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Product Reviews
November 2000

 

Super Phone

Super Technologies
P.O. Box 131
Century, FL 32535
Ph: 530-658-7522; Fax: 530-504-8200

Price: $700

Editor's Choice Award

RATINGS (0-5)
Installation: 5
Documentation: 4
Features: 4
GUI: N/A
Overall: A-


Most people, if asked, would welcome an alternative to their current long-distance situation. Once the benefits and applications of Voice over IP (VoIP) become better known, it's an alternative that is going to be tough to resist. This seems obvious as VoIP products and services become increasingly more popular and vendors flood the market with the latest and greatest offerings. As an evolving technology, which presents new challenges and solutions, VoIP is finally getting the recognition it deserves and consumers are reaping the benefits.

One of the products included in this developing area of technology is Super Phone. Defined as an Internet-powered telephone gateway, it is a standalone device that enables you to make calls through the Internet without incurring the standard long-distance charges. Super Phone is also available as a dial-up version or a corporate Internet telephony gateway. Regardless of which option is used, the real benefit is the ability to use Internet connectivity to offset long-distance charges. Guaranteed services are purchased from an ISP, and VoIP calls are routed over the Internet connection to a gateway that connects the company's IP network to a phone network.

INSTALLATION
Installation just doesn't get much simpler. First, we connected the phone line to the back of the Super Phone device. Then we connected an RJ-45 cable from the device to the network jack. Last but not least, we plugged in the AC/DC adapter, from which all good things come to life...and that was it. All hooked up and ready to go. No rebooting, no software glitches or Dr. Watson errors. What a nice change of pace from dealing with software-based products! The only problem we ran into was a required quick software upgrade, which was handled within minutes right from the device itself. Once upgraded, the Super Phone automatically reset itself and operated without any further problems.

As far as the setup procedure is concerned, that was relatively simple as well. We followed along with the quick start guide's instructions, which were clearly laid out and easy enough to understand. It walked us through the input of the necessary parameters and was divided into two main categories, the first of which was LAN configurations, including a valid IP address, gateway address, and subnet mask.

The second category dealt with Internet telephony service provider (ITSP) configurations that included an ITSP account number and a dedicated phone number (both provided by Super Technologies), and long-distance dialing codes. To obtain the ITSP account, we had to contact a technical support representative and request that an account be activated for us. They also started our account with 1000 ITSP calling points -- more than enough for us to make our test calls.

DOCUMENTATION
The only documentation that we received with our Super Phone device was a quick start guide. It was printed on a double-sided laminated sheet, which made the information easily accessible. It contained complete information that was outlined clearly and even included a diagram or two. The blanks that were not filled in by the quick guide were covered on the Web site. As an added reliable resource, the technical support representatives that we dealt with were always available. They responded quicker than we could say 'Super Phone' and they didn't give up until the problem was resolved or the question had been answered.

FEATURES
The most unique feature of Super Phone is a service known as Virtual Phone Line. It is the "brains" of the technology behind the hardware. This service is responsible for enabling dedicated numbers to be assigned to the Super Phone devices. Having a dedicated number allows companies to take advantage of telephone services on cable, DSL, and wireless Internet services.

Super Phone allows users to make VoIP calls quickly and without hassle. Another useful feature of Super Phone is the ability to check on your account balance. This is a simple procedure and only requires picking up the analog phone and dialing "*88#." This displays a balance in terms of calling points on the Super Phone's LCD screen. Similarly, by dialing "*99#" you can view a device balance, which is a total amount of calling points assigned to your device via a device number.

OPERATIONAL TESTING
We unpacked the Super Phone hardware from the box and were anxious to get it configured and set up. The process of setting it up and getting it "online" was a relatively simple and quick one. Once we had everything plugged into the proper ports, we set our sights on the fun stuff: We were anxious to make test calls to and from our new device.

First, we picked up the analog phone connected to the Super Phone and listened for the special dialtone. We entered a phone number and waited for a few seconds while the phone call was routed over IP to the ITSP. From there, an outbound call was made through one of its gateways to our destination phone number. Once the phone was answered, we were able to determine that voice quality was very good and latency was minimal.

Our next mission was to receive calls through the Super Phone. We wanted to find out if this would be as quick and painless as making telephone calls had been. Fortunately for us it was. We proved this by making several external calls and receiving the same results each time. We didn't encounter any major difficulties in making the calls and the device worked as expected.

Next, we worked with Rehan, a Super Technologies representative, and tested receiving a VoIP call. From his Super Phone device, Rehan dialed our phone number. He was able to successfully complete the phone call and we had a very interesting conversation. We, in turn, tried calling him from our analog phone by entering his phone number. After a short delay we were connected. Finally, we dialed his device number from our analog phone and that call went off without a hitch as well.

Overall, we found the quality of the connection to be acceptable in both incoming and outgoing call situations. As with most VoIP products such as these, there was a short delay in the audio responses received, and it seemed like it was a little longer from the side of the person using the phone connected to the Super Phone. For the most part, the delay wasn't noticeable enough to be a problem, and the calls were always clear.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
We were a bit sticker-shocked by the $700 price tag. We've tested competing products that were much less expensive and thus would highly recommend the Super Phone lower their price to match their competitors. We'd like to see the product's functionality extended to include connection capability with NetMeeting. While it currently does not work with this service, we would like to note that according to representatives from Super Technologies, this functionality is in the works and should be available within the next few months.

Another suggestion we have for an improvement is in the standard phone functionality. We think that it would be great if it were possible to make a regular phone call the good old-fashioned way. Let's say we wanted to make a quick call to the local pizza joint. We should be able to pick up the phone receiver that's attached to the Super Phone and make the call without having to use any of our ITSP calling points. There might need to be a digit that is pressed first to signify that the call will be made "offline" and therefore won't result in the calling points being reduced. We would like to note that this option is slated to be in the next version of Super Phone. In addition to this functionality, there are also plans for offering a flat rate calling plan so users won't need to use a separate phone to make local phone calls.

CONCLUSION
VoIP technology is transforming the way that people and businesses communicate. Products are being developed, which offer us an improved method of communication and also a possible alternative to troublesome long-distance phone charges. Here at TMC Labs, we get to experience a plethora of different products and study their impact on the market and on consumers at large. The Super Phone installation and setup were simple and we consider it a welcome addition to the VoIP product market. Overall, we were very impressed with the Super Phone and its capabilities. It's an excellent product that offers a very useful service. With the planned future additions to its functionality, we feel that it is worthy of serious consideration as a reliable and successful VoIP solution. 

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