One of the things I try to do on this blog is try things–new consumer VOIP products, downloads, etc. You can get commentary on industry news like who’s buying who, or who just closed shop, in places like GigaOm.
Admittedly, I don’t get to try a lot of hardware, just software mostly, but if you’re looking for that kind of thing, VOIP and Gadgets or Smith on VOIP are good bets.
But this week Andy Abramson, in Living with Softphones, posted a neat-and-tidy roundup of some VOIP tools he’s been using, and I like it because he lists only what he’s used (or experimented with), and explains how he uses them. I think this kind of post is really useful. Don’t you really wanna know just how you’re supposed to use all this stuff in the real world? I know I do. Thanks A. Alec Saunders also posts quite often on VOIP adventures with his Blackberry, and Phoneboy writes about handsets he’s using (because all other hardware is just too boring). Check them both out too.
For my part, I use on a regular basis:
Skype: for chat and calls to Skype buddies
Gizmo: for general softphone calling
PhoneGnome: for long distance calling to reg phones
SightSpeed: for video calls
GrandCentral: for simplifying inbound calling. I’m using it to funnel calls through my Gizmo account.
Fring: for mobile calls to Skype buddies (still experimenting mostly)
Since I cancelled Vonage in August, I haven’t signed on with another subscriber service. However, I’ll be trying one soon.
On the weekend, my husband had an important long distance call with a client. Downstairs, PhoneGnome had husband talking to the UK over VOIP using Gizmo credits. Upstairs, PhoneGnome had son talking local to his buddies. So easy. And we didn’t even realize that the whole thing panned out problem free until much later…no dropped calls or weird noises, and a whole dollar’s worth of Gizmo call out credits consumed. This is how VOIP should work…totally transparent.
Just got my PhoneGnome newsletter and learned about a new feature they’ve been offering for awhile but haven’t announced until now. Reach Beyond is a paid premium service that allows you to choose 10 frequently called non-PhoneGnome numbers that you can make unlimited calls to for around $5/month. Perfect for calling aging Aunties far away that don’t or can’t have a PhoneGnome box.
This caught my eye on the wire today. Montreal-based BabyTel is expanding into the US market. I first heard about them when I was compiling my list of Canadian VOIP providers. They say they’re different from the wake of other VOIP providers out there, offering not just competitive rates and plans but also “innovative” services and outstanding customer service, “something the so-called giants have trouble delivering”. (Wu-hoooo…wu-hoo-hoo).
They’re coming to the party with all the usual features of a VOIP service provider, but they’re also offering fax-to-email and follow me services (when multiple devices ring at the same time). Sorry, that’s a little shy of the Wow! factor isn’t it?
If innovation is really on their mind, they should give PhoneGnome‘s David Beckenmeyer a call, or at least heed his plea.
BabyTel does offer service in my area, though (Vancouver), which is great. Plus they’ve got a softphone option instead of adaptor. Maybe I’ll give ‘em a try. I’m interested to see what “responsive tech support” is really like.
One appealing feature of PhoneGnome is that it can automatically detect when you are making a local call and when you are dialing long distance. However, local dialing in my area is 10-digits. In other words, I have to dial the area code then the number. In many other places, local calls are still the 7-digit number which poses no problem.
In my case, PhoneGnome thought that 10-digit local numbers were long distance and so placed the call using my Internet telephone service (I use Gizmo Project).
There’s an easy solution. Here’s what Televolution tech support had to say:
- Log in to your PhoneGnome account.
- Click Settings > Advanced Settings.
- In Local Dialing Options, click the Custom button. DON’T change any other option on this page.
- Click Save.
This did the trick. Tech support clarifies that sometimes PhoneGnome miss-detects a given number but usually this setup is adequate for the vast majority of users. If, after making this change, your PhoneGnome still doesn’t automatically detect local numbers, contact tech support for further instructions.Another way to force PhoneGnome to dial using the local telephone service is to dial ##, listen for a high-pitched dial tone, then dial the number.
You may already know that I’m a relatively new PhoneGnome user, but so far I’ve been quite impressed with what this playing card-sized box gives me. When I spoke with David Beckenmeyer a few weeks ago he hinted that some great updates were in the pipe designed to really expand the PhoneGnome community. Ta-da…introducing PhoneGnome 2.0.
Today PhoneGnome 2.0 is available and I encourage you to read all about it on the PhoneGnome Blog page. Here, David works through what he and his team found were the biggest objections to PhoneGnome and how the company overcomes them.
Here’s a summary of what PhoneGnome 2.0 offers:
-Web activated calling: PhoneGnome uses your web browser to set up calls between two phones so there’s no software, microphones, headsets or other devices required. To use web activated calling, you must be a registered PhoneGnome user. Reigistration on the PG site is free and calls to other registered users are also free.
-Free PhoneGnome software: Download free software to use your PC or laptop as a fully-functioning telephone. Headset/speakers and microphone required.
-Original PhoneGnome box now a new lower price: a great deal at $59.00.
Just a phew PhoneGnome tips to pass along:
What if your Internet goes down?
Okay, like my Internet never goes down except that it DID right at the exact moment I went to make a phone call. My PhoneGnome (actually the phone connected to PhoneGnome) wasn’t giving me any dial tone. According to David Bekenmeyer, top gnome over at TelEvolution, PhoneGnome takes a few minutes to detect that Internet has disappeared. DO NOT panic. Wait a few minutes and your PhoneGnome will switch over to PSTN mode and give you dial tone.
But what’s with the Phunky Dial Tone?
If your Internet goes down and your PhoneGnome switches to PSTN mode, you’ll hear a phunky sounding dial tone, higher pitched than normal. It’s not a malfunction. You can make regular landline calls just fine. The PhoneGnome folks thought that a distinct dial tone would be helpful in alerting you to the fact that Internet calling is temporarily unavailable. If you find this feature alarming rather than reassuring, let them know. The TelEvolution support gnomes are very receptive to feedback so your ideas are welcome.
Why is there a ring delay between my PhoneGnome and the other phones in the house?
This I noticed right away. When I receive an incoming call, the upstairs phone rings twice before the PhoneGnome starts ringing. It was bizarre to hear the ringing out of sync. Almost sounded like two separate calls coming in. What’s happening is the PhoneGnome needs a bit of time to collect caller ID and other information before passing the call through. The best way to solve this is to put all your phones in the house on PhoneGnome. For $19.95, you can buy a Whole House Wiring kit that uses the Line 2 wiring to distribute PhoneGnome features to all your phones in the house. If messing with wiring isn’t your thing, an easier and inexpensive option is to buy a cordless telephone with multiple handsets. Connect the cordless phone base station to PhoneGnome, and deploy the extra handsets around the house.
I’ve had my PhoneGnome for about a week now and so far I’m really happy with it. What a great product! It marries the best of low cost Internet calling with the safety and reliability of regular landline service. It just works…
PhoneGnome-to-PhoneGnome calls are crystal clear and regular landline calls are, well, regular landline calls. PhoneGnome detects which type of call (Internet or PSTN) you’re making, makes a short announcement to let you know how it is going to place the call, and away you go.
I had a few problems setting up PhoneGnome to use an Internet phone service for outbound long distance calls, in my case a Gizmo Project account. To use Gizmo, I had to enter the SIP settings manually. My mistake was in entering my SIP phone number. Make sure you enter the phone number assigned by Gizmo Project without any dashes, spaces, dots, etc. Once I fixed that, smooth sailing.
While PhoneGnome can certainly work with Gizmo Project and other SIP friendly Internet Telephone Service Providers (ITSP), it’s better to sign on with one of PhoneGnome’s ITSP partners, says David Beckenmeyer, CEO. Their partners are better integrated with PhoneGnome so you don’t have to worry about entering scary stuff like SIP credentials. At the moment, they offer VocalNet ($14.95 and $21.95/month) and Infonex (pay as you go) services.
Because PhoneGnome is really plug and play, it’s something I can sell my parents on. It’s not too weird or too techy, it configures itself, 911 still works like you expect, and you get dial tone even if your Internet flakes out. Did I mention it just works?
Happy to say, I just got my PhoneGnome. It took just a few minutes to plug in and configure itself (I like that part). Teeny tiny isn’t it? More later…