Actiontec Internet Phone Wizard
Every once in a while, a product comes along that's so helpful and simple to use, it makes us fall in love with technology all over again. The Actiontec Internet Phone Wizard is one of those products. The device works in combination with Skype's excellent VoIP software, letting you make free Internet telephone calls to other Skype users through an analog phone--and it allows you to place regular landline calls, too. Though its $79 price is a bit high, you'll recoup expenses quickly as you save on your long-distance bill. We recommend the Internet Phone Wizard to anyone with broadband connection who seeks a more familiar way to make free phone calls than using a headset.
The discreet Internet Phone Wizard is slightly larger than a standard deck of cards, so it won't stand out and ruin your decor or take up much space. The back edge includes a USB 2.0 port for connecting the device to your computer, plus two RJ-11 jacks for plugging it into your analog phone and, if you also want to use that phone for plain old telephone calls, the phone jack in your wall. A row of three status lights lines the front edge, indicating when the device is properly connected to your computer, when a call is coming through the Internet, and when you're on a landline call.
Actiontec clearly put time and effort into composing the Internet Phone Wizard's quick-start guide. The guide includes superclear installation instructions, with plenty of full-color images and screenshots to help point the way. The whole installation takes just a matter of minutes: download, install, and configure the Skype software on your computer; connect the Phone Wizard to the appropriate ports on your computer and phone; and install the device drivers from the included CD. If you're like most of the modern world and are using a cordless phone, you can then pick up the handset, dial your Skype buddies (if you have them programmed in your speed dial--if not, you'll have to dial from your Skype interface), and roam around your house while talking for free. This way, you're not tethered to your computer while talking, as you would be with a headset or mic-and-speaker setup plugged directly into your system. You can also call non-Skype users, but only after registering with SkypeOut, a fee-based service that offers competitive long distance in line with other VoIP phone services, such as Vonage. After you've shut down your computer, you can make and receive landline calls as if the Internet Phone Wizard wasn't there, but remember that these calls are still subject to all of the standard fees levied by your local phone service provider.
The Internet Phone Wizard offers several awesome features that make using it a pleasure. You can switch between Internet and landline call modes (much like call waiting) just by pressing your handset's # key twice. If you've assigned speed-dial numbers to your Skype friends, you can punch those numbers into your handset to place calls. The built-in call waiting feature will alert you to a landline call that's attempting to come through while you're on an Internet call, and vice versa. A ring-back function lets you know when you've forgotten a call on hold. And because the device works through any Internet firewall, you don't have to mess with any of your computer settings before you use it.
Our anecdotal testing of the Internet Phone Wizard resulted in fine connections that were on a par with a normal cell phone connection. In our Skype-to-Skype calls, we detected a bit of latency, but both voices came through clearly. And our Skype-to-non-Skype calls sounded like conversations between two analog phone users.
The Internet Phone Wizard ships with the same one-year warranty offered by most consumer communications devices. It also includes toll-free phone support that's conveniently available around the clock. The device's user manual is top notch, expanding on the explicit instructions and images featured in the quick-start guide. And the company's support Web site lists dozens of helpful FAQs about the device.