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My Ooma

Before going into call quality, I wanted to take a look at the My Ooma Portal. I won't go into detail about every single page, but I'll show some highlights and then provide some more in the gallery.

The main page of My Ooma is nicely laid out, simple, yet informative. The Dashboard shows voicemail, calling statistics (broken out by contact), and the Contacts page for importing and manipulating contacts that will download to an HD2 handset. Voicemail can be listened to on the web, on the handset or at the Telo. For $4.99 a month, you can even have Ooma transcribe your voicemail to a text or email for you. Call logs can be exported out to a CSV file.

The My Ooma Dashboard
The My Ooma Dashboard

The Community and Personal blacklists are nice privacy features. Personal blacklists are pretty much as described. You identify a number as unwelcome and Ooma provides options on how to deal with it. Your options are to play a message that the number has been disconnected, send the call straight to voicemail, provide the caller with a continuous ring or just tell them the call is blocked.

Community blacklists are even cooler. If enough people identify a number as unwanted, it automatically gets blocked for you as well with the same four options. Anonymous calls can also be blocked.

Community and Personal Blacklists in My Ooma
Community and Personal Blacklists in My Ooma

A few other features are worth mentioning. Ooma can be set to call-forward on a network outage, so you can specify another phone to forward to so as not to miss those important calls. You can also set Ooma to text or email you if someone in the house dials 911, useful for elderly parents or kids.

For a deeper look at some of the Ooma features take a look at the gallery below.

Call Quality

When calling within the metro of Denver, I had no complaints with the call quality. I used Ooma over the course of several weeks for conference calls and calls to friends and it performed spectacularly. I would occasionally notice a "dong" noise, but overall call quality was really good. I alternated between the HD2 handset using Ooma, the Skype handset using Ooma and the Skype handset using Skype.

If I had to be subjective, I would say that the Skype service sounded "slightly" better than the Ooma service. But Ooma had more consistent connections, while Skype would sometimes go to no man's land and make me dial again. I also took note of caller ID, noticing whether the correct number came up on each call. There was no discernible difference for call quality and clarity between the Ooma HD2 handset and my Skype handset.

I sometimes ran into problems when I called my parents in the midwest, however. I encountered one situation where a call to them resulted in a message that my balance was too low. But upon redial, it completed fine. My parents also said their landline caller ID registered weird numbers, sometimes being private, other times showing a completely different number than mine. I assume that was all in how Ooma makes its connection. Calls to their cellphone, however, always showed the correct number.

Call quality and clarity to them was hit and miss. Sometimes it would be crystal clear, other times they would say it broke up, still other times it was hardly audible. Each time, I would simply hang up and call back and get a different result. Skype was definitely more consistent in this regard.

One caveat I'll mention is that I did use Option B with Telo setup, meaning I had it after my router vs. between the router and cable modem. While I feel that relevant to point out, I do not feel this caused the call quality problems I encountered, given my successful testing to metro phone numbers. The Telo/router configuration also would not explain inconsistent caller ID displays. Lastly, I was watching my bandwidth utilization when calling to ensure there was plenty of bandwidth available. This Ooma article says only 130 Kbps of uplink bandwidth is needed for an Ooma call.

Closing Thoughts

If you are in a metro area and are going to mostly call people in the metro area, I would recommend Ooma. The quality seemed good when used in this manner and I had no complaints. I would also wholeheartedly recommend Ooma if you have a teenager or pre-teen in the house and are looking for a home phone solution—it's perfect for that.

I would recommend caution, however, if you are in a rural area or are going to make calls to rural areas. With my testing, call quality was not consistent when calling a rural area and caller ID information did not consistently display correctly. This admittedly is based only on my limited testing. But I consistently had problems when calling my parents. Over Christmas, I may take the Telo along to see how it works from my parents' home.

Having used Vonage, Skype, and Ooma, I'd rank them as follows (best to worst):

  • Call quality: Vonage, Skype, Ooma
  • Ease of use: Vonage, Ooma, Skype

Vonage was the most consistent, quality was the best and provided the most seamless transition from a traditional landline. Skype was next after Vonage for quality. But Skype has a geekiness factor that is not for everyone. A Skype account is required for calling and Skype's customer service has been beyond painful for me.

As far as cost, which is typically the primary motivator for using VoIP services, Vonage is the most expensive at $312/year ($26/mo.). Skype costs $66/year ($3/mo, service + $30/year, phone #). Ooma comes in either the cheapest of the three or slightly more expensive than Skype, depending on the options you buy.

You can't get away from paying the ol' taxes and fees for Ooma, which typically run about $4.50/mo. (use the calculator here to find your prospective charge). Adding Premier functions adds $10/mo. So a year of Ooma will cost either around $54 or $174.

Of course, you need to add in the initial $180 cost of the Telo for Ooma and a Skype phone or adapter for Skype ($100 in my case, but can be as low as $50 for just an adapter).

So Ooma has the highest upfront buy-in cost, but lowest monthly fees (with Basic feature set). By my calculation, after two years, Skype and Ooma are nearly identical in cost, with Ooma edging out Skype slightly. Beyond that, Ooma can be a real value, but again, that's with only the Basic feature set. The value is only worth it, however, if Ooma works well for the places you need to call. In my case at least, that's where I'm not so sold on Ooma.

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