Android Calling Card: slash your long-distance bills without having to dial a zillion numbers

I've had an Android G1 phone since late October (verdict: I hate it less than other phones). There are plenty of useful/fun apps in the Android Market, but today I downloaded my first game-changing app: Android Calling Card, which auto-dials any cheapo calling card you buy down at the corner store, and the PIN, and then any number from your address book, automagically. It supports multiple cards (the cornershop card-array is very country specific -- Eastern Europe, USA, China, and other nations all have their own cards) and unobtrusively shims itself into the phone's built-in dialer app.

I just used it for an hour-long overseas conference-call -- the kind of thing that used to cost me £20 or £30 -- and the total cost was £0.51! I hate how the mobile carriers gouge on long-distance, so I get a grim feeling of satisfaction knowing that I'm depriving Orange UK of the gigantic sums it used to charge me for staying in touch with people elsewhere (of course, I'm also pissed at Orange because an operator named Colin boneheadedly kept on insisting that I'd somehow used 37GB of bandwidth last month with my phone's 3G networking -- something that would require me to watch YouTube 24/7 every day of the month to even approach!).

I can't see any reason why this app wouldn't work when I'm roaming in other countries (I have a T-Mobile SIM I use when I'm in the US) -- I'd just have to drop a buck or two on a local calling-card to work with it.

Android Calling Card


  1. Good grief Cory – if you’d used 37 gigs of webbage on a ThiefMobile contract whilst abroad in Europe on a UK contract at 2008 prices you’d owe them $377,000 (three hundred and seventy seven thousand dollars). I’m not kidding.

  2. Allow me to *shamelessly* plug my own app, which aims to nix the overage charges so many of us are sucker-punched with, just for exceeding one’s paid minutes.

    “TimeCop” watches your trend of calls to make predictions, and if you are likely to go over what you pay for, it jumps up into your notification bar and tells you to curb your usage.

    I don’t know how universal our phone plans are, so UK bill schemes aren’t necessarily supported yet. (You pay for outgoing only, perhaps? I don’t know. But if you tell me, I can add it as an option to TimeCop.)

    Anyway, it costs a buck, and at the usual overage rate of 40 cents per minute, it would pay for itself easily.

    It’s in the Android Market.

  3. This doesn’t seem all that different from Skype To Go…in fact, if you already have a Skype account (who doesn’t?), you can save yourself the hassle of going to the 7-11 and trying to decide on phone cards. Best part, it works on any cell phone and the call clarity is perfect.

  4. You can do something similar with grandcentral. I think you can call out of the country for free with it (at least while it’s in beta), and there is an android app.

    I got the fave5 cheapie plan and added the grandcentral number to my fav list. The cool thing here is it gives you unlimited minutes since all calls go through the grandcentral account.

  5. Hey Mopey, screw you for getting into the closed beta! Don’t take it too personally, I had a gmail account about 6 months before they were generally available (got my invite directly from a gmail developer), and I got my share of screw yous then.

    But I’ve been on the GrandCentral “notify me when…” list for, like, 3 years!!

  6. I’ve been using the same MCI “calling card” on my landline for years. (Don’t have a cellphone.)

    One or twice a month, I drop the minimum amount on it via any TouchTone phone. The rate is ~3 cents a minute. Currently, with fees and taxes, the minimum is ~US$13.00

    Sure, I have to dial an 800 number and then a PIN.

    That’s what the old Western Electric TouchTone Touch-A-Matic automatic dialer is for.

    I seldom (like 2-3 times a year) need to reload the card more than once a month.

    Congrats to Cory for sticking it to Orange and for spreading the word about the Android App.

  7. sony ericsson phones used to have this feature built in. at least, my retroriffic t300 did. you dialed your number, held down the “call” key for 2 seconds, and it would know you wanted to use a prepaid card. you had a choice of two that could be store, iirc.

    my current one, the w760a, doesn’t seem to.

  8. I never knew why build in calling card support got dropped from mobiles. By far the best was my old Nokia 3360 which let me program up to three calling cards and would know I wanted to use one just by holding down the call button for an extra second.

    Next, I had a Sony Z600 which supported only one calling card, and that was annoying because I frequently travelled between several cities, but I lived with it.

    My next three phones, a Razr, an HTC Dash, and now my iPhone all do not support calling cards. I have to program my long distance calling code into each contact, and it breaks when I’m travelling local to them or when the caller ID needs to be found in the phone book.

    I don’t understand why such a great feature – one that isn’t hard to implement – is not available on advanced phones but is available on ancient budget models. It costs the networks money but it certainly doesn’t hurt the developers of phone operating systems.

  9. #1 Patrick, he lives in London. So Orange would be his home network. He keeps that T-Mobile SIM for when he goes to the US.

    #2 Chad, IINM only Americans pays for outgoing AND incoming calls. In most other places, you only pay for outgoing calls.

    #7 Chris, a calling card with a monthly minimum … !???

  10. @Danial (10):
    Wait, you’re saying that in the US one has to pay for incoming calls on mobiles? I’d heard about paying for incoming texts and just about wrapped my head around it, but calls too? That’s insane. Are the outgoing call charges practically free to make up for it?

    How does that work, though? For example, I have a contract in the UK that gives me a certain number of pre-paid outgoing minutes, texts and data per month that work out to be very cheap; anything exceeding this gets charged at the normal rates.* I assume you have similar deals in the US, so do they include pre-paying for a package of incoming calls and texts at a cheaper rate? Or do you just get that bill at the end of the month?

    Actually, mobile phone in the USA fascinate me. I’ve heard rumours of crazy stuff like most phones not letting you set your own wallpapers, or not being able to transfer your own .mp3s onto the phone over USB to listen to or use as ringtones so you’ll be forced to buy your phone provider’s wallpapers/music. Is any of this stuff true or just hyperbole? I’d be slightly astonished if the USA was so far behind Europe (and pretty much the rest of the developed world) in that regard.

    *Cynics might like to say “reasonable” instead of “very cheap” and “inflated costs” instead of “normal rates”.

  11. #11, Bugs:

    In the US, telephony is pretty different than most places. On land lines, we pay a flat rate for local calls. N bucks gets you unlimited calls to anyone in the local calling area, which is usually the city you’re in and the few around it. Outside that, the caller pays to reach someone far away.

    At the carrier level, the telephone company that initiates the call pays money to the company that terminates the call, so there’s flow of money behind the scenes that we never see, but we cause.

    For mobile phones, most people agree to a contract for some amount of time (1 or 2 years), to pay some amount like per month (not including taxes, another US$10 about) for some amount of time. US$45 per month gets you a few hundred minutes of daytime usage. (It also subsidizes the cost of the phone, which are discounted about US$200 or 300.) Calls during nights and weekends (almost always) do not count.

    For calls during weekday daylight, any call at all, whether you initiate it or receive it, count toward the amount you paid for, and it costs the same regardless of where you are calling, unless it’s international.

    For SMS they charge both ways, incoming and outgoing. (There are no costless times for those.)

    So, a common mobile bill:

    $45 for 5 hours max daytime&weekday calls
    $5 for 400 max SMS messages
    $13 in tax

    after that,

    $0.40 per minute for daytime&weekday calls
    $0.10 per SMS
    $0.25 per MMS

  12. Using automated calling cards becomes really ‘game-changing’ when you use them to get unlimited calling. The trick is to pair an ‘unlimited incoming’ plan with a ‘call-back’ phone card.
    For $25/mo + $3.95/mo, you’ve got unlimited calling.

    I would point out that these programs are available for Windows Mobile devices as well, such as “Calling Card” by Sunnysoft.

  13. Doesn’t this app just introduce pauses/waits etc.

    Blackberry has a feature built-in to introduce pauses/waits in a phone number, so you would program in the 1800 number + cc number + pin + phone number to call.

    I’m surprised Andriod doesn’t have this feature?
    I dont think iphones do though.

    This is really handy for all those conference call you have to attend also.

  14. Chad – Thanks! That sounds very similar to what we have here. Most landlines have unlimited local (or sometimes national) calls to other landlines as a relatively cheap add-on. Given the size of your country, it makes sense that you handle long distance calls slightly differently than us :D.

    The only difference in the mobile services seems to be that we don’t get charged for incoming calls or texts. Presumably if you go over your allotment, you get charged for the incoming minutes?

    What about customisation of phones? Here a subsidised phone is “locked” to the provider who sold you the phone + contract. Unlocking for use on another network is technically illegal, but plenty of small shops openly advertise the service.

    For ringtones, wallpapers, etc. here it’s trivial to transfer an .mp3 or picture from your PC to the phone by USB (most that I’ve seen just show up as mass storage devices) and use those. I’ve read that this is blocked in US phones, and instead you need to get your carrier to sell them to you. Is this true?

  15. #16, Bugs,

    Yes, for mobile, if we go over the allotment we choose/pay-for, we get billed regardless of the direction.

    Our phones are often locked to work with that carrier only, but most carriers will unlock it if you ask them to, after the legal grace period is well over. (You’re legally entitled to return a phone and abandon the contract at all within the first few weeks.)

    Phones crippled intentionally by the carrier are rare, but do exist. They’re usually the ones that appear to be free. My last three phones, spanning a decade, all mount as USB Mass Storage devices. Two had good Bluetooth-profile coverage. (My current, an Android phone, has only one profile so far.)

    It’s also worth keeping in mind that the carriers buy the phones from the manufacturer, not we users, so we are generally oblivious to what phones *could* do, and the 18 or so phone models that the carrier has may as well be all the phones in the world. Americans would be astonished at Japanese or European mobile tech. I’m sure many people here wake up at 3AM with the Big Idea that the phone could talk to the computer, and later discover that .eu had that in 1997.

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