If you don’t have a phone yet, but need to do calls within the US and Canada, Google provides a very useful service that allows you to call & text within the US & Canada for free. This service is called Google Voice and by now fully integrated in Google’s messaging network called Google Hangout. You can use Google Voice on your laptop/computer or smartphone (through hangout where you need to install the Google Hangout Dialer) via wifi.
Google voice number
One of the greatest features is certainly the Google Voice number that you can register if you log into Google Voice with an American IP (outside of the US, you can still use Google Voice to call to US/Canada and even use your existing Google Voice number, but you can’t sign up for one). First of all, a Google Voice number is completely free. That means you can receive texts and calls without actually needing to buy a phone plan that might expire if you don’t use it for a while (for instance, when you are an international student who returns home). Moreover, you can use your Google Voice number as your official main number (that you would give to others) and let it forward calls to your mobile number. This way, you can take calls on all your phones (office, mobile, home) and even on your computer. You can manage text messages on your phone or in Gmail on your computer with a full-size keyboard. Finally, it makes you more flexible to swap your mobile plan to get the cheapest deals because you don’t need to tell anybody that you switched numbers: you just change the forward from your Google voice numbers and all calls will be automatically forwarded to your new number without anybody noticing the change.
Cheap international calling
Even though, it is not free to call numbers abroad, Google Voice is still probably one of the cheapest available services out there. For many countries, the first minute is free. Moreover, on a smartphone you can use the cheap rates even if you don’t have wifi by activating Google Voice for international calls. In this case, an international call will first call a local American Google number that will then connect you with the international number. In this case, you will only need to pay your provider for the inner-American call (to the American number of the Google service center) and the very cheap Google Voice rate for the international rate. This might add up to 3-10 cents per minute for an international call to Europe and is very useful if an international student needs urgently to contact somebody in their home country without being able to set up a Skype meeting.
Of course, it is up to you if you Google to manage your calls and even text messages. At some point, it might become critical that one provider has access to such an enormous data pool. On the other hand, it seems to be in Google’s interest to be as sensible as possible to offer good privacy because trust is one of the most important values an internet company like Google relies on. It’s a tough question and you should think about.