Freshtel 4030 Stick Phone review: Freshtel 4030 Stick Phone
Travellers with VoIP fixations will love Freshtel's excellent and easily transportable USB VoIP adaptor.
USB Memory keys aren't terribly exciting. It's sad, but true -- no matter how much plastic you wrap around them, whether in businesslike black monoliths or ludicrous sushi-shaped abominations, there's no getting around how basically pedestrian a USB key is in this day and age. VoIP, however, still has something of an air of excitement about it -- there's plenty of on-the-ground players in the VoIP space, more than a few choices of softphone to use (although Skype's still leading the pack) and the pure consumer thrill of paying mere cents for international phone calls (or nothing as a pure VoIP call) can't be beat. So combining the pedestrian nature of a USB key with VoIP might seem a little wacky at first (although we've seen wackier, but it's ultimately a very sensible solution for VoIP using travellers who don't want an easily breakable (or lost) headset to cart around with them.
The USB part of the 4030 Stick Phone looks much like any other USB key; it's a fairly large plastic enclosure with the Freshtel logo writ large on the top. The non-USB port end of the USB key has a socket for the mono earpiece and microphone, which come in the box along with a USB extension cable for users who have difficulty reaching their USB ports -- say, on a regular desktop PC, for example.
The 4030 Stick phone auto-installs on any Windows PC as a USB Composite device for its VoIP capabilities, as well as a USB mass storage device for the memory part of the equation. The product description and packaging of the 4030 lists it as having 128MB of memory onboard, and while this is technically true, it's worth bearing in mind that the inbuilt drivers and software eat up 16MB of that. Unless you're sure you'll never need them, you're really looking at a device with only 112MB of storage.
On the software side, the 4030 ships with a portable version of Freshtel's Firefly application, labelled as FireFly2Go. If you've got autoplay enabled on your PC, this will automatically launch and connect up a standard Firefly account, or prompt you to create one if you haven't already. Firefly itself works well in this setting, as it's easy enough to run it directly from the stick without needing to install anything on the host PC it's attached to, which gives it definite application for hotel business suites, or even Internet cafes for travelling types.
We tested the 4030 Stick Phone with the supplied Firefly software, but as a matter of course also tested it with other VoIP softphone clients, including the ever-popular Skype. The 4030 worked essentially identically across all of our tested services, with reasonable voice pickup from the microphone, and exceptionally loud audio through the earpiece. On every single client we used, we found it necessary to lower the speaker volume to avoid blasting our eardrums unacceptably.
The 4030 isn't just a VoIP headset, however. We also tested its file performance for simple transfers, and here we found it to be rather on the sluggish side. Across a series of small file transfers -- 112MB doesn't give you a lot of testing space -- we averaged out at just under 1MB/second for both compressed files and directories of many files. That's certainly not the worst we've ever seen out of a drive, but it's far from the nippiest, either.
The 4030 Stick Phone has a very clear market in mind -- travelling VoIP users -- and for those users, as long as you don't need much USB storage space, and remember to turn the speaker volume down a touch in your VoIP application of choice, it's a good choice.