Vonage V-Phone

  • Share
  • Read Later

The day is not far off when a kid will look at the classic telephone, with its keypad, clunky handset and curly pigtail cord, and ask, "What is that?" A phone today can come in any shape, as long as it's a tiny one. Vonage's latest design is as simple as a USB keychain drive. OK, so it requires a PC, but it can be used with any Internet-connected Windows PC— without any software setup.

For the most peripatetic individual, the V-Phone provides a single follow-me phone number. At home, at work or at your parents' house, you can plug the V-Phone into a PC to make and receive calls and check voicemail. Unlimited calling is $25 per month, plus about $4 in taxes and surcharges. For cheapskates there's a $15-per-month 500-minute plan. Other PC-based phone services like Skype offer comparable calling deals and more freebies, but Skype — like Vonage's previous product SoftPhone — requires software installation to work. When you're not near a PC, it is very easy to forward V-Phone to your cell phone or to another phone line.

The V-Phone isn't just a USB keychain with some fancy software on it. Besides giving you roughly 250MB of file-storage space, it has integrated audio circuitry, so you can plug in an (included) pair of headphones with built-in microphone. For Version 1.0, a wired headset is probably the most sensible, but you've only got about three feet of movement from the V-Phone itself. Since the V-Phone must plug directly into a PC, it can be a bummer if that PC is hidden under a desk. And the service's sound quality, coming through that headset, could be clearer. It should have come with a microphone (that could combine with computer speakers to make a ready-to-rock speakerphone) or with Bluetooth, so that I could use a convenient wireless earpiece. I'm told that these scenarios are being explored for the future.

The allure of having only one phone number is the main attraction here, but people who have ditched the landline entirely for their cell phone already have that. Vonage says that the V-Phone will be a big seller with parents who want their kids to have an easy way to call home from college or boarding school. But don't parents want their kids to have a phone at all times, not just at their computers? It is true that the V-Phone is great for anyone traveling overseas. Even if you have a "world phone" (which isn't even an option for Verizon Wireless and Sprint customers), why risk the international roaming charges? Hit the hotel business center and plug in the V-Phone. Or if you have Wi-Fi, connect right in your room, and the folks back home will think you're calling from just down the street.

When I heard Vonage was going to make a big announcement that would take mobile telephony to an "entirely new level," I believed that the company had finally developed the perfect phone. For me, that's one that would work on a Wi-Fi network at home for free or almost free, then turn into a cell phone once I'm on the road so I don't lose contact. A single device, a single number, but a combination of the cheapest ways to stay in touch with the world. Come on, Vonage — the V-Phone may be nice for some, but it's not quite the "next level."