Ezfone Internet Phone Adapter by ACS is a hardware/software solution designed to make
phone calls over IP and the public Internet. With the ability to minimize charges by
keeping calls local, Ezfone can also be used on IP networks for voice and data
communications without having to establish a separate network for voice and data. Ezfone
is H.323 compliant, and works with Microsoft NetMeeting. The Ezfone kit comes complete
with everything needed to install and work on a Windows 95 or 98 PC, with the exception of
a touch-tone telephone.
We installed Ezfone on two PCs running Windows 98. Both had modems previously
installed, and we installed a sound card on one of the computers to test NetMeeting, to
confirm Ezfone was H.323 compliant. We also configured the dial-up networking to dial our
ISP, and had two working phone lines (one for each computer), and a telephone connected to
each computer. We tested both ISP dial-ups to ensure they worked before installing the
Ezfone hardware and software.
Installing the Ezfone adapter was not a problem, as it was a typical ISA card. We
rebooted the PCs, and were able to load the drivers from the Ezfone CD. This was a
seamless install, and we rebooted again and checked to make sure the appropriate icons
were present in the device manager tab of the system properties window. We then installed
the application from the CD. Again, this was a simple install, and we went with the
defaults we were given. After installation was successful, we rebooted and had to
configure specific preferences, including whether we were using a phone line or a LAN,
adjusting the sound levels, and entering our personal details (name, phone number, e-mail
After setting up the software, we physically configured the hardware. We plugged the
live phone line into the modem, linked the modem and the Ezfone card with RJ-11 cables,
and plugged the telephones into the cards. The schematics for the wiring are covered in
both the users guide and in the online help, and were very clear and helpful.
There are two sources of documentation for Ezfone: The hard copy User Manual, and
the help files on the PC. The help files are in Web convention and not Windows convention,
making them much easier to read and more aesthetically pleasing. Both contain screenshots,
the diagrams on how to configure the cards and wiring, and are simple to follow. Virtually
all of the illustrations are screenshots, illustrations of the cards and wiring schemes,
or ISA installation diagrams.
The online help files are easy to navigate, and have an index that is accessible from
any document within help. The settings window has a particularly advanced function:
Selecting the tabs in the document actually takes you to a page that explains that
function. All the links work well, and finding any section of the document is very easy.
Overall, the online help feature is far above average, and well put together.
Ezfone is feature-rich, with above-average capabilities for the price. The
features are remarkably advanced for a product in this category. Many of the functions
found in Ezfone are not available in any similar type units, and only in products costing
thousands of dollars more. The ability to use standard analog telephones adds to the value
and functionality of Ezfone, as does the easier-than-average installation and
A gateway feature allows your Efone to talk to any other H.323 device or software
connected to the Internet. A new feature is that the gateway IP will be changed to the
name of the gatekeeper, which is far more intuitive to anybody who is familiar with
NetMeeting. A further function is the ability to use Ezfone as gateway, which
allows users to call into their Ezfone computer so they can make a long-distance call at
local rates. An example of this would be a user in California could call New York over the
Internet, using a local ISP number in California. Once the IP link was established between
the two, the caller could use the IP connection to call anywhere else, with the only
expense being the charge for the call to the ISP in California (if any). However, this
requires the Ezfone as gateway to have two phone lines connected, or one phone line and a
broadband connection to the Internet instead of a second connection to an ISP.
Ezfone has the ability to accept calls either manually or automatically, by checking a
box in the preferences. Checking this box will instruct Ezfone to give a beep
warning every time an incoming call arrives. If the box is left unchecked, the user will
not be able to answer incoming automatic Internet call requests. However, letting the
phone ring fifteen times automatically overrides this feature. There is also a
Follow Me feature, which automatically forwards incoming calls to a number
that is programmed in the software. Definitely an advanced feature, Follow Me is easy to
change and configure. Its located in the Follow Me tab in the Ezfone settings
window, which allows the storage of a phone number that any incoming calls can be
A remote access feature allows you to call in to your Ezfone to make calls remotely.
This gives the user the ability to make long-distance and international calls from almost
anywhere. To take full advantage of remote access, a second phone line or ISDN line should
be installed. An option for a password is provided to prevent unauthorized users from
accessing the Ezfone PC remotely.
Ezfone is compatible with Microsofts NetMeeting, and also runs voice activity
detection (VAD), which detects pauses in speech to conserve bandwidth. In addition, EZfone
eliminates poor voice quality commonly found in other Internet telephony products by
deploying a dedicated 40 MIPS digital signal processor. Ezfone works behind firewalls, but
will not work with a proxy server.
The GUI, a new feature in version 1.3, is very helpful. A window that has a telephone
interface comes up when the program is launched. There are several important functions on
the GUI, including a connection status indicator, a mute button, settings and help menus,
and a phonebook, which stores frequently called numbers. Ezfone can also be used in a
speakerphone function, which requires a pair of external speakers and a microphone (which
is included in the package). A headset can also be used in place of the speaker and
microphone set. The option to enable/disable remote access is on the desktop, which avoids
having to open the setting windows to select this option.
Another cost-saving advantage of using Ezfone is that the minimum system requirements
arent high-end: A 486 or higher PC running Windows 95 or 98. This is also a plus, as
an older PC can be used for running Ezfone. A new computer doesnt necessarily have
to be bought specifically for the Ezfone, and it also saves the cost of buying an NT
An additional option not included is the Ezfone Internet Phone Enhancement Kit. This
kit enables users to make Internet phone calls using a regular phone, cordless phone, or
even a mobile phone. Users can save on long-distance calls, with the same quality and ease
as a regular phone call. This is a software upgrade, available from ACS Innovations for
After the installation and testing of our Internet connections, we dialed from
one PC to the second. We went with the internal speaker setting for the alert,
which provided a ringing which sounded like a cricket chirping. We had the option of
dialing either the phone number or the IP address. The option of dialing the IP address is
flawed, because most computers dialing into ISPs are assigned a dynamic address, and the
caller would not know what the current IP address is at that moment.
We tried several calls, setting up the options that best suited us. After dialing, the
caller is prompted to hang up, and wait for the software to negotiate the connection. When
it has connected, the phone rings and you can talk to the user on the other computer. For
our first call, we used two different ISPs, to test the system in a real-life
However, once the call was underway, the latency was very bad below average
compared to most similar products. However, the quality of the voice was remarkably good,
and was amazing for a product in this category at the level of systems in the
We tried the same test again, except this time we dialed into the same ISP with both
PCs. This was a test to check to see if the latency was any better using the same ISP. A
ping test confirmed the latency was slightly less, but any difference was not noticeable
audibly. The quality and latency remained the same as before, and using the same ISP
didnt make any noticeable difference.
There is also a default voice in a clipped British accent that gives the appropriate
vocal prompts (i.e., caller is not available, or searching the user on
the Internet you may hang up the telephone now). Generally easy to handle and
use, operating Ezfone shouldnt prove problematic to most non-technical users.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
In a product that allows users to make phone calls over the Internet or a data
network, there are five factors that have to be considered: Latency, echo, jitter, sound
quality, and packet loss. Obviously, in a SOHO environment, users are most concerned with
good sound quality, minimal latency, echo, and jitter in that order. Packet loss
wouldnt be a factor in these situations.
The most glaring problem with Ezfone is the bad latency. When we tested the product, we
found the latency to be almost two seconds. Unfortunately, this is at the expense of the
sound quality, which was far better than average for this type of product.
Almost as poor is the inability to work behind a proxy server. Many companies have
proxy servers installed, and this limits the number of job sites at which Ezfone can be
effectively installed. However, it is able to work behind a firewall, which helps to
increase the number of sites where it can be installed but this takes some
The GUI is also a problem. While the image of a phone is fine, the absence of a
close window box on the phone-shaped window is bad. The only way to close the
window (besides shutting down the computer) is to right-click on the small icon in the
system tray, in the far-right section of the taskbar. When Ezfone is open, it is not
listed in the taskbar the way that other open applications are. In addition, the window is
not expandable, and the log on the top portion of the GUI is only able to display three
lines of text, and requires scrolling to see anything beyond the current three lines.
Since nearly every transaction uses more than three lines, scrolling is necessary every
time you want to view the log.
Another minor, but annoying problem is the inability to backspace on the
GUI, in the event you hit an incorrect number. The only solution to this is using the
backspace on the keyboard which works but a clear button
(similar to those on fax machines) would be helpful. Finally, in order to connect to the
Internet, Ezfone requires an ISP that uses Windows dial-up networking, and not any
proprietary software that some ISPs use. Ezfone is not compatible with any dialing
software other than Windows dial-up networking. This is a minor flaw, but could have an
impact on the decision-making process of whether to buy this system, as changing an ISP
may not be an option for some companies.�
When considering a product like Ezfone, the end user must decide how much latency
is acceptable, and if it is worth the expense of superior sound quality. An Internet phone
kit that works as promised is what you get when you buy Ezfone. Unfortunately, Ezfone is
unable to provide a comfortable balance between minimal latency and acceptable sound
quality. A good analogy would be listening to the classics on a radio station with a lot
of static: No matter how good the performance is, the music is hard to enjoy because of
Despite the many good things we found about Ezfone, the latency was among the worst
weve ever experienced even compared to software-only packages (WebPhone,
etc.), which are notorious for having less-than-average latency. A higher rating
wouldve been achieved had the latency issue been any better, but it was impossible
to overlook that. Until Ezfone is able to strike a balance between sound quality and the
latency issue, most users are going to find that despite all the good features and
superior sound quality, Ezfones one major shortcoming is too much to overlook.