With Voice over IP (VoIP) becoming increasingly popular, the race is on for hardware manufacturers to come up with a range of solutions for different situations. One of the active areas is the development of conventional-looking handsets that deliver both VoIP access and landline calls. The DU@Lphone from New Tech Products does this, and is designed specifically for use with Skype. It's a DECT handset that delivers cordless VoIP and landline functionality, opening up the potential -- particularly for smaller companies -- for relatively low-cost, hassle-free VoIP systems to be integrated with their existing telecommunications infrastructure.
The DU@Lphone is not a pretty handset. It's fairly large and rather clunky in appearance. However, it feels comfortable to hold, delivers good-quality audio and has a number pad whose buttons are large and well spaced. It has standard call and end keys, plus a second call key that you use specifically with Skype. Press this and all your contacts who are currently online will become visible, one at a time as you scroll up and down using the large navigation key.
A log button provides a list of incoming calls, while a telephone book button provides access to 160 stored numbers. These need to be entered manually, or by using call log or Caller ID data: unfortunately they can’t be stored on a PC for easier data entry or backup.
The DU@Lphone comes with a base station that charges the handset and includes a ‘page’ button that causes the handset to emit a rather piercing tone -- useful if it gets buried under piles of paper on a desk.
As well as a mains power adapter for the base station, you get a USB cable for connecting the base station to a PC (for VoIP access), plus a standard telephone cable for your landline. The packaging includes a belt clip for the handset, a CD containing installation software and rather minimalist printed manual that covers setup and basic use. For more detailed help you’ll need the manual provided via the DU@Lphone software on your PC. You can attach a wired headset to the handset, but none is provided.
The installation CD offered to install updated DU@Lphone and Skype software from the Web, and we took this option. Unfortunately, having done this, the installation CD then left us in limbo, failing kick back in and continue to manage the installation. We had to decide which way round to install things -- for reference, installing the DU@Lphone software first followed by Skype worked for us.
We installed a fresh instance of Skype on a brand-new notebook, and logged onto an existing account, which populated itself with contacts. The DU@Lphone software then asked if it was OK to use Skype. Some data is downloaded to the handset during this process -- including any Skype contacts currently online -- and you are advised to leave it in its cradle for 15 minutes, which we duly did.
You can register up to four DU@Lphone handsets with the base station provided. We couldn't register the DU@Lphone with our existing DECT system, but the two worked alongside one another happily enough. In real-world situations the key disadvantage of being unable to register is likely to be inability to page handsets across a mixed system.
You can assign different ringtones for internal, IP-based and landline calls. None are especially inspiring, but it could be useful to differentiate different types of call. You can’t assign different ringtones to individual callers though.
There are some useful additional features, such as answering a call simply by lifting the handset from the base station, or getting an alert when IP contacts change from being offline to online. The DU@Lphone supports call waiting and, usefully, you can change your Skype online status from it. But there are also some omissions: for example, there's no speakerphone, and if you are used to having an answerphone on your DECT system, you’ll need to get one by another route.
The DU@Lphone performed well for both landline and VoIP-based calls. Call quality was good in both situations, and we found we were able to wander around the building much as we would with a traditional DECT handset.
If you're used to a sophisticated DECT system, you'll note some issues, including the rather low-grade handset design and build quality to on-board features. But because the DU@Lphone works alongside other DECT systems, you don't need to give up your existing handsets completely.
It's a pity that more is not made of the PC software. It would be ideal, for example, to be able to maintain a list of numbers on the PC and update handsets via the USB connection automatically as this list is edited. This would allow a backup of numbers to be maintained, and several handsets to be updated from one central store.