There are lots of ways to stay in touch with friends and family using your smartphone, but the classic phone call is still the method of choice for plenty of people. Unfortunately, call quality hasn’t exactly kept up with the digital revolution, leading to muddled conversations — sometimes even on high-end smartphones.
If you’re struggling with crappy-sounding phone calls, there are a few different things you can do to fix them. Here’s what you need to know (courtesy of an exhaustive deep dive from PCMag).
Make Sure HD Voice Is On
How a call is encoded can affect how it sounds. For the highest-quality calls, you want to make sure your're using "HD Voice," a popular feature that's been available on most devices for years.
On Android devices, you can easily tell if HD Voice is activated each time you make a call. Just look for the words "HD Dialling" in the top-right corner. If you don't see it, head into your device's settings and look for an option titled "Advanced Calling" (the exact name may vary depending on your phone and carrier). Then, follow the instructions to turn HD Voice on.
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If you have an iPhone, you can switch on HD Voice by navigating to Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Enable LTE. Select "Voice & Data" if it isn't already enabled.
Make Sure Both Phones Are Compatible
HD Voice is a good start, but if the phone you're calling isn't compatible with yours, HD Voice won't help much. There are two main reasons this can happen: either you're using different carriers that rely on competing standards, or one of the phones is missing some key technology.
Australian carriers rely on the GSM network, unlike our counterparts in the U.S. or Japan who use other standards such as CDMA. Each carrier also uses a different format to transmit audio call data. So, trying to call a Telstra phone from your Vodafone device could result in muddled audio.
For an example of what this sounds like, PCMag recorded audio files of every type of phone call between different carriers (both with HD Voice and without) in the U.S. You can find them all in the main article by scrolling down to the "What It All Sounds Like" section.
As you can hear, call quality between two phones on the same network (or compatible networks) generally sounds better. Of course, that won't always be an option, and you can't exactly force your friends to switch carriers for you.
An alternative is to use a smartphone with enhanced voice services (EVS), which creates a better signal across networks, and hope that your carrier in Australia support the service. When I checked early this morning, there was no clear answer on the three major telco support pages, so I am chasing it up. EVS is currently supported by a handful of high-end devices from companies like Samsung, LG, Apple, and Google.
Just Use Data Instead
If you don't feel like waiting for your carrier to get its act together, you could ditch your phone app entirely and try something else. Services like Apple's FaceTime, Google Duo, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram all offer phone calls over data and wifi -- assuming your connection isn't being jammed up by your roommates or family.
Many of these apps offer high-quality audio that's on par with HD Voice, making them a great option for cross-carrier calls. For example, FaceTime uses the same audio encoding algorithm Apple offers for downloaded iTunes tracks, meaning cross-carrier calls should sound a lot better. You'll get clear call quality and a bunch of other perks (like video calls) without any of the hassle that comes with using antiquated carrier networks.