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ipad V7 case

Use iPad as a Phone – Tools, Tips, and Tricks

Want to buy a new iPad Air / iPad Pro and pay nothing for it? Kill your voice service. It’s possible — right now.

Are you wondering how much more you could accomplish on the road if you just used an iPad instead of just a phone or bulky computer? Are you a digital nomad and just want the most lightweight solution with flexible calling features offered by Google Voice?

Phone plans can be expensive, especially post paid plans that tie you to a new device to reduce the cost. Like most things, data service plans are cheaper if you can pre-pay with cash upfront.

Using an iPad as a phone will vary in cost. The cheapest method involves just using any available WiFi connection and using Google Voice or FaceTime Audio. If you have a post-paid phone plan, you can spend more for the convenience of using your cell phone plan with your iPad. I’ll explain in more detail below.

Next year, I’m thinking of ditching the iPhone and just carrying an iPad. The iPad Airs and Pros are much smaller and lighter than they used to be. Plus, if you do carry a laptop as well, you can now use the iPad as a second display (using Apple’s Sidecar feature)! Here’s how I plan to accomplish using an iPad as a phone / primary device:

NEW! Hear my audio commentary about using an iPad as a phone:

New! The iPhone (8 Plus / XR / iPhone 11) has a 5.5-inch screen and some landscape User Interface views not available on the smaller / older iPhones. If you are looking into getting an iPad it might be a viable alternative.

iPads Can Now Make / Receive Regular Phone Calls (with an iPhone Nearby OR Post-paid phone plan)

With the introduction of iOS 8 iPads (and Macs) can make and receive calls through an available iPhone connection. If you want to keep your iPhone and just want calling features on the iPad, this is now available. It works great too. When you get a call on your iPhone, your iPad will also ring. You can talk through the mic on the iPad. You can also make calls using the Contacts app on the iPad. Pretty handy. You MUST be using Wifi for this to work.

If you have a post-paid phone plan you can use the “Add WiFi Calling For Other Devices” setting (under Cellular – > WiFi Calling setting in the iPhone settings app) to receive calls on your iPad without the phone being nearby.

The iPad Vertical Messenger Bag Matters

What's in my bag - iPad, Apple Earbuds, small messenger bag

Mid-size messenger bag… not great for everyday use… pretty bulky

I purchased a light vertical messenger bag and it’s perfect for carrying an iPad plus a few other things like business cards, earbuds, and a phone. You can see how much smaller it is compared to a normal / mid-size bag. The light vertical messenger bag has a nice durable canvas material (kind of like outdoor tent material) and in gray it’s really stylish with black accents. It also comes in black. Plus, it’s only $22.

Small vertical messenger bag for iPad
V7 Small vertical messenger bag for iPad is great for everyday use – light, not bulky

Remove Voice Plan – Mobile Phones

Removing the regular voice service should save me around $50 / month. This will pay for a new iPad Air just in the first year. Plus, the audio quality will be better using FaceTime Audio / Google Voice / Hangouts instead of cellular voice. Plus, iPads have much better battery life than iPhones.

Google Voice App – use to make free calls

Google Voice App – use to make free calls
Facetime Audio

Google Voice has some handy features like voicemail transcription and call & text message forwarding. It can send received text messages through email as well.

Disadvantages of Using iPad as iPhone

There are a few thing you lose, but I am willing to make some sacrifices.

  • Portability
  • Better camera present in iPhone (the iPad camera isn’t bad – but certain models don’t have a Flash or multiple lenses)
  • No vibration feature (used for some games as well as receiving calls)
  • True 911 services (I’m looking into alternatives)
  • Can’t work with an Apple Watch (at least not yet)

What To Do With an Old iPhone?

IPhones have wifi built-in, so you can still make and receive calls using the Google Voice app. Also, you can activate the hotspot functionality on the iPad and take the iPhone with you when you go places. It should work within 30 feet or so of the iPad.

If you don’t want that old iPhone you could sell it on eBay, give it to a family member, or trade it in at a department store like Walmart, Target, or even the Apple store. I think retailers are getting smarter in their thinking that users want the latest tech and the old tech needs to be unloaded in a way that gives some value to existing customers.

The camera on the iPhone 7/8/X/11 is usually better than an iPad, so you may want to keep it around just as a camera. Plus, iPhones make pretty good iPods for night-time listening.

People have mentioned that you can make emergency calls with deactivated iPhones. You may want to see if this is the case and keep that old iPhone for 911 service.

Still Not Sure You Want to Use Your iPad as a Phone? New Options From AT&T

If all this seems like too much for you, AT&T is making it cheaper to keep your existing iPhone after your contract expires. Stiff competition is lowering costs a bit. Verizon also offers cheaper prepaid plans, as long as you own your device outright or pay for it in full. Prepaid service plans are the way to go in my opinion.

FAQs

Can I use the iPad as a phone?

Yes, you can use the iPad as a phone to make calls while connected to Wifi with a third-party service like Google Voice or with a post-paid phone plan and “Add WiFi Calling For Other Devices” setting enabled on iPhone.

How do I use iPad as phone?

Simply open the Google Voice app and dial the number or use the built-in iOS Contacts App and click the phone icon for the contact you want to call.

How much does it cost to use an iPad as a phone?

Using FaceTime audio for iOS devices is free. To call numbers in the U.S. is also free using Google Voice. Getting calls to your iPad from a number you share with your iPhone requires a post-paid phone plan when you are using your iPad away from your iPhone (for example, you go on vacation and decide not to take your iPhone).

How is the audio quality when using the iPad as a phone?

Since the calls go over data networks, if you have good stable internet connection the calls will sound excellent.

Can I use my iPad as phone with my phone SIM card?

No.

Does the built-in iPad SIM card allow me to make calls?

No. It only allows data on the cellular network.

Can I text from my iPad [iPad (WiFi + Cellular)]?

You can receive texts using third party apps like Google Voice. If your friends mostly use iMessage you can use that as your texting platform and use your email address as your ID / sent from Phone number. Also, if you have a post-paid phone plan you can use that to forward messages to your iPad.

Can I make an iPad a primary device / phone?

I think so. It takes a little work, but I think going minimal will help clear your mind and may help you focus.

Do you have any tricks for using an iPad?

To save the most money simply use WiFi and make calls to other contacts using FaceTime audio, as long as your contact also has a Mac / iOS device. That is the simplest and cheapest way. For regular calls, use Google Voice.

Want to Use an iPad as a Phone but Don’t Care About Cost?

If you have an iPhone and voice plan already and want to use the iPad as a phone, you can. Newer iPads can be configured to link to your phone number. So when someone calls your iPhone voice number, it will ring your iPad wherever you are. Not just on the same network. If cost is not an issue for you, this is the best option. Note that you won’t get voicemails – you need to call your voice number and use the keypad to get your voice messages. You can’t use this method on prepaid plans. It must be a post-paid plan.

If you have a post-paid phone plan you can use the “Add WiFi Calling For Other Devices” setting (under Cellular – > WiFi Calling setting in the iPhone settings app) to receive calls on your iPad without the phone being nearby.

Share Your Experience

Using you iPad as a phone? Share your experience in the comments below and help others make the transition.

23 thoughts on “Use iPad as a Phone – Tools, Tips, and Tricks”

  1. ok- while i didn’t do an “iPad plunge” & thought I’d add my 2 cents… hold onto your iPhone & consider getting a T-Mobile pre-paid SIM to fwd GV to as a backup – u only get charged $2 ( for the day) if u answer the phone. I’ve been experimenting WiFi only for 2-3 years & snipped mobile internet & it’s been golden – I budget $10/month & it ends up being $10/quarter (if u organize your life around it). Added benefit you’ll be much less distracted when out and about & most of all actually *with* people & your surroundings 🙂

  2. Great article, thanx! What is your opinion about iPad as a phone after half year? And what do you think now about Google Voice? I don’t like it because voice quality sometimes is poor…

    1. OK, now I know… 🙂 Using iPad as a phone is nice, but sometimes difficult (weak Internet access in some locations). I don’t like Google Voice and Skype so during first week I was in trouble. And I found Viber, Rebtel and finally Smartgroschen… Smartgroschen is a new app with many possibilities and high voice quality. The most important: calls with low rates. Cheaper than Skype. Tested by myself 🙂

      Everything is OK, but I can’t stop using my iPhone! 😀 😀 😀

  3. HI Ken, I’m considering making this change as well. My job requires me to keep my ipad close for e-signature reasons, so i’m always lugging it around. I figure may as well make it my phone also. My question is, now that hangouts works as a call service is that a viable option as well and how do you deal with the SMS issue. I understand the iMessage portion of your blog above but what about if someone sends me a standard SMS to my cell number after its been ported to Google Voice? Where is that received and responded? I could have missed something you already covered. Thanks for your assistance.

    1. Hi Jason. The existing Google Voice app can be used for to send / receive text messages. There is an “inbox” tab in the app that aggregates text and voicemails.

      1. If you ported your number to google voice you can send and receive actual phone calls too if you use the talkatone app. Been doing this with a cellular iPad mini for a year now. You just have to remember that the mic is on top of the ipad if you are holding it like a phone. Still trying to figure out the 911 thing myself. Any idea how to find what the 10 digit number to a local 911 dispatcher is? Apple really just need to enable emergency calls as it does use an actual local phone number for data. It’s awesome only spending $240 a year for a cell phone though.

        1. Mitty, you can lookup your local police department number on the department’s homepage. Many say to dial 911 for emergencies, though. Good point about the mic being on the top of the iPad. A pair of EarPods sound great though if you have them.

        2. I have read comments in blogs that Google will no longer allow Talkatone to use Google Voice as of May 2014. Something to do with Google merging google voice into Gogle Hangouts. Are you experiencing any oddities with your Talkatone service now? Some Talkatone users are already complaining of outages.

          As for the 911 delimma….I remember reading somewhere that an old crummy cellphone should still be able to dial 911 EVEN without any service provider. I have not tried this yet but plan to test this shortly. Anyone know more about this and can offer more info?

          1. I tested 911 service on a 2008 ‘dumb phone’ that has no service provider on it. It previously had verizon on it. I got through to 911 with no issues. Just tell them you are testing an old phone for 911 service and they understand.

          2. No outages yet. That sucks though if it’s changing. Hope they have a viable google hangout alternative for phone calls and texts. And yeah any old flip phone can still reach 911.

  4. I made the plunge and ported my number to google voice in late 2011. I use an iPad 2. My bag is a Kensington…they make incredible bags for the iPad with great prices. One thing I do differently then you guys is that I also have a Skype subscription ($60 a year for a number and premium). I forward my ported number to the Skype number. I use Skype only because my earlier tests showed Skype had far better audio quality then google voice using Talkatone. I would love to just use hangouts for my phone instead of Skype so I will retest the audio calls eventually…but for now Skype audio calling is rock solid. Sadly, I currently only have 3G service. I don’t recommend it. Upgrade to a tablet that has 4g. You really need at least 5mb speed on data to prevent those awkward poor data voice stretches. Go with Att LTE since it has great speed and most everyone is on Verizon.

    I can’t tell you how happy I am with google voice…the voice mail transcription, blocking calls…etc… Is super cool.

    1. Thanks for your insights Dave. Is forwarding calls from Google Voice to Skype slow for the person calling you? I would think that might be a bit slow. Skype audio seems to be the standard for online interviews… plus at this moment it’s kind of the only standard PC, Android, Mac, and iOS devices can all use to connect (since the software runs on all of them and lots of people have Skype accounts).

      1. Hi Ken, the forwarding from google voice to Skype is instantaneous, not slow at all. Best yet, google visual voicemail kicks in if I don’t pick up on Skype.

        1. I retread your last comment, and just wanted to add that the $60 dollars I pay a year is for a static phone number from any area code I want. It also includes all you can eat calls in the US and Canada. And of course if you buy an office 365 subscription you even get 1 free hour of global calling a month to most countries.

          So my google voice number is simply forwarding the call to my Skype number. No lag since google voice is only involved in the forward call handoff to Skype. Once I pick up on Skype, the conversation is from Skype and the caller. The only time I would get lag is if the data connection was bad.

    1. Not yet. A mini should work exactly the same and in fact will be more portable. The mini fits in many coat pockets I’m told. The large Android phones are almost the size of the mini nowadays! I just bought a new car and realized there is another downside – the bluetooth phone call functionality built into the car. The car will recognize bluetooth audio devices like an iPad, however. Maybe some software upgrades and improvements to FaceTime audio will help.

  5. Brilliant article. I have been doing some research, debating with myself on if I should ditch my “phablet” and go straight to the tablet. I am currently lugging around the Samsung Note 3. It is really nice because of it’s size for many things. However, after carrying it round for bit, I find it too bulky to carry around in my pockets. I know there are holster remedies like the seidio or the otterbox, but because of the size, it would still get caught on things. I originally purchased the Note so I can nix the tablet and just have an all-in-one. It just doesn’t feel the same. Maybe it is because it is an android and they don’t have have even half the apps as ios has. Or, is it because I don’t really use the phone portion of it as much as the tablet. Either way, I think that the tablet with data is the way to go. I will post my experience when I sell my note and can actually afford the iPad.

    1. Hey Zachery, thanks for sharing your experience with the Samsung Note 3. Of all the Android tablets I’ve seen so far, that is the slickest looking one. I think you are on to something – go BIG or go HOME. An iPad is just a little bigger than a phablet or small tablet and you can do almost everything you could do on a laptop. The holster idea might be a good one… I’ll do some more research on that. I did find a tiny netbook messenger bag that looked really slick at Office Depot. It’s called the Ativa Mobil-it. Basically, it’s a tiny messenger bag (only 10″ or so) with lots of pockets for cables, power chargers, etc. and includes a full strap. I developed an iOS app called Chickenbone Chuck. I though of porting it to Android, but it took me 4 hours just to find the right software to start developing. Then the fragmentation is a huge concern. Apple makes it easy for developers to get started fast. Yes, please post your experience when you get an iPad. I would love to hear your commentary. Thanks!

  6. I just started using my iPad and ditched my cell. I ported my cell phone # to Google Voice a few weeks ago. My husband is not liking it too much, but saving $45/month, I think we’ll get used to it! I originally started with the Talkatone app. I love that it transcribes voicemail; however, Google is nixing 3rd party apps as of May 2014 (so I’ve read) and all we be routed through Hangouts. I don’t think it has voicemail capability yet…hopefully it will, eventually. So I downloaded that last night to try to get used to using it before Talkatone and GV connect are gone.

    Good luck! I’d be interested to hear how it’s going once you’re up and running. Good idea saving local law enforcement numbers as contacts.

    1. Shonda, thanks for your perspective. You are right, Google Hangouts doesn’t have voicemail yet. The Google Voice app is the solution in the meantime. What doesn’t your husband like about the Google Voice number? I’m interested in hearing. I noticed there is a bit of a delay when establishing connections, but that was about it. I’m curious. Thanks!

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