EQO dials up cheap international mobile calls

EQO's call, text, and instant messaging service gives three ways to connect with pals abroad from your mobile phone.

EQO logo

If you've got family and friends sprinkled about the globe, you know that the richness of these contacts loses luster if you can't regularly keep in touch. Though there are excellent solutions out there--local-access calling cards, VoIP on the PC, VoIP phones from Vonage or Skype, and local-number services like Talkster (review)--they require your presence at home, new hardware, or wasting precious seconds with mile-long pin numbers or droning ads.

Challenging the herd is EQO (pronounced "echo"), a communication service that offers a simple, fast, and affordable solution for international outreach on your cell phone. Talk time and texting are free between EQO members, and calls are as cheap as 2 cents per minute for everyone else, about the same rate as VoIP-to-phone calling and competitive calling cards. EQO's international texting costs for 10- or 15 cents, depending on the countries of destination and departure.

User experience

The graphically-appealing application is divided into three sections, each delineated by a small icon along a top strip. Scrolling horizontally among them calls up the phone book, message inbox, or instant message interface. EQO imports phone contacts into the phone book, but be careful of your management--deleting an entry from EQO also deletes it from the phone's database.

EQO interface
EQO sends free SMS messages to other members, and cheap international texts to everyone else.

Another quibble: when dialing a number, users are prompted to enter the full number, including country code. It's assumed you'll know to dial '+' before the whole bushel of numbers. Of course, EQO is just as capable of initiating domestic calls without the country code or '+' prefix, but users will reap more value from international activity. Likewise, reserve EQO for sending texts abroad; while outbound rates for mobile-to-mobile messaging between EQO users is free (that goes for calls, too), local "EQO-out" texts may cost more than your carrier's standard rate.

Messaging in general is a point of confusion with EQO. The 'Message' tab is actually an inbox for EQO-to-EQO messages, and it is the humble phone book that takes on the role of true outbox, with mobile messages initiated through the context menu. IM is another messaging outlet, where well-known platforms like MSN, Yahoo, Google Talk, Jabber, AOL, and QQ are supported, but only one service at a time.

As if to win over potential naysayers, each account-holder begins with a small balance, $2.50 in my case, to get a taste of EQO's services. From there, users can buy $10 or $20 worth of credit through PayPal or Moneybookers. There is an alternative course for persuasive spendthrifts with an abundance of friends--EQO's incentive program hands over $1.50 of credit to reward successful user-advertisers whose pals sign up, about an hour of talk time for countries with low calling rates.

A Facebook application on the way

To sweeten the deal, EQO said it plans to release a new service element within the next two weeks, the now-quintessential Facebook application. EQO's will send free "vibes" that cause EQO friends' mobile phones to vibrate. Look for the "Vibrator" application on Facebook.

EQO is compatible with BlackBerry (download), J2ME (download), and Windows Mobile phones (including Palm devices running Windows Mobile) with Internet connectivity. For your installing ease, the application downloads both over the air (http://get.eqo.com from a mobile browser) and via PC push. See a list of compatible phones here and a rate calculator here.

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.