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
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 grandparentsï¿½all 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 Yap Phone is a USB handset manufactured by Silicon
Portals and is sold by Net2Phone along with their IP telephony service
under the brand "Yap Phone." The Yap (Your Alternative Phone) brand belongs
to Net2Phone, which also offers other Yap-brand products in addition to the
phone. Net2Phone titles this compilation of "extreme" looking products as
Yap Gear. Yap Gear includes the Yap Phone, Yap Jack, and a Yap Headset,
which are all sold separately. The products have been selling in larger U.S.
retail stores like Office Max, CompUSA, Fry's, and Office Depot since May
2000. We installed the phone in our lab and did some testing to help us form
opinions on usability, ease-of-use, hardware practicality, and performance
of the product.
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 on a '98 machine with a
Pentium III and 64 MB of RAM. The Yap Phone required a few steps before it
was up and running. It also requires: Windows 98, a PC with a sound card, a
Pentium II 266 processor or higher, 16 MB of RAM (32 MB recommended), a 28.8
or higher modem, and a free USB port. The most important thing to note about
the Yap Phone's installation is not to actually plug in the phone until
prompted to do so by the set-up wizard. Once the files are installed, simply
click the Reboot Now button. When the system comes back up, the Net2Phone
installation wizard launches automatically, and begins to install that
software. Since we had a more current version of Net2Phone already installed
on our test machine, we declined the wizard. We were ready to place some
A small, almost pocketsize quick-start guide was included with the product
and software. More detailed documentation is available in PDF format on the
installation CD, and from the Web site.
Additionally available on the Web site are product FAQs and the latest
software release (at the time this review was written, version 1.5, updated
2/19/01 was available). It was newer than the version of software that
arrived with our product, so we opted to load it.
The quick-start guide offers plenty of screen shots and basic
instructions for installing the phone and Net2Phone software. It also
employs a troubleshooting guide, which appears just before the one-year
warranty on the last page, in which Silicon Portals is named as warrantor on
the hardware. So if you didn't catch the introduction to the article,
Silicon Portals manufactures the phone.
One thing that bothered us about the documentation was that both the
quick-start guide and the user's guide regularly illustrated a totally
different GUI than that which accompanied our phone. Initially we assumed
that it was just a question of having the latest version of documentation,
which of course, should accommodate the latest software release. Upon
visiting the Web site to reference the posted documentation we realized it
was the same as what was received with the product. In any event, the
documentation was adequate, though we didn't encounter an actual occasion in
which we needed to reference it for guidance.
Net2Phone puts usability and familiarity on the forefront with its PSTN-like
features keeping the learning curve to a minimum. The handset arrived with a
cradle and base (some assembly required). In addition to storing the phone
removing it from the base activates the off-hook feature, which in turn
launches the GUI. Though there is no simulated dial tone, and the phone
doesn't ring (though we thought that would be a really useful feature) when
receiving a PC-to-PC call, a number can be pecked into the keypad and sent
right from the handset without touching the computer (once the Yap Phone
software is running).
Speed dial, a call history, and phone book (to store numbers only) are
also featured, and they're also accessible without touching the keyboard or
mouse, but by instead using the "mouse like" wheel on the side of the phone,
both to call up different directories, and dial the number from the handset.
The phone also houses buttons to activate mute, initiate, and end a call
(similar to function of the "Send" and "End" buttons on a cell phone), a
backspace button, numeric keypad, and also a button to display your account
balance within the GUI. The back of the handset has an imbedded small green
light, which illuminates if the phone is off-hook.
The Yap Phone hardware is distinctive both in color and shape. At first
glance you may wonder how practical the design really is, but further
inquiry revealed that the design is actually very user-friendly, lending
itself to comfort, usability, and practicality -- less the phone cord. The
earpiece is shaped in a way that when placed against the human ear, it
prevents unwanted outside noise from interfering with the voice
transmission. The design of the phone itself makes it easy to hold, and its
shape allows you to easily balance the phone between your ear and shoulder
(hands free). The GUI is a simple interface affording greater functionality
to the Yap Phone user. The GUI has a small display at the top, which
exhibits things like the digits selected from the phone's keypad, and a user's
Net2Phone account balance. In addition to speed dial and phone book options,
the GUI also supports a call history, which records phone numbers and
Net2Phone user names.
A PSTN-like keypad is located on the inside of the handset, which can be
used to dial out. Calls can also be initiated using the Net2Phone interface.
We were hopeful the keypad also possessed the alphanumeric feature so we
could expedite the initiation of a PC-to-PC call from the handset by
spelling out Net2Phone usernames, but we ended up having to use the computer
keyboard. The phone also houses buttons to initiate a call, end a call (on
hook), and check your Net2Phone account balance.
To expedite testing, we launched WinTop and placed some PSTN calls. The
highest CPU usage was noted when Net2Phone was initiating the call. Other
than that, the system remained almost idle. The quality of the calls varied
with each connection. As a rule, PC-to-PC calls were generally of better
quality than anything over the PSTN, though that has no bearing on the phone's
performance. The microphone pick-up and earpiece volume were both excellent.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Beginning with the aesthetics: The cord didn't seem long enough to suit us,
and wasn't very pliable. Our '98 test-machine resides on an over-head rack
about six-feet high, which was an inconvenience when testing the Yap Phone
because of its cord length. We also experienced the same wish for a longer
cord when testing the phone on a 2000 machine, which resides under a desk.
The location problems wouldn't have been a factor if the phone cord was made
from a more pliable material, or designed to extend farther.
Initially (before installation) we thought the "mouse-like" wheel in the
side of the handset may have been for earpiece volume, though after the
software installation we discovered that it's used to access the GUI from
the handset. It would have been nice if a hardware volume control existed
allowing for quick adjustments. Also, the base was too light. Though the
rubber bottom assisted in gripping almost any surface, nearly every time the
phone was placed in the cradle it had to be done carefully to ensure the
entire unit wouldn't tip over. An optional vise-type device, or some sort of
wall mount would have been key, but of course, a wall mount would almost
certainly require a longer cord. Additionally, the off-hook indicator light
was really neat, and the hang-up button on the phone was really cool, but
they didn't seem to have much of a purpose. It seemed that when off-hook,
the Yap Phone's GUI launches, and reciprocally the phone did end a call when
it was placed in its cradle. What we're getting at here is, we still had to
answer PC-to-PC calls using the Net2Phone interface. Unless there's a trick
that we missed, which wasn't explained in the documentation, it was
necessary to click the Yes button on the Net2Phone interface to accept an
incoming call. Picking up the handset so it goes off-hook did not answer our
PC-to-PC calls, nor did it deter an incoming call if it wasn't in its
cradle. In these ways, the Yap Phone does not mirror the traditional
behavior of a PSTN phone. Additionally we thought a great feature would be
enabling the "off-hook" indicator light to work in conjunction with
Net2Phone's Internet Answering Machine, to say, blink when a message has
been taken alerting the user without having to check the computer's monitor.
The Yap Phone was designed to work in conjunction with its own software,
which employs a GUI, call history, and speed dial. The Yap Phone is also
constructed with a rugged, PSTN-like design, incorporating some standard
PSTN-like functionality. The Yap Phone requires some setup, but it's got
software, it's got a GUI, it's got a keypad, it's got Net2Phone's backing.
The voice quality seemed to vary, almost with each call -- which we expected
due to connection quality.
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
donï¿½t know what kind of quality youï¿½re 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. Weï¿½ll 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
To The June 2001 Table Of Contents ]