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Product Reviews
June 2001


NewVoice DSP040

newchip srl
Via Larga 31
Milano, Italy 20122
Tel: +39 02 58459320
Fax: +39 02 58459348
E-Mail: [email protected]

Price: Samples for system integrators are about $50.00 per handset.
Units are expected to retail in the U.S. between $30.00 and $40.00.

Editor's Choice Award

Installation: 5
Documentation: N/A
Features: 4.0
Overall: B+

What was one of the most important lessons you learned during that first semester in college? Was it finally understanding how the U.S. economy functions? Realizing that you are capable of memorizing an entire semester of art history in one night? Perhaps it was actually finding your inner self. Maybe it was all, or a combination of, the aforementioned. This editor learned very early on that putting the phone bill in his name was a grave mistake. It was the shock coupled with the mounting anxious fever as I read: Three-hundred-fifty dollars centered, and printed neatly in the little "Amount Due" box on the bottom of my first phone bill, which reminds me of that lesson. The second most important lesson was learning not to trust that a roommate from a town called "Mechanicville" would pay his share of the phone bill on time. At some point, in some way, most of us have had to deal with a similar situation, which hopefully served as a wake-up call, drawing communications charges, taxes, and miscellaneous fees within our circle of consciousness. Long-distance charges, as we all know can be a huge expense. This is especially true for chatty, away-from-home college kids, many of which have not yet developed a solid understanding of the concepts and relationship that exists between total freedom, responsibility, and creditors.

But whether the target market for VoIP gadgets is still predominantly college students, or expanding to include business owners, everyday consumers, or even technically savvy grandparents�all parties surely favor the liberty of speaking freely with little or no associated cost. And with popularity growing and quality of VoIP improving, we thought it was a good time to take a look at some new "Internet" phones. With this in mind, a couple of new VoIP phones were acquired for testing: Net2Phone's Yap (Your Alternative Phone) and newchip's NewVoice DSP040 with ZMM technology.

The newchip NewVoice DSP040 handset is currently available to system integrators for testing/evaluation purposes only. We were unable to elicit a release date from our contact at newchip, only the information that it "should be some time in the fourth quarter this year," was revealed. The handset is a USB device that works in conjunction with popular telephony programs, such as dialpad and Net2Phone, and as newchip says, it�s delivering PC users "new wave" handsets that provide an alternative to headsets. The newchip handset has an onboard digital signal processor (DSP) engineered and manufactured by ZMM LTD. According to our source at newchip, they buy the processor from ZMM, and incorporate it into their own handset. ZMM produces this and other USB-related technology. We took a closer look at this phone to determine its level of usability, ease-of-use, hardware practicality, and performance.

According to the instructions that arrived with the phone, the unit professes its compatibility with the Windows 98 Second Edition operating system. That being the case, we opted to install it on a 98 machine with a Pentium III and 64 MB of RAM. The DSP040 documentation indicates that in addition to Windows 98, it's also compatible with the following operating systems: Windows 2000, Windows ME, (Linux is currently under testing), Mac OS9, and Mac OSX. We must admit the newchip phone is truly a Plug and Play device, requiring little more than a free USB port. Installing the phone on a 98 machine rather than a 2000 machine, requires slightly more user input. That is, you actually have to click the Next button on the Window's set-up wizard (98), as opposed to just plugging in the phone and the operating system installing the drivers automatically (2000). Either way, simply insert the plug into a free USB port, and that's pretty much it. The DSP040 is recognized and configured by the operating system and employs the correct drivers. There's no software installation, unless your ITSP requires a download. newchip says (and we quote), "you can use any program of telephony you like; for example: MS NetMeeting, MSN Messenger, Net2Phone, and hundreds of others." We're not sure if there are "hundreds of others" (ITSPs), but we did test the phone with NetMeeting, Net2Phone, and dialpad. dialpad is browser-based, however Net2Phone requires a download. It should be noted that since the product is not yet released, the documentation is not complete. As a result, we had no specification on minimum system requirements.

As previously stated, newchip's phone is not yet available for retail sale, and at the time this review was written, the documentation has not been released. We couldn't even get a hand-written copy. What we were able to have a look at was a one-page installation guide. The installation guide tersely spells out only the essentials including: Types of operating system compatibility, and brief installation instructions for Windows 98, 2000, and Macintosh OS9.

The DSP040 is truly a USB Plug and Play device. The phone works with Microsoft's Direct X audio class, initiating the install of the correct drivers that actually come with the operating system, which newchip calls "native operating system support." There's no software CD, or even a floppy with the necessary drivers. The DSP040's flagship feature (in addition to being a USB device) is its onboard DSP.

The phone comes with a traditional spiral-type cord, which stretches out to about 10 feet in length. The product shots that arrived with the phone appear to indicate that the phone has a mountable holder that seems to be used to "hang it up," though we never received any other hardware except the handset itself.

Since we had Net2Phone already installed on our '98 test machine, we placed some calls over their network first. (As a tip, make sure the preferred device is selected in the Control Panel's Multimedia properties dialog boxes before trying to use the phone.) We then initiated some calls (PC-to-Phone and PC-to-PC) with variable results. Generally the PC-to-PC calls were of seemingly higher quality, while the largest variable appeared to reside with the PC-to-Phone calls, obviously having to factor in the Telco's service into the equation. The same variable results were achieved when using dialpad.

We then launched WinTop to test the CPU usage at the time of a call's inception and throughout the actual call. It should be noted that Net2Phone recommends running only its application while placing and receiving PC-to-Phone and PC-to-PC calls. Accept for the initiation of a call, where Net2Phone's .exe was absorbing a few percent of total usage, the system remained very stable and mostly idle, since it had no other system files to run. So it seems the DSP may indeed relieve the computer's CPU from processing voice.

We found the microphone's pick-up range to be excellent from up to a foot away, but we have to admit, the design didn't seem to be the most user-friendly. Although the earpiece emits ample tone, it isn't engineered in a way that it will prevent outside sounds/noise from interfering, since the phone is basically a rectangular shape, it is not contoured to the shape of the human ear.

Physically, newchip's phone was very slim and very light. Although we don't claim to be experts on the tensile strength and torsional properties of plastics, newchip's shell seemed a bit brittle. We feared dropping it from about waist high onto the commercial carpet covered floor, could permanently damage the phone, though we didn't opt to try this test. The college dorm room environment also came to mind when inspecting the phone's exterior, and well, we couldn't help but wonder if the phone itself would make it though midterms. The slimness of the phone, although an asset to a cellular phone for portability and storage, seemed to actually hamper the DSP040's usability since it seemed more difficult to hold the phone to your ear using only your shoulder (the hands free technique) than say, with a thicker handset. The phone seemed to possess dimensions just large enough to house the printed circuit board.

The DSP040 does have its strong points. newchip's installation simplicity, digital signal processor, and ability to work in conjunction with any telephony program make it a great no-frills, USB alternative to a headset (and sound card). newchip employs a DSP that appears to work in accord with any telephony program, and in theory reduces delay due to CPU processing time. The phone was designed to function utilizing native Windows drivers and works independently with no software to accompany its sleek, silver chassis. There's also no GUI, or other features associated with a user's interface such as an address book, speed dial, or call log. So if you're looking for a phone to support this type of functionality, you may want to test this one out first to see if it suits your needs.

Each manufacturer seemed to have different functionality in mind when engineering their phones. The DSP040 has an on board digital signal processor, true Plug and Play functionality that works with existing drivers on many different operating systems, and the ability to work with any ITSP, but supplies no GUI or additional functionality. According to our newchip contact, the DSP040 is available to system integrators right now for around $50.00, and will retail later this year between $30.00 and $40.00. The Yap Phone on the other hand, affords its own GUI and
additional functionality, but requires an installation CD and implementation of its own drivers. Its design also supplies a keypad and other PSTN-like features, but only works in conjunction with Net2Phone as the ITSP. The Yap Phone retails for around $55.00.

Since both of these handsets are billed as "Internet phones" it seemed only fitting that we test them over their targeted medium, using the sometimes-unruly routers, lines, and other hardware that link together, shaping the Internet as we know it today. The bottom line is this: You just don�t know what kind of quality you�re going to get from call to call. Sometimes the quality is good, and sometimes... it's not so good.

That being said, we deliberated upon what to do about this development. Is it fair to discount a product because of its reliance on a medium to help deliver quality? No, probably not. Though, it wouldn't be fair for us to not discuss this factor either. That left us in a rather precarious position, or so we thought, but after some careful consideration our decision wasn't so hard after all: The newchip NewVoice DSP040 was worthy of the Editors' Choice award. It affords users the option of using more than just one ITSP, and as previously stated it requires no installation, in addition to furnishing ZMM's digital signal processor. Which still doesn't quite earn it enough merit, until we factored this in: the DSP040 requires no soundcard. Which gives it an edge over headsets as well, and dually extends the product's reach to any CPU with a USB port.

The lack of a GUI didn't really bother us much considering most ITSPs provide the essentials, including a call history, address book, and balance availability within their own GUI. Lastly we hope that newchip delivers on the estimated retail price point of the DSP040, as that should be a major factor when deciding between it, and another phone or headset. Especially if the CPU(s) meant for installation are already equipped with a sound card.

In conclusion it's necessary to note that these phones are new, in fact, the DSP040 wasn't available for retail sale at the time of this product review, and was still beta testing with Linux. We enjoyed testing each product, as they both showed some innovation and are paving the way for an industry standard. We�ll be following both companies for future product releases and refinements, and also keeping our eye out for additional handsets to compare, as we continue our coverage of this
burgeoning market.

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