Unlike Dialpad, iConnectHere relies on a desktop program, not a Java applet. Downloading the 1.9MB file is as easy as pie, but you'll probably have a slew of problems to solve before you're ready to dial. For instance, in our tests, iConnectHere repeatedly muted the volume to our headset.
iConnectHere's interface doesn't help, either. It's big and intrusive, and with a desktop resolution of 800x600 pixels, it swallows a third of the screen. At least it's easy to use, thanks to its dialing pad with large buttons, room for five speed-dial numbers at the left, display that shows your account balance on the right, and more buttons at the top to start and end calls. You'll have to try to ignore the irksome 468x60 ad banner that squats beneath the dialer.
The phone book is crude; it provides room for only four numbers per contact, doesn't include a search function, and, unlike Dialpad, doesn't show who's online. Hence, you'll have to guess whether your friend has logged on to receive your direct PC-to-PC call. And worse, you'll have to re-create your address book manually, since there's no way to import contacts from a PIM. Dialpad, on the other hand, lets you import contacts from e-mail programs such as Outlook Express and Netscape Messenger.
iConnectHere once offered an hour of free PC-to-phone time, but that deal is long gone. Instead, you have to purchase $10, $25, $50, or $100 blocks of calling time, then iConnectHere charges you by the minute, subtracting from those prepaid blocks. iConnectHere also sells a Millennium Plan for $10 per month (1,000 minutes to U.S. and Canadian numbers, plus 250 minutes to western Europe, Australia, and Hong Kong) and a North American Plan for $5 per month (400 minutes to the United States and Canada). Those rates are considerably higher than iConnectHere's prices a year ago. Calls to U.S. numbers run 2.9 cents a minute with iConnectHere (same as Dialpad), but overseas PC-to-phone rates are lower than Dialpad's. In our 10-country price test, calls made using iConnectHere cost 79 percent of AT&T's total. Net2Phone's rates are 73 cents cheaper than iConnectHere's for the same 50-minute test call package.
Pathetic call quality
The proof, though, is in the phoning, where iConnectHere fails miserably. PC-to-phone calls are plagued by delays that caused overlaps in our conversations. Friends on the other end reported hearing distortion and dropouts (parts of the conversation that mysteriously disappear), and, on our end, friends sounded like they were talking to us from the bottom of a swimming pool.
What really stinks, though, is that you can't use iConnectHere--for either PC-to-phone or PC-to-PC calls--from behind a personal firewall. In our tests, iConnectHere refused to work even after we disabled Norton Internet Security's firewall.
PC-to-PC? Forget it
You can make PC-to-PC calls, but they sound just as bad as their PC-to-phone counterparts, and you'll have to dig up your IP address for anyone who wants to call you on your PC. If your ISP uses dynamic addressing, wherein the IP address varies each time you log in, this is a major hassle and prevents spontaneous calling. Thankfully, a command in the software's help menu helps identify your IP address.
Support has slipped
iConnectHere's support team hasn't kept up, either. A year ago, the company managed a toll-free help desk 24/7, but that's gone. Instead, the only way to connect with technical support is via e-mail. We asked a quick question, then waited three days; the stock response didn't even solve our problem. The online FAQs and searchable solutions database didn't offer a solution to our headset issue, either. When we searched the database for info about firewalls, for example, we came up empty-handed.
iConnectHere's lousy call quality alone is enough to put this Net phone dead last in our book. Put your money on Net2Phone if you need to cut costs by using the Internet to place calls.