THE BLOG
07/30/2015 04:49 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2016

These Android Apps Make Ringing Smartphones Exciting Again

Mobile phones have evolved a lot from the time the first cellular phone was marketed in the 1980s. Smartphone users today prefer text and data-based applications, and voice-based communication has been relegated to the sidelines.

In fact, the top reason for owning a smartphone today is no longer to make or take calls, according to the PEW Research Center. A study on US smartphone use in 2015 found that the top uses for smartphones are text/instant messaging and Internet surfing. Voice and video calling only came in at the third spot, although calling is cited as the top choice of usage for those aged 50 and above.

One reason for the decline in popularity is the lack of significant improvements in the calling function of mobile phones. Text messaging, instant messaging, web browsing and other applications have undergone significant improvements: faster data transfers, support for rich text messages, and even IM-based money transfers. But voice is seen as a basic, even archaic, service

Enhancing the call function in smartphones might make it more attractive and significant as a productivity enhancer. After all, voice communication still has its place in the business setting, where clarity, context and speed are essential. To enhance the calling experience, smartphone users can take advantage of a few Android apps that can add value to the humble phone call. These might just bring back the excitement to every ring.

Yallo

Yallo makes any Android device carry your registered number regardless of where your SIM card is, basically allowing you to maintain the identity associated with your phone number. It also allows you to make or receive calls even if you don't have cellular coverage; as long as you have an Internet connection via Wi-Fi, you can make and receive calls.

Because you can also "roam" using Wi-Fi networks, it can eliminate the need to subscribe to roaming plans when traveling. This comes with the added advantage of being able to switch seamlessly between cellular and Wi-Fi to prevent your call from getting disconnected. Yallo also comes in handy when you run out of battery. Just login from another smartphone or tablet and you can call and text again on that device as if it were your phone.

Perhaps what's more interesting with Yallo is how the app allows you to type in messages as you attempt to call someone, so that the person you are ringing can know the context of your call in advance. The app also comes with the interesting "one click group call" feature that can make use of already existing groups you have created on your smartphone, as well as a call record function, which saves your conversation for future reference.

Current Caller ID

Another great app for enhancing a phone's call function is Current Caller ID. As the name implies, it is designed to enhance the caller ID screen that appears during incoming calls. Instead of simply showing the name (or number) and photo of the caller, this app shows additional information about or related to the caller.

Current Caller ID can show a caller's last status update on Facebook, last tweet, as well as LinkedIn updates. It can also show weather forecasts in the area of the person making a call.

Finally, it can produce a series of graphs that show call-related statistics for a given contact and can also provide notifications when the user has not been in contact with anyone for a long time.

CallHeads

One inherent disadvantage of receiving phone calls on a smartphone is how you are notified. Because a smartphone will prioritize an incoming call over everything else, it assumes all calls are urgent, to the extent of giving you a full-screen notification that does not end unless you answer or reject a call.

This can be problematic when you are playing your favorite smartphone game or reading emails or documents. The solution: CallHeads.

Instead of getting an intrusive full-screen notification, calls appear as bubbles (similar to the Chat Heads feature on Facebook Messenger). The app also provides a means to handle calls better. Apart from letting you accept or decline a call, you can also choose to postpone it or pick up a few seconds after.

Zello

If group communication is more important than one-on-one calls, then PTT - or push-to-talk - applications will best suit your needs. Zello is among the more popular choices among both casual and business users. The app provides both one-on-one conversations and group channel calls, all utilizing PTT functionality. This is reminiscent of walkie-talkies, which can be both fun and productive.

The channel feature lets users voice chat with others who share the same interests. With a premium offering, Zello for Business users can use group channels to coordinate events and activities. Families can also use the free app to chat on a group basis.

Context has apparently become the new buzzword for communication and social media. Facebook has just announced the deployment of a context-supplying feature for Facebook Messenger through Caller ID. It provides more information about the caller to orient the recipient of a call about the possible reason for the call. This ability to add context to phone calls is not a big leap in mobile calling technology, but it's a welcome one.

The rest of the supplementing features, from call recording to the seamless switching between cellular and Wi-Fi, and group talking with PTT, create advantages especially when it comes to productivity. Users appreciate that these features can be easily added to their smartphones through app downloads. Context, group calling and even call recording can be handy features in the connected workplace, especially for professionals or workers who are in remote work settings.