Originally posted in Tom Keating’s VoIP & Gadgets Blog
Vonage (News - Alert) sent me one of their V-Phone USB devices to review. As you probably recall, I wasn't very keen on the V-Phone, but I decided to go ahead and test the V-Phone anyway.
The concept of the V-Phone is that it's a small portable device that you can take anywhere and your phone number (and inexpensive VoIP minutes) will follow you. I received my eval unit on June 30th and I attempted to install it on my work PC.
I inserted the 256MB V-Phone into an available USB slot. I could see the device installing itself but the softphone client never popped up. I opened Windows Explorer and clicked on the newly created drive letter and received this lovely error message:
This error "can" be related to Group Policy restrictions on an Active Directory network, however I am the CTO of our network, so I don't have any Group Policy restrictions on my PC. It was partially installed since I now had a new USB audio device named "C-Media USB Headphone Set". I was able to listen to music using the included headphones that I connected to the headphones jack on the V-Phone.
In any case, I tinkered with it for a bit before finally giving up and then trying the Vonage V-Phone on another PC. One theory I have yet to try is to uninstall Daemon Tools, a utility for mounting ISO CD/DVD images, but it also reserves a drive letter, which may have caused a conflict. Although, I have never had a problem installing other USB Flash drives.Vonage V-Phone Box Contents
In any event, I installed the V-Phone on a second PC (and later two laptops) and the installation went smoothly. The Vonage V-Phone client popped up in about 30 seconds and I was able to immediately make and receive phone calls. The nice thing about the V-Phone software is that it doesn't install onto the hard drive; it simply runs the executable file directly from the Flash drive.
Here's a screenshot of an incoming call - notice how you can see the CallerID with Name, and have an option to accept or reject the call.
The softphone client also features a History tab to show your call log as well as a Contacts page. The Contacts page lets you add contacts with phone numbers for speed-dial capabilities. You can also organize contacts into groups. During my test calls the voice quality was very good. I don't believe Vonage uses either GIPS's or Spirit DSP's voice engines for better voice quality, but I was still pleased with the voice quality.Conclusion
Calling plans for the V-Phone are identical to Vonage’s traditional service offerings. It costs $15 per month for 500 minutes, $25 for unlimited residential service and $35 for business use.
The V-Phone isn't a replacement for a traditional Vonage phone line. In fact, if you are currently a Vonage customer with an existing Vonage number, you have to order a separate Vonage phone number for the V-Phone. Vonage doesn't offer the ability to have a single phone number married to both. This would actually be a nice feature—simply take the V-Phone when on the road and your home phone calls are automatically routed to your laptop/PC when you plug in the device.
Although, I had difficulty on one PC, the V-Phone performed flawlessly on three other computers. It does what it is advertised to do, namely give you the ability to carry your phone number with you for use on a Windows computer/laptop (no Mac or Linux client).
Arguably a cellphone can do the same exact thing (carry your phone number), especially since many cellphone service providers offer a large bucket of minutes or even unlimited plans for a fixed price, which negates VoIP's advantage over cellphones.
With this in mind, you have to wonder why a person would even need the Vonage V-Phone. I will say that the V-Phone could come in handy if you make a lot of international phone calls, since cell phone calls to international destinations are still outrageously expensive. Then again, you can head over to Skype (News - Alert), download the Skype client for free and charge your SkypeOut account with $40 worth of phone minutes instead of paying $40 for the V-Phone.
I guess for $40 you get a nice 256MB USB flash drive. Then again you can pick up a 256MB USB flash drive from Amazon for $13.99 or less. Sigh. Well, at least the V-Phone USB stick is a pretty orange.
Tom Keating is CTO of TMC and Executive Technology Editor for TMC Labs. For more articles, please visit Tom Keating’s columnist page.