Replace your landline, or add a line or two for the kids…

Well, I’ve been using VOIP via Timer Warner cable for about 3 years,
so I’m not really new to the service of VOIP, but considering that
Time Warner Austin charges me $39.99 for my calling plan it was time
to seek out the financial benefit that VOIP is ultimately supposed to
provide.

I am a hand-wringer when it come to picking products. So I ran the
gauntlet of checking out VOIP services, and right off the bat let me
tell you that I almost did myself a disservice by jumping to quickly,
but I think I would have settled on my same solution anyway.

I needed a service that would:
A.) Be able to receive calls from anywhere …
B.) to a regular phone number that I already had (porting) …
C.) and it had to be free, or at least cheap cheap cheap to make
unlimited calls to US numbers. (I don’t tend to make international calls)
D.) Optionally I wanted “advanced” features like caller ID (with name)
and call waiting, and 3-way calling etc – but I wasn’t will to pay
more than a few cents (maybe 45-50c) per month on options or extras.
Did I mention I wanted to get this cheap cheap cheap?

Here is basically what I considered as my options:

1.) Vonage (because of the commercials)
2.) Skype (The free service I already use on an almost daily basis)
3.) Ooma (I saw commercials)
4.) NetTalk (was refered by a friend who doesn’t use them…but wants to)
5.) Magic Jack (saw commercials, and my old boss and my best friend uses it.)
6.) Phone Gnome (didn’t know this existed until after I decided on what
to buy…but it’s not really a replacement anyway…but it could be made to
be).
7.) Another regular carrier solution (the grass isn’t always greener)

Vonage – this looks really simple and has wide international coverage
– but the expense wasn’t that much less than Time Warner for someone
who doesn’t call international a lot so I didn’t really dig any
deeper.

Skype – I find information kinda hard to come by. I think skype would
be an “ok” solution if I could figure out how to navigate their
website. Here’s a tip for skype – on the rates page list all your
options and features with dollar amounts…not just your skype outgoing
packages. Best I can figure is, – assuming Skype continues free US
outbound service to regular lines and skype users, PLUS a skype
“Online number” the total service would run about $6 per month. Then
you’d have to add a skype phone, or maybe a Linux PBX with a skype to
PBX converter tool to use it as a regualr house phone. This not only
seems more expensive than some of the other options, but also more
complicated. The benefit of course is skype is one of the better PC to
PC (with headset) telecommunications product there is, it just goes
south when you find out you can’t port your current number, and it
gets complicated to add incoming/outgoing service to your regular
phones throughout your home.

NetTalk – I’d rate Nettalk #2 of my list of picks. There isn’t a
monthly fee like some of the others, and the hardware is ok, and it
runs without a PC. I don’t have any experience with the product, nor
does anyone I know, so I can’t give a personal example of call quality
or features, but I suspect it’s slightly better/ or at least similar
to magic jack. If I had really known Ooma charged an FCC fee each
month instead of yearly I probably would have ended up with this
instead of Ooma. But given the number of reviews I have read, easily
in the hundreds, I can generally say that Ooma has better call quality
(I can also personally attest to the very high call quality of Ooma
calls), but NetTalk has more free included “basic” services. The most
apparent being caller-ID with name. You also can’t port your current
number yet, which is a huge bummer for me, but won’t matter at all to
a lot of people.

MajicJack – I have two folks I know who use these regularly, and
neither is super impressed, but they are satisfied for the amount they
paid and the limited use the devices are for. Now, don’t get me wrong,
the product works, it’s just choppy sometimes. I’d rate Magic Jack #3
overall because while it requires a PC, it’s relatively cheap to
start, and maintain service.

Ooma – I’d rate Ooma #1 for call quality alone – in my personal
experience, and in judging against my friends solutions Ooma stands
far and away the best. I even have better call quality with my Ooma
than my uber-expensive Time Warner VoIP line. I gladly ported my
number and canceled my home landline service today after about a month
of test calls. The thing that sucks about Ooma is that you pay about
12 bucks a year, but it’s charged in monthly installments. The upside
of that is that you get a year included with the activation, so don’t
have to start paying the $3/mo until a year from your activation.
Consider this though, it’s still less than magic jack, or nettalk
aside from the upfront hardware cost, and I think you’ll be happier
with the call quality. More advanced features don’t make a big impact
on me if my choices are not sounding like I’m underwater, or knowing
who’s calling by name I’ll pick call quality every time.

Phone Gnome – I have one of these on order from China, so once I get
the device flashed and setup I’ll finish up this review. I plan to use
the PhoneGnome with my Ooma to provide more advanced features for
free.

Other Carriers – I shopped around and everything is so expensive these
days for even standard service through a “normal” carrier. I found the
options poor, and the cost high. I’m not even interested in spending
much time on researching it.

Sumamry:

So far I think I’d put Nettalk and Ooma as a tie, with magic jack in
second. Basically most folks will be able to find a solution within
those three options that meets their specific needs, but each one has
certain points to consider beyond price.

Tie for 1st – Ooma
Wins on Call Quality and Number Porting availability.
($179 Initial + $3/mo after first year)

Tie for 1st – NetTalk
Wins on Basic Features, but can’t port number.
($70 Initial + $30/yr after first year)

2nd – Magic Jack
It’s cheap, and it works, but isn’t as good as the others, can’t port
numbers, requires connection to running PC.
($39.95 Initial + $19.95/yr after first year)

UPDATE: Magic jack doesn’t need to be attached to a running PC with magic jack PLUS!

The rest:
3rd Skype – More hassle than is really needed, can’t port number.
4th Vonage – Expensive considering the competition for US calling, but
you can port.
5th Phone Gnome – More hoops than a regular user probably needs.
6th A standard carrier solution – It’s expensive.

Posted in Reviews, Recommendations, Best Practices

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