What a difference an update makes in Nero's SIPPS Connect VoIP adapter. Compared to the previous version, the newest release of this VoIP softphone offers markedly improved quality in calls to both analog lines and other SIPPS Connect users. The program thankfully retains its no-cost talking between SIPPS Connect users, as well as other nice features such as an ad-free dashboard and the ability to record calls. However, SIPPS Connect is still beset by videoconferencing hiccups and a puzzling configuration process, causing us to stick by our original guns in recommending Skype 2 for a better overall VoIP experience with a softphone.
Before you can make a VoIP call, you must have two things in place--an adapter and a gateway. For more on how the VoIP process works, check out CNET editors' guide to VoIP. While some companies, such as Skype and NetZero, provide both the adapter and the gateway, Nero offers only the first part of the equation in its SIPPS Connect softphone. SIPPS Connect comes in two different forms: the for-pay, full-featured version, which includes features such as videoconferencing, an answering machine, and instant-messaging capabilities, and a no-cost, stripped-down version (SIPPS Free) that lacks these and other features. You can buy the full-featured version in one of two ways. The first involves paying $24.99 to download a single user-license for the product from Nero's Web site; you can also get two licenses on a $29.99 CD that's available at retail stores such as Fry's. The only way to get SIPPS Free is to download it from the company's Web site. If you're not sure which one you want, Nero permits you to download a demo of the full-featured program that's free for the first 30 days. When the time's up, you're prompted to buy the product; should you choose not to, you can still continue to use it as the pared-down SIPPS Free (the extra features will be locked at this point).
We installed both the full-featured SIPPS Connect and SIPPS Free. Each proved fairly easy to install, but their configuration processes were a different matter. The crux of their difficulties lies in choosing a gateway. With SIPPS Free, the configuration wizard presents you with three gateway choices: Nikotel (one of Nero's preferred VoIP service plan providers based in Europe), other, and none. While techies will understand that these choices translate to using the IP address of Nikotel, another third-party provider, or their own ISP to make calls, newbies will think that they must either pay for a Nikotel plan or figure out what a gateway is and whether they already have access to a free one. This will probably deter those who simply want to use the program to make free calls to other SIPPS Connect buddies. The wizard also fails to clarify that in addition to Nikotel's paid plans, which enable users to make calls to and receive calls from landline and cell phones, the provider offers a free plan that allows SIPPS Connect users to make free calls to each other. Were this stated more clearly, it would save novices the headache of trying to identify their own free gateway.
The configuration wizard for the full-featured SIPPS Connect omits one of the gateway choices, offering just SipTalk (another Nero preferred provider) or none. Unlike Nikotel, SipTalk doesn't provide a free plan, so users must either pay for SipTalk or go the route of using their own gateway. The only support recourse for either configuration procedure is a brief quick-start guide (available online or, for those who buy the product on CD, hard copy inside the box) that doesn't elaborate on key configuration steps, such as how to locate a network's IP address. The most valuable nugget of info in the guide is that SIPPS Connect users who want to call each other for free must make those calls through the same gateway; that is, someone using the SipTalk gateway can't place a free call to another person using the Nikotel gateway. Users don't have to sign up with a SIPPS Connect third-party provider, but they do have to sign up with the same Internet service telephony provider, such as Vonage.