VoIP headsets review

Heard the buzz about VoIP and want to know what all the fuss is about?
 
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  • Updated:4 Jun 2006
 

04.Features

The all-in-one design of the headsets in our trial makes it simple to plug them in to your computer and use for listening and speaking. You control the volume, balance and other functions on your computer. The most basic, and usually cheapest, headsets don’t include any additional features. They’ll do a good job and won’t cost a lot of money.

  • Logitech and Philips don’t have an adjustable headband.
  • All headsets, except Labsic which has a microphone in the cord, have an adjustable microphone boom.
  • All the headsets have inline volume control, which users found convenient.
  • Logitech, Plantronics and Verbatim have an inline mute button.
  • Logitech and Plantronics have a noise-cancelling microphone which can improve call quality.
  • All the headsets have padded earcups which helps them sit comfortably on the ears.
  • None are wireless or use the USB connection.

Comfort

Sound quality alone doesn’t make a good headset — comfort affects how much you enjoy using it. Most headsets reproduced sound well, but comfort depended on personal preferences.

  • The headband, whether it’s at the top or back of your head, must be firm so it doesn’t slip off or come loose while you’re talking. It also needs to adjust to fit over heads that are different sizes and shapes.
  • The headset needs to sit on your ears properly. A headset that’s tight can squeeze the ears and lead to pain in the side of the face. Any discomfort will become worse the longer you use the headset in each session.
  • You also need adequate mouthpiece adjustment so that the microphone sits at a suitable level.
  • The cord needs to be in a convenient place so that it doesn’t get tangled. The headsets in our trial varied between over-the-head and behind-the-ear styles. Your choice will be affected by personal preference — glasses, hair, earrings and other accessories will also affect how well a headset will suit you.

Things to consider

  • You'll probably still have to pay for your internet account, including the data you send and receive making internet phone calls. Talking non-stop for one minute over the internet takes up about 180-600KB.
  • You’ll still need your landline if you use an ADSL broadband internet connection. ADSL transmits data over your phoneline, unlike cable or wireless broadband internet connections.
  • Access to 000 emergency services isn’t automatically guaranteed if you make a call over the internet. Your exact location can’t always be pinpointed if you ring the emergency call centre.
  • If the power goes out, the computer and the internet connection will also be down, so if you rely solely on the computer to make calls, you may be left without access to a phone.
  • Internet traffic can affect the reliability of calls and any delays or loss of data will affect the call quality. If you’re using a Wi-Fi wireless network, you might experience interference; and a firewall on either computer can affect how well a call gets through.
  • Most broadband services have different upload and download speeds — sending data is generally slower — which can disrupt the call because the voice signal isn’t sent and received at the same rate.

You should also consider potential security issues when making phone calls on the internet

  • Eavesdropping
  • Theft of personal information
  • Viruses and spam

Paid services

If you decide to go with a paid internet telephone service, you'll have various options:

  • You can sign up for a plan with no monthly cost or contract period that will let you make free calls to others on the same service as well as local, national, international and mobile calls at much lower rates than landline phones. But you’ll need to pay for an incoming landline phone number, generally about $50 a year.
  • For a $10 monthly fee, you’ll probably get flat-rate national calls, per-second charging, a dial-in landline number and some features such as voicemail, call forwarding, call waiting and three-way calling. Calls to other users on the same service are free.
  • If you make a lot of long distance and mobile calls, then a $30 monthly plan that includes some calls might be worth considering. These generally offer flat-rate national calls, per-second call charging, a dial-in landline number, a range of account features and free calls to users on the same service. However, if you opt for this type of account, you’ll probably be up for some hardware costs.

Is it for you?

If you’re considering switching, but want to know if you can make any savings, you need to know how to assess your current circumstances. Some internet phone plans charge calls per minute, and some per call, so you’ll need to gather information from your current phone bill before you start.

Step 1: Your phone bill

  • Count the number of local calls, and estimate how many minutes they took.
  • Count STD and mobile calls. Round each call up to the nearest minute, and total the number of minutes you spent on each type of call.
  • Count calls to 1300 and 1800 numbers as STD calls — internet phone plans generally don’t provide these for free and may charge a premium.
  • Don’t include the cost of line rental, and don’t tally extras like voicemail and call forwarding — these are generally provided as part of an internet phone call plan.

Step 2: Calculate costs

  • We recommend checking your landline call costs for a year. When comparing it against the cost of calls with an internet phone plan, add in the cost of upfront hardware, set up and delivery costs, and the cost of the monthly service. Don’t forget to deduct any call credits or included calls. Avoid contracts that lock you in for six months or more.

Step 3: If you change

  • There are several ways to make phone calls on your computer but a paid service that uses your landline phone and an adaptor connected to your modem will give you the most flexibility. This way, you can use both your regular landline and a phone number provided by your internet phone service to give you the best of both worlds. We compared the call costs for three case studies using this kind of service.
    It’s probably not worth considering paid internet phone services unless you spend more than $50 on calls each month.

Case studies

Mostly mobile

Linda spends about $70 each month on calls to mobiles. She could halve that by switching to an internet phone plan. Linda already has broadband internet, so she would need to buy an adapter to connect her regular phone up to her broadband connection (she could get one with her service or buy one separately). Even factoring in the cost of the hardware and a monthly internet phone plan, we calculated that Linda could save $300 a year.

Our suggestion:

  • Buy an adapter for the flexibility of using both regular landline and cheaper internet calls to mobiles. Choose an internet phone plan with mobile call credit.

Dial–up to broadband

Bill makes more than 200 local calls a month — mostly to his dial-up internet service. His other phone calls only add up to about $20 a month. Bill could save money by moving to a basic broadband plan. The average minimum monthly cost of a 256 kbps broadband plan is about $48, compared to his current $25 dial-up plan. He will also have to factor in the cost of a modem — a broadband modem/router with an internet phone socket would give him the flexibility to move to an internet phone plan in the future. The broadband plan and hardware costs more than his current dial-up internet plan, but he would still save money because he won’t have to dial into his internet service.

Our suggestion:

  • Switch to broadband, but don’t bother with a dedicated internet phone plan just yet.

No more landline

Steve has cable internet, and after doing some calculations, decided he could do away with the landline. This is possible only with cable or wireless internet, neither of which require a landline — unlike ADSL. He pays a monthly fee ($10), but this is less than the line rental he was paying ($26) and he makes savings on call costs. Over a year, he has saved $420 in account and call costs. If Steve’s cable service goes down, however, he’ll have to rely on his mobile.

 

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