When it comes to Internet home phone services, there are many options today. Vonage was the first service in Canada to challenge the traditional home phone and now there are a plethora of services available on the market. The problem with all these services is that once you pay some nominal fee for the equipment, you have to pay every month for the service to run it. Based on a quick scan of most offers, you're paying at least $20 a month just to get basic phone service, a limited amount of minutes, and a voice mail box. And you still have to pay for the Internet. This is why I was so intrigued by the Ooma Telo.
It's All About The Hardware
The Ooma Telo isn't only pretty, but it has a spec list that reads like a smartphone. Onboard is a dual core processor, 1GB of flash memory (likely for holding voicemails), and a wideband audio engine. Also inside is a DECT base station that works with the Ooma Telo Handsets that are only currently available in the US for around $50. However, it does work with that huge Costco blister pack of DECT 6.0 Panasonic phones you picked up on your last shopping trip, or for that matter, any other regular phone that works on a landline. But the Ooma Telo handsets do offer a whole lot more than what a cordless handset offers so hopefully we see them soon in Canada.
A USB port on the back allows you to plugin one of Ooma's Bluetooth Adapters and pair a bluetooth enabled cellphone with the base station. This allows your calls to ring through so you can keep your smartphone charging and not miss a call. Or you can pair any bluetooth headset and walk around like you're really important. The Ooma Adapter is available from $29, which isn't cheap, so in my testing, I dug up a current ASUS Bluetooth Adapter that supports 2.1+ EDR and it seemed to work just fine. It was also on sale for around $10 bucks. The difference is that if you need help with it, you're on your own. But the instructions to pair and operate the Ooma one worked perfectly.
If you don't need Bluetooth connectivity, but maybe some leeway for placement, the USB port also allows you to plug in an Ooma Telo Wireless adapter which lets you put the Ooma Telo base anywhere within range of your wireless router. That'll set you back $49 and they claim that this adapter is build special to take advantage of the built in PureVoice HD Technology.
As I said, it's all about the hardware and this hardware retails for $229 CAD at most major retailers with a one year warranty that is extendible through Ooma. However, as of the writing of this review, I spotted Future Shop and Best Buy selling it for between $202.99 and $209.99 respectively and Ooma themselves is giving a $50 Credit with activation. That's a great deal particularly if you consider what I'm about to share with you...
How Much Does The Monthly Service Cost?
In Canada, your monthly cost is based on a portion for the regulators of the 911 service, a portion for licensing and regulatory fees, and depending on where you live in Canada, a portion for the province or city you are in. You can check it out for yourself using their tax calculator, but our fees ended up being less than $4.00 a month for the basic service. So in other words, if it was up to Ooma, the price would be free, but the government ALWAYS has to get their cut in Canada!
The main features of the basic Ooma service include unlimited free calling to ANY Ooma customer and free calling across Canada. You also get a voicemail box that is accessible from the web or from your base station. Other useful features include *69 service from the handset, call waiting, caller ID, call forwarding, discounts on International long distance rates starting at a penny and enhanced 911 service that forwards the address on your file to the authorities in case of emergency. All these features alone give several services on the market that charge far more, a serious headache.
Other Premier features that I used and loved include the back up number, so if your Internet goes down, it'll forward that call to your mobile phone or another phone number you specify, and the enhanced caller ID which gives you the person's name instead of a number. There are more differences so I'll just let this chart do the talking. Do keep in mind that the instant second line will not work unless you have a Telo Handset, which, as I said earlier, isn't available in Canada yet.
You get all of this and more for an additional $9.99 a month but if you sign up for a year, they'll give you a choice of a free gift which includes either a Bluetooth Adapter, Wireless Adapter, an extra year of hardware warranty, or my favourite, a free number port from your old service provider, whether it's VOIP, landline, or mobile. We'll talk about the porting process more in a bit. It is worth noting that Ooma has no problems with you trying out the Premier Service first before making up your mind. A 60 day trial is included with the basic service so you can decide whether or not the upgrade is worth it.
How Easy Is It To Hook Up?
Ooma made the service to easily replace any landline service as long as you have a stable Internet connection in the house. You don't actually need a computer to operate the service, but if you have Internet, it seems kind of strange that you wouldn't have one. On the flip side, even if you got a basic Internet package for under $20 a month and you paired it with the Ooma Telo plus the regulatory fees, it'd still be cheaper than any competing service and you'd still get a whole lot more in terms of service and features.
Holding true to the no computer needed theme, you can either call in to activate your Ooma Telo, or you can do it online if you have a computer. Once that's done, you just need to use the provided power adapter and ethernet cable to power it up, and get it plugged into your Internet service. If you have a router, you can just plug it in to one of your ports using the included ethernet cable. If you are using it as standalone service like I outlined above, then you just need to plug it into the back of your cable modem.
If you have an older router that does not have packet prioritization or if you're simply having some performance issues, you can plug the modem into the "To Internet" port then plug another cable from the "Home Network" port back into your router. This will not slow down your Internet, but will prioritize the voice data above your other data so you don't get voice quality issues. You can use this method to plug in a single computer to your modem if you don't use a router.
The last step of course is to take your blister pack of Panasonic cordless phones that you got from Costco, and plug the base into the "phone" jack on the Ooma Telo. You should be ready to make calls once the "Ooma Flower" turns blue.
Call Quality and Features
I have been using a cellphone as my office line and another one as my mobile line for a couple years now. I have Vonage as well but I mainly use it as my FAX line. I also have Shaw Home Phone at my house. Compared to all of these services, the PureVoice HD is some kind of wonderful.
When compared to the cellphone service (Rogers/Bell) the Ooma Telo attached to a Panasonic DECT 6.0 handset is like night and day. If I can use some of my audiophile snob language, there was certain "airy-ness" to the tone and a warmth that has eluded my ears for quite a while now. When no one was speaking, the background noise was next to nothing, which had me doing an extra "hello" to make sure the other party was there. There was none of the lag, or lack of clarity that plagues mobile phone calls at times.
Compared to the Vonage and the Shaw Home Phone, they just sounded comparatively cold when put up against the Ooma Telo. Both the Shaw Home Phone and the Ooma Telo were better than the Vonage in terms of clarity and noise reduction in most situations. Compared to each other, the Shaw just didn't have that warmth of tone that the Ooma Telo had, but both were equally clear. Not bad considering the full meal deal service with Shaw is over $65 a month, which JUST matches most of the Ooma features and we even tested the service on Shaw's own Internet Service.
I've really enjoyed the features and I think I've used every single one at least once. The blacklisting and the ability to send voicemail to my smartphone when I'm not in the office is definitely a favourite. I can make like I'm here when I'm not that much more easily. Although I don't consider it a feature, being able to call anywhere in the US and Canada for as long as I want (technically up to 5000 min but see this post on their blog for clarification) and at the quality that I'm getting, feels like stealing when you compare it to the service I'm getting with my Shaw Home Phone and the monthly fees I need to pay for it.
The only thing that I'm really missing a trial on is the instant second line service. Ooma really needs to get on that because it's in all their features and marketing materials. A Telo Handset has yet to materialize in the Canadian market though so we'll have to hang on just a bit longer.
The Final Frontier - Number Porting
I went all the way through the Ooma experience for this review because sometimes, voice quality doesn't always tell the tale. Anyone that has every gotten heated towards any service provider after their trial is up knows what I'm talking about. So over the last couple months, I've made every excuse to use the Ooma service, at the premiere level, to its maximum. I've tried out pretty much every feature, and I have to say, I'm just really impressed with it still. So that's why I want to share with you my experience with the final step of ownership: porting over your number.
As I mentioned, I've had a second mobile phone as my office line for a while now. Since it came off contract a while ago, I've been trying to figure out what to do with it. So as the sacrificial lamb, I brought it over to Ooma using their porting service, which is free if you sign up for the whole year at $119 at the premier level, or you can pay $39.99 as a one time fee and go month to month. Totally up to you, but a saving of $39.99 up front is quite a bit. Keep in mind that some providers may charge some sort of cancellation fee so be aware of that before you port over.
Using the form on their website, I filled in all the blanks and submitted it. What was impressive is that every step of the way, I was kept in the loop about the status of the port including the date that the port would be transferred. They even told me that they would be testing the number before sending a final notification that the port was complete and they even told me that the user ID of the account would change to the ported in phone number. Something I would not have known had they not told me.
The port took approximately three weeks from the time of submission from Rogers Wireless which was well within the window they specified which is 3 -4 weeks. The thing I appreciated most was the communication which made the time go by quickly as no one likes to be kept in the dark about something as important as a number port.
MEGATechie Marvelous or MEGATechie Meh...
Ooma has found a unique way to get into the Internet Home Phone market with the Telo. Just charge for the equipment, and give away a basic, but extremely decent level of service for nearly free. Heck, they even give you 60 days to see if you want to pay the extra $9.99 a month for Premier Service, which should be an ample amount of time for you to consider if this is right for you.
As far as the service quality, I was really impressed with the voice quality, the attentiveness of the customer service team if I did have a question, and the smoothness and level of communication when doing something as important as a number port to their service. I sometimes get stuck because I give a service a glowing review before 30 days, but after that, things start going wrong. This was not one of those services and I'm glad that I can make a statement like that because I really do love it, especially all the features, in particular, the Blacklisting feature. I've used it on a number of weird 1-800 numbers and I have to say, the volume of annoying calls is way down in this office.
Since hardware is a big part of this offer, I have to say that from the easy setup, to the day to day use, the Ooma Telo base station was pretty much fool proof. The touch controls were responsive every time I went to use them, and it never let me down when I needed it. The only thing I could suggest is that WiFi and Bluetooth just be integrated. Dongles are so primitive. Canada also needs that Telo Handset to take advantage of the instant second line feature so hurry up!
This service/hardware is definitely MEGATechie Marvelous and if you're looking for Internet Home Phone service, look no further than the Ooma Telo and the Premier Service for an extra $9.99 a month. And with the promotions on right now, you can get started with the hardware and basic service for less than $200 with that $50 bill credit. You can be sure that my Shaw Home Phone service is taking a walk as soon as I hit publish on this review.
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