Review of the DUALphone - cordless phone for Skype
More than just a cordless phone
In your hand, the DUALphone (also written as DU@Lphone) appears to be a good looking, light cordless phone. It does indeed work fine to make normal telephone calls, but it is much more. It is the first cordless phone available in the US to work with the Skype
is a way to make and receive calls across the Internet. It uses a different technology than most voice over IP (VoIP) service providers, and is massively less expensive than the traditional long distance telephone system. Calls to any land-line phone number in the world costs 0.017 ($0.021) per minute. Believe us, Skype will soon become a major player in worldwide telecommunications.
As I unpack the DUALphone, I see that the unit looks like any other cordless phone. But it has some very smart engineering inside, as you will soon see. I install the light, small NiMH battery in the back of the handset part of the phone, and I am pleased with the overall lightness of the handset. The phone comes with a CD for the PC to phone software interface. I insert the CD into my PC (running Windows XP SP2, 3.0GHz P4, 1GB RAM) and the installation is simple, easy, fast, and flawless.
After installation, I boot up the software called Cordless DUALphone Suite (CDS). CDS recognizes that I have Skype
installed, but not the phone. So I plug the phone into the PC with its USB cable. This is the cord that connects the phone to the Internet. Then I plug my RJ11 cord from my telephone company (VoIP provider Viatalk
) into the phone.
Windows XP immediately sees that I have plugged in a USB device and installs the proper drivers. I open CDS for the second time, and in ten or 20 seconds, everything is recognizing everything else: CDS sees the phone and Skype
, the phone sees the computer and Skype
. Smooth. I am impressed.
The handset keys are simple to understand. It has two buttons which reflect the "DUAL" aspect of the phone: one green button for calling with your regular phone line, which is technically called public service telephone network (PSTN). And, the other green button has a PC on it, indicating that you use this to call with Skype
. Other options are coming: more on this in a moment.
Setup for the handset is controlled with the handset keypad. Setup options are standard, simple, and comprehensive. The display shows the time, date, and name of the phone, each of which you can format to your desire.
Perfect Sound Quality
All calls made with the DUALphone sounded excellent. There was no hissing or strange sound artifacts typical of compressed sound. I made calls to Germany, Taiwan, China, England, Italy, Canada, as well as within the US.
The DUALphone is packed with advanced features which you may not expect from a cordless phone. Go to the DUALphone website at http://www.dualphone.net
for a full presentation of features and technical specifications. The phone's data connection with the PC opens up the ability to program those features. For example, the phone can act as a PC microphone and a speakerphone.
We tested the DUALphone with three different headsets plugged into the DUALphone's standard 2.5mm headset jack. The Plantronics M220C, M175C, and Jabra EarWave Boom
. Only the EarWave Boom worked with plenty of volume. Volume was way too low on the highest setting on the two Plantronics headsets. In September, 2005, Plantronics will ship a new product for cordless phones, the M210C, which Plantronics says will work well.
Here are some things we did not like about the DUALphone, all of which are pretty minor. First problem: After entering a number and pressing the green PSTN button, it takes about 3.5 seconds for the phone to begin dialing. Second, as I hold the handset, my finger sometimes covers the handset speaker and I cannot hear the tones as I type. This makes me think that I have not dialed a number I am looking at on my computer screen and I have to look down. It is just a minor peeve.
Third: When using the handset with Skype
, sometimes you cannot use touch tones (DTMF) to interact with voicemail systems and other systems that hear the tones. This is a deficiency of the Internet telephony system, not the "fault" of the handset.
Mikael Hvid, an engineer with RTX America
, the manufacturer of the DUALphone, gave me this technical explanation, for those of you real propeller-heads: "The handset does send the Skype Client out-of-band commands to forward DTMF tones towards the endpoint. These are transmitted - again out-of-band - to the remote endpoint. Some endpoints or gateways do not handle conversion of the out-of-band tones however, and no tones can therefore be heard or detected at the remote end. (My cell phone network for one). Skype
is hoping to have the non-compatible gateways updated over time, but I have no access to the road map for these updates."
It is not as bad as that sounds
, though. In my tests with Skype
, only one destination out of about 50 did not work.
One improvement I wish the DUALphone had is the Caller ID name and
number on the screen at the same time--both as a call is incoming and also in the Caller ID log. Background: The DUALphone displays three rows of text on its LCD screen. When receiving a call or scrolling through the Caller ID log (i.e., log of previously received calls), the middle row displays the name of the caller, and the bottom row displays the call time. The top row shows the current date and time, as always. Because of telephone network incompatibilities, the caller's name will not be displayed always. Sometimes entries such as "External call", "WIRELESS CALLER", and most commonly a city, are displayed. Not very helpful. In order to see the number of the caller, if available, you must press the # key on the DUALphone.
We will provide you with an update in this space of any fixes to DUALphone's problems mentioned here.
Curtis Schmidek, VP of Marketing with RTX America,
says that the DUALphone will be able to work with other Internet telephony service providers (ITSPs), in addition to Skype
, in the future.
It is great to have one phone to make local calls using your regular telephone service provider, and to make Skype
or other Internet calls. And the phone works extremely well, overall.