Pretty much everything's a cross-platform app these days, with one exception: phone calls and texts, which are still (irritatingly) bound to this stupid handset thing. Finally, though, one network is pulling its head out of the sand and doing something about it, with an awesome app that lets you make proper phone calls from pretty much anything with an internet connection.
A service that lets O2 Pay Monthly customers make phone calls and send texts as if they're coming from their phone, but from pretty much any smart device with an internet connection.
First, you associate your phone number with a TU Go account. (I know, terrible name, but get past it. It's worth it.) Then, download the TU Go app for one of the compatible devices (iOS, Android or Windows at the moment, but others in the works). Enter in your account details, and hey presto, you can send and receive calls, texts and voicemail from a device that isn't a phone. And this isn't some kind of Skype service -- the calls and texts are 'coming' from the O2 phone number, and if you call or text the phone number, it'll route through to any devices running the app. The phone calls and texts are pushed straight from O2's servers to the device, rather than using some kind of workaround like MightyText-style services are forced to.
An iPad can be a phone. An iPod Touch can be a phone. Your crappy desktop PC can be a phone. Frankly, if it's got a data connection, a microphone and the TU Go app, you can use it as a phone. That means that you don't have to keep a handset constantly by your side -- as long as you're connected to the internet, you can make and receive calls.
In a nutshell, it's moving one giant step closer to making phone calls and texts just another app or service that you have on your device, which is the way it should be. Cross-platform messaging services are nothing new, so in a way, this is just SMS trying to make itself relevant again in the era of iMessage and WhatsApp.
In our tests, the system has worked pretty well. You can have the app installed on as many devices as you want (including the phone that has the original O2 SIM in it); you're limited to having five devices signed in at once, but that's not really a limit, is it?
Once the app is installed, each device will make and receive calls and texts wherever it's got a data connection. Texts sent as quickly from the app as from an actual phone, and real-life calls were only a second or two slower to get through to the app than the SIM-wielding handset.
You don't need to have the original phone, the one with the SIM, turned on or connected to the network for this to work. This means you can text and call over Wi-Fi, even when you don't have reception. Bye-bye femtocells (remember them?).
No OS X, Windows Phone or Blackberry. Bummer. Still, O2's promising future apps for those platforms, so we can live in hope.
Also, I'm worried this may encourage people to wander around yapping into their tablets. Let's just establish some ground rules: in public, Bluetooth headsets are fine, but if you try to take a call holding your 7-incher to your ear, you're fair game for a lynch mob.
- Phone calls and messages all appear in the app, not your default messaging or phone log. It's a bit annoying, but hey, life's short, this is free and revolutionary, so man up and stop whining, cry-baby.
- If you call the number, all the devices will light up in some kind of eerie O2-powered symphony of telephonic doom.
- Calling and texting uses up your allowance. But hey, no one actually uses their minute allowance anyway, right?
- Call quality is happily as good as a normal voice call.
- O2 have promised that just an EDGE connection is enough to make calls work. According to anecdotal evidence, that seems to be true.
- You can install the app on another smartphone, and use it as you would a dual-SIM phone. For people who have to carry round a work phone and a personal phone (yes, they do exist, and I've even seen them in the wild), this is pretty killer.
- The interface for smarphones is fine, but the tablet and desktop interfaces kinda blow. Still, it's early days, so there's a good chance O2 will upgrade those to something a little more 21st century.
This is normally the bit in the review where we umm and err and hedge and compare competitor products and pussyfoot around the price. But, if you've got an O2 contract, it's free, so go download it right the hell now. If you're not on O2? Mark the day your current contract ends, 'cos this is almost worth switching networks for.