Are Tablet Computers Ready For ‘Real’ VoIP?

I’m now the proud owner of a shiny new tablet computer – an Android-based Samsung Tab 2 7.0. Given my journalistic interest in VoIP evolution, or some would say the VoIP revolution, one of the first things I did with my new toy was explore its VoIP capabilities.

So far, my results have been mixed. I think I have seen the future, but through a still-cloudy crystal ball.

For starters I loaded a tablet version of Skype, allegedly the most heavily used VoIP application in the world. I can report that it worked, but the video part was sometimes flakey, and it didn’t work most of the time when I was connected to “free” Wi-Fi hotspots. I suspect they have it blocked because video is, after all, a bandwidth hog. And while Skype does use IP to transmit voice and video, so it can legitimately be called VoIP, it’s not the VoIP that replaces traditional landline and cellular service, since it’s not truly a two-way calling service that can reach or be reached by any phone in the world.

Hmm, I thought, let’s see what Samsung has to say about this.

Well Samsung, on its web site, says that the Tab 2 7.0 can’t be used for VoIP because it’s lacking some unspecified internal circuitry. Instead, Samsung suggests, users should spend a few hundred dollars more to get their Note tablet (which I didn’t do because it wasn’t in the family budget), which apparently can handle phone duties according to Samsung. I’ll have to ask my kids about that – two of them have bought Notes within the past two weeks.

But why am I not surprised that, right after Samsung said NO to VoIP, a visitor to the Samsung Web site posted the instructions of how to use the Tab 2 7.0 to make VoIP calls, (no, you don’t hold it up to your head silly – you use Bluetooth or use it as a speakerphone). But again, the suggestion did not lead to a full function solution that one would consider a replacement for their current cellphone.

Actually, what I see the current generation of tablets replacing in cellphones isn’t the voice function at all. I have a smartphone … a very smart phone … but it’s got a tiny screen and keys. I can play movies on my smartphone. I can send text messages. I can read my eMail. I can even write this blog. But my new tab does all of that, is half the price of my current smartphone, and does it all a lot more conveniently and on a much bigger but still very portable screen. I’m finding that the 7 inch form factor is just dandy to carry around continually – relegating my smart phone to primary duty as, well, a phone.

The bottom line is that the tab is not quite ready for prime-time VoIP, especially business VoIP. But it’s getting there, and it’s awfully close to the day when I can see my next tab becoming an extension on my Phone.com virtual switchboard.