Dialpad offers decent PC-to-phone call quality, and--with recently slashed rates--it's now competitive even with calling cards and 1-800 services. The advantage? You don't have to dial a calling-card or other access code. We love the efficient, slick-looking desktop dialing app that shows your minute-to-minute account balance, and the company gets major kudos for not bombarding you with banner ads and pop-up windows (à la competitor Net2Phone). Plus, Dialpad's online support is excellent and now, the company even offers weekday telephone support. In fact, Dialpad is the only PC-to-phone service we'd even consider using instead of a calling card or a 1-800 service, but even then, only if we were sitting in front of a computer that just happened to have a headset. Installing Dialpad requires little fuss. Simply download the small-footprint (820KB) DialpadChameleon desktop dialing application, run it, wait a few seconds while the program downloads approximately 400KB of additional files, then log on to the Dialpad Web site to sign up. A setup wizard walks you through adjusting the recording and playback levels of your headset (purchased separately), then you're good to go. You can use a microphone and speakers instead of a headset, but you may have problems with echo. Once you open an account and grace it with funds ($15 is the minimum for prepaid service), you can start calling immediately. Our only complaint: there's no import function for the Windows Address Book or other external address books (Net2Phone also lacks this feature), but you can store and dial numbers at the Dialpad Web site.
DialpadChameleon is a slick-looking affair that offers a virtual keypad, direct access to audio levels, and a drop-down redial list of up to 20 numbers. DialpadChameleon also provides one-button access to the Dialpad Web site, and unlike
Dialpad's Chameleon dialing app is slick and quick, and it doesn't bombard you with banner ads or pop-up windows.
Currently, there's a spot for banner ads at the top of the application, but it shows only occasional news from Dialpad, not from third parties--a welcome omission. Dialpad has also promised us that it no longer collects and sells customer information--nice to know in an age where protection from online direct marketers is almost nonexistent. When we made PC-to-phone calls using Dialpad over DSL, the call quality wasn't quite as good as Net2Phone's, but we never had any trouble understanding words. More significantly, the lag time or latency between speaking and hearing was much shorter than with Net2Phone. In our view, poor sound quality is less problematic than latency, since the latter invariably causes talkers to step on each other's sentences or endure long silences while each tries to figure out whose turn it is to speak. Our only real complaint about the Dialpad experience is that there's no way to adjust the volume of the DialpadChameleon digital dial tones and other phone noises, which we found a bit loud in relation to the volume of our actual conversations.
When we first started using Dialpad, the service's high rates put it on course for a low rating. But a week before press time, the company slashed prices to a level competitive with Net2Phone's and even with calling card and 1-800 long-distance services. Sample rates include 2.9 cents a minute to London, 4.9 cents to Mexico City, and 2.9 cents throughout the continental United States. You can get cheaper domestic rates by signing up for a monthly $7.50/300-minute, $9.99/500-minute, or $19.99/1,200-minute plan. The company also offers a separate calling card service, but when we checked the Web site, the rates weren't nearly as competitive, in some cases running 3 or 4 cents a minute more. Dialpad offers free telephone support via a toll call, but it's available only weekdays, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. However, online support is excellent, and we found few questions that the numerous, well-organized FAQs at the company's Web site won't answer. There's also a form where you can e-mail tech support, but our single question about DialpadChameleon hadn't been answered at press time--about a week's wait.
Online support is stellar.