Back in 2008, Rich Tehrani predicted that one day companies would be using the iPod as their office phone and now we see a world where companies in some cases have leapfrogged to smartphones with no central phone system or PBX (News - Alert). Then there are circumstances where the smartphone has a dual personality – the consumer personality of the device uses its native phone number and the business side is handled by some sort of soft client.
This is an ideal solution to the challenges companies face when workers leave the company, go to a competitor, and potentially take customers with them because they know a worker’s cell phone number. Moreover, in many industries there are often compliance issues which require workers to only use sanctioned corporate phone systems that can enable call-recording. Moreover, recorded calls can often help clear up customer complaints, reduce lawsuits, and of course help with training.
In order to get this functionality, typically you need a soft client that supports your PBX via session initiation protocol or SIP. We reviewed one of the softphones on the market, PortGo from PortSIP Solutions.
We installed the app on an iPhone (News - Alert) 6 Plus as well as an iPad Air 2 and then configured it. We tried in vain to configure it with Trixbox from Fonality, but Fonality told us they don’t support this software. We weren’t surprised – this is a more esoteric solution that Fonality no longer sells. PortSIP Solutions says it supports openSIPS, Asterisk (News - Alert), SIPXecs, OpenSER, FreeSWITCH, Kamailio, Cisco Call Manager, and Radvision among others. We tested the service with the Callcentric VoIP Internet Phone (News - Alert) service. Installation took place without any issues.
The documentation consisted of various PDF files designed for the platforms the company supports. They are iOS, Windows, Mac, and Linux. We evaluated the user guide for iOS as well as Windows and were able to use it to understand the softphone more completely. For example, there is information included to help you transfer a phone call to another extension – information on how to manage contacts information on a PC as well as using groups. In all, the user guide is complete, but there are a few typographical errors here and there, nothing too egregious though.
The software is quite full featured, allowing for secure call signaling, audio, encrypted video, and a lengthy list of codecs for audio including G.711, G.722, G.729, AMR, AMR-WB, G.722.1, G.722, iLBC, GSM, AMR, SPEEX, SPEEWX-WB and Opus, and for video, including H.263, H.263+, H.264(720P) and VP8. Moreover, it supports three-party videoconferencing at 720P resolution. Moreover, video resolution support is as follows: QCIF, CIF, QVG, VGA, XVGA, SVGA and 720P. In addition, there is an option to upgrade to premium codecs: AMR WideBand, G.729 or H.264 on the iPad for $4.99.
There is complete call list functionality as well, allowing a user to see missed calls, placed calls, and connected calls. You can record calls; have call favorites; handle IMS registration; authentication; and addressing – important to connect with carriers; handle VoLTE; SMS over IP; call hold; call waiting; call hold; presence; and more.
One last feature we like a lot is app rotation from portrait to landscape mode.
Throughout our testing we felt like we were using a high-quality product from an engineering and feature perspective and even the GUI was impressive. We felt there could be some smoothing in language support in general, but that was nothing that hindered our experience. In addition to English support, the app also comes in Russian and simplified Chinese.
We deemed the voice quality to be excellent, and the video was fine. It’s worth noting there are many controls available to the user regarding video control and quality. For example, it is possible to change the resolution between QCIF (176x144), CIF (353x288), and 720P (1280x720). There are a plethora of audio settings as well. You can turn on an acoustic echo canceller, voice activity detection, noise reduction, and comfort noise generator so you know you’re still connected, as well as acoustic gain control. The defaults for video are CIF, 10 fps, and 256kbps with one of the voice options selected – meaning you will among other things hear a continuous audio feedback loop if two devices are connected on a call in close proximity.
In one of our first tests, we turned on all the voice settings including echo cancellation (in default mode they are off) and maximized video quality. As we did this, coincidentally the phone in our office rang, causing that terrible echo reverberation sound we have all heard. The software stopped the echo in a few seconds. We then placed the devices by the keyboard as we typed this paragraph and created a series of echoes which were dismissed in about 2 to 4 seconds each.
We then initiated phone calls over the Verizon (News - Alert) 3G network at the highest software audio and video quality settings, and it worked fine with the exception of some sort of echo from a noise we didn’t think we made. Somehow the echo cancellation didn’t work as well in this configuration. In the real world, though, you don’t place your phones next to each other that often.
The UI is nicely done and reminiscent of Skype perhaps just a bit. The settings all worked as advertised – we didn’t notice any flaws. We would prefer a larger video window. We got the sense the 720P video was smaller than it could be. Moreover we noticed the setting on the iPhone 6 Plus allowed us to select 30 fps, but the software showed only 25 fps. The iPad did not have this issue.
There are a few competitors out there – for example Zoiper, but PortGo offers many more features such as a larger section of video sizes and many more options for video and audio. Zoiper is a free app while PortGo costs $2.99 on iOS but it’s free on Android and Windows while a Mac and Linux client are on the way.
Ease of Use
The app is very easy to use. Once set up, it is a no-brainer to call people using the dialpad or directory. It has user selections divided into Account, Preferences, Codecs and Premium Features. Most of the options are toggle switches or in the case of video resolutions short menus which allow one selection.
For $2.99 you can replace a deskphone and get video as well. This is a no-brainer for companies looking to replace fixed phones or that want workers to be able to work from anywhere. Moreover, customers can think of the cost as part of a disaster recovery solution, allowing calls to be made even if inclement weather or other circumstances keep workers from coming to a central location such as a corporate headquarters.
Support was very helpful and operates on Asian time, meaning a question you send during U.S. hours will likely be waiting for you to get to work the next day. This was the case in the three support email requests we sent.
Room for Improvement
The only room for improvement we found has to do with the minor grammar and spelling issues in the documentation and occasionally in the app. A nitpick would also be to have the app allow for novice users to understand what some of the options mean. For example, the different codecs – perhaps a user wants to know why he or she might want to enable G.722 or perhaps what the benefit is to enable voice activity detection.
At $2.99 for the iOS version, we can recommend PortGo. For the price of a coffee you get a fairly full-featured piece of software allowing you to be truly productive on the go while simultaneously being able to centrally record calls, be compliant with regulations, and ensure you maintain a corporate relationship with your customers as opposed to having them interact with personal employee phone numbers which are out of corporate control.
Ease of Install 5
Ease Of use 5
Overall rating 5
Edited by Maurice Nagle