REVIEW: Skype goes mainstream with dual Philips phone

VoIP becoming mainstream

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a godsend for New Zealand businesses struggling with some of the world’s highest telecommunications charges.

The cheapest and easiest way to start using VoIP is probably through Skype, which is accessible from anywhere in the world with a broadband connection. Furthermore Skype has, over the years, built up a customer base of several million users, so the chances of finding contacts are pretty good.

This is the established market Dutch electronics giant Philips is going for with its VOIP321 cordless phone. Best described as a standard cordless phone that you can plug into a landline (or VoIP Analogue Telephone Adapter) it comes with Skype integration as an added bonus.

The idea is that you have the option of making free or cheap calls with Skype, while also having easy access to normal phone calls. Better yet, you don’t pay a premium for the Skype integration: at $159, including GST, the VoIP321 is attractively priced.

During the recent Sydney launch of the VoIP321, Philips and its New Zealand distributor, Ingram Micro, made a lot of noise about how easy the product is to install and use. Indeed, trying it out on Windows XP and an Intel 975BX-based system, I encountered very few snags.

After installing the drivers on the test system, it was simply matter of plugging in the small VoIP321 base station to a USB port, hooking up a landline connection, and I was all set.

Philips bundles an old version of Skype with the VoIP321 and recommends using this for the phone to work. I followed this advice, but, as Skype nagged me to upgrade, I tried that and found the new version also works.

The cordless phone uses the DECT communications protocol in the 1.9GHz band. This means it’s not affected by, for instance, wi-fi equipment in the 2.4GHz band. The signal had decent reach and wall penetration, inside a wooden house, and call quality was good overall.

When making landline calls, the VoIP321 works just like any cordless phone. Most of the expected features are there, including redial, speaker, conference call set-up, call logs, intercom, caller ID, and multiple ringtones.

It also comes with a built-in phone book, but this only works with PSTN contacts and cannot be accessed from computers. A small business user might like, say, Outlook contacts integration.

Using Skype is easy: press the red Skype button, select a contact and make either a Skype peer-to-peer call or a SkypeOut call to a landline. That’s all the Skype functionality available, however. You can’t even see instant messages, let alone send them, and you can’t manage Skype contacts at all.

VOIP321 is currently one of the cheapest Skype/landline phones on the market. The feature set is good, although the Skype integration could be better. But, if you want a phone that handles both normal PSTN calls and Skype VoIP calls, the VOIP321 is worth checking out.

Saarinen travelled to Sydney as a guest of Philips

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