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App Spotlight: CrowdCall sets up free conference calls in seconds

Love 'em or hate 'em, conference calls are a part of business life.

They can also be a hassle to set up, especially if you're on the go. Suppose you're sitting in a hotel room, for example, and you need to get everyone from sales on the phone pronto. Are you really supposed to slog through a Web-based conferencing tool just to arrange the call?

Not if you have CrowdCall for Android or iOS. This clever app lets you set up conference calls right from your smartphone, faster and easier than just about any other solution I've tried.

CrowdCall allows for up to 20 participants per call. All you do is choose contacts from your address book or LinkedIn contact list, or enter phone numbers manually. Once you've lined up the participants, you simply tap Call Now.

If it sounds like I must be oversimplifying it, I'm not -- that's really all there is to it. The real beauty of CrowdCall is that no one else needs to have the app.

Once you launch the call, the company's server dials all the participants' phones (including yours). So no dial-in numbers, PINs, or any of the other hassles normally associated with conference calls.

The one potential downside, of course, is that all the participants need to be ready to take the call; if someone misses it, there's no way to dial in after the fact. However, you can add attendees on the fly, while a call is in progress. (You can also kick an attendee off the call if need be.)

CrowdCall gives you five free calls per day, but sets a time limit of 10 minutes per call. If you want more and/or longer calls, you can buy blocks of credit starting at $9.99. Of course, that 10-minute limit can actually be a positive: It'll force you to get your business done quickly, without all the time-wasting cross-talk that can turn a conference call into a living hell.

If you check the user reviews on both the App Store and Google Play, you'll see that a number of users reported problems getting CrowdCall to work properly. My experience was different: It worked exactly as advertised, and my calls sounded just fine. Your mileage may vary, of course, but at least it won't cost you anything to find out.

Looking for another way to make conference calls easier? MobileDay lets you join them with just one tap. Between these two apps, the only thing you have to fear is the calls themselves.

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