if you’re contacting someone else on Skype, but if you call someone who doesn’t use Skype, it’ll cost you. For a fee, you can have video chats with multiple people, send text messages and call mobile and landline phones.
As I mentioned before, I’ve only used Skype a couple of times, so I’m not too familiar with everything about it. Maybe a reader has more information to put in comments?
WhatsApp is a neat little app I found while researching all this. I’ve never used it, but it seems like a very easy method of keeping in touch via text message between mobile phones. It’s cross-platform as well, so it doesn’t matter what the recipient is using. Apparently it’s a free service that allows you to bypass SMS charges since it’s uses data instead of cell service. There’s a one-time fee at purchase for iPhones, but for all other phones the app is free. After one year of free use, it costs a whopping 99 cents [USD] to subscribe for another year.
Hook up to the internet via WiFi, fire this app up and you’re good to go. It’s available for Android, iPhone, Blackberry, Nokia and Windows phones. If anyone out there has used this, please let me know your thoughts on it.
Google+ Hangouts [http://plus.google.com/hangouts]
Google+ Hangouts are a great way to stay in contact with friends and family. After doing more research on this, I think this option is easier and probably a higher quality contact since it’s essentially a video chat. One of the great things about Google+ Hangouts, though, is that you can have up to nine people in your video chat! As with Google Voice, you must have a Google account to take advantage of this service.
Using Google+ Hangouts is extremely easy and can be used anywhere in the world for free via the internet. Simply go to the website and click “Start a Hangout.” It’s that easy. Google+ Hangouts work on mobile phones, tablets and computers/laptops. One thing to keep in mind with this option is that it’s all cross-platform. People in the Hangout can be on Android phones, iPads, iPhones, PC computers and/or Mac. It’s hassle-free, easy setup, and extremely intuitive. Very good user experience!
These are just a few methods of keeping in touch while cruising, I’m sure there’s numerous more.
How do you maintain contact while out enjoying the cruising life?