Use your iPhone or Android as a walkie-talkie
With most people carrying around Smartphones these days we have many ways to communicate. There's email, SMS, chat, video chat, Twitter, Skype, Facebook and the archaic voice calls. So much of our communication is now done through text that some analysts fear we will eventually experience a societal loss of voice communication skills. But who wants to talk when you can text?
Instant voice communication or "push to talk" (PTT) technology is one option, and it's available on some mobile networks. If your phone or network doesn't include this feature, wouldn't it be great if there was a way to do it, especially if it was free?
Two great apps available for the iPhone and Android, HeyTell and TiKL, provide this feature and basically turn your phone into a high-tech walkie-talkie for cross-platform communication. I tested both using an iPhone 4 running iOS 4.2.1 and a Samsung Galaxy Tab running Android 2.2. The voice communication was quick and clear with both apps. Both have the same basic features, both are free with ads running in the app. They HeyTell app, however, has an expanded feature set with the ability to purchases more features from within the app.
The HeyTell app has a clean interface with minimal ad intrusion. When you launch the app you'll be asked to register using a phone number or email address and you can choose to enable push notifications and location awareness. To make your first "radio call" you need to add someone to your contact list. You can do this by choosing someone from your contacts or using built-in Facebook contact integration. When adding a contact you can send them an invitation via SMS or email, and they will receive a link to download the app and also a direct link to connect and begin the conversation.
Once connected, you simply push the orange "HOLD AND SPEAK" button and talk. Your message is recorded and transmits almost immediately to the receiver. The audio quality is excellent and sounds better than a normal voice call. You can use the speaker on your phone for the walkie-talkie experience or you can use the normal earpiece or a headset. During your conversation you have two views from which to choose. The Recent Conversation view shows a list of recent contacts and calls, and you can go back and listen to individual recordings later. This is great if someone gives you directions or a phone number.
In map view you see a Google map with pins marking your location and the last recorded location of the person with whom you're speaking (if they have locations enabled). The map can be resized and moved within the app using the normal finger strokes for your device.
Once you make contact with someone you can save them to a Favorites list and also can block unwanted contacts. For account privacy you can choose from three levels:
- Low - Anyone who knows your email address or phone number can contact you
- Medium - Only your friends and their friends can contact you
- High - Only friends and people you contact or invite can contact you
Additional features can be purchased from within the app and they include a Voice Changer, Emoji icons, Message Wipe, and a Group Broadcast feature. The Group Broadcast is one feature that can make HeyTell function much in the same way traditional walkie talkies do and will work with up to 25 people.
For the most part TiKL works in the same was as HeyTell. The interface isn't as clean and it has ads running at the top and bottom of the app. You select contacts the same way, using phone contacts or through Facebook integration and you can save Favorites for future communication. Pushing the Invite button on the iOS version of the app generates a text message with a link to the app. On the Android the Invite button gives you choices to share a web camera and through Bluetooth, Facebook, Gmail, SMS, and Twitter.
You make a connection by pushing the large icon of a person speaking. Both people will then hear a tone that sounds like a doorbell and the screen background will turn red, indicating an open connection. Each time you transmit the app makes a high-pitched "chirp" noise. This can't be turned off in the iOS version but in the Android version you can turn off the chirp, enable vibrate notifications and assign custom ring tones.
TiKL does not have a map feature and it does not record conversations for later playback. It also does not provide for a way to block unwanted contacts and there are no varying levels of privacy. Group calling is supported, however, without an add-on purchase. The voice quality is slightly better than that in HeyTell and the delay seemed slightly shorter in my tests. The app was very stable on the iPhone but crashed several times on the Galaxy Tab.
Which one works best?
I have a set of FRS radios that I use when at events and when traveling with my MINI Cooper friends. Although the radios are rated to work at ranges up to 18 miles, they barely work at one mile apart, so I welcome this functionality on my iPhone. Having this feature to use across the iPhone and Android platforms makes it even better.
Both these apps work very well providing instant voice communication and that walkie-talkie experience. The HeyTell app offers more features, more polish and the ability to add extra features making it the better choice on both platforms.