Next on my list for evaluation is The Gizmo Project. Gizmo actually comes in two (well, three) varieties - a text and audio only client (no video) for Windows, Mac and Linux; a text/audio/video client that is still in beta test, only for Windows, and a version for mobile devices that runs on various internet-enabled smart phones. At this time I am going to be looking at the text/audio client for Windows only. I will take a look at the video client in the near future.
You can download gizmo from the obvious location (www.gizmo.com); the file is medium-sized (12 Mb), and installation is quick and easy. Of course, with no webcam setup to worry about in this version, it is even a bit easier than the other programs I have looked at so far. Once the installation is complete, you will have the opportunity to either create a new Gizmo account, or log in an existing account. After you log in you will get the "Getting Started" window, the last of the options in that window is to make a test call, which is always a good idea with a new installation of an unfamiliar program.
If you have more than one audio input or output device, you will probably want to go to Edit / Options / Audio to select the devices that you want Gizmo to use. I ran into the only significant problem I have found so far with Gizmo at this point. If you select audio devices that are different from the "Windows Default" devices, as I do (I always put VoIP audio in/out on my headset, but Windows audio out on a Logitech Audio Hub speaker, and Windows audio input I don't pay much attention to, so it stays wherever it lands), then every time you start Gizmo you will find that it is using the Windows default devices - even though if you go to Edit / Options / Audio you will see that it knows perfectly well what you have selected, and if you hit "Save" in this window the device settings will take effect again. It's a strange bug, and a minor pain, but I have found that it is easy to just make it a habit when starting Gizmo to do this first thing, then you don't have to worry about it any more.
Once you get it set up and devices selected, making PC-to-PC calls is easy and call quality is very good. I have tested with my usual array of connection types and audio hardware, and I was consistently pleased and occasionally pleasantly surprised. The audio quality is quite good even on a 56k dial-up connection, and of course it is excellent on a broadband connection.
Once I had confirmed that everything was working with outgoing calls, I started trying incoming calls. Then the fun started... First, I found out the hard way that voicemail is activated by default after installation. My brother was trying to call me, and I saw no indication of an incoming call on my computer. He kept getting the standard voicemail prompt, until I finally figured out that voicemail is active by default after a new installation of Gizmo. Deactivating that stopped incoming calls from going to voicemail, but they still didn't come through to my computer, either, now my brother was getting a message saying that I was not available, please try again later.
I spent quite a lot of time searching for a solution to this problem. I found that I could receive incoming Gizmo calls when I was at my office, and even when I was at home but connected via dial-up instead of my usual Cable Internet Connection. So I assumed that there was something wrong with my cable internet router (a Linksys WRT54GX4). After a lot of searching, in both the Gizmo User Forum and Linksys User Forum, I found a very short note that said there was a "uPnP" setting in the router, and having it deactivated would stop incoming calls from getting through the router. I checked, and sure enough it was disabled on mine. I enabled it, and calls came through just fine after that.
Once I got these problems sorted out, Gizmo has worked just fine for me - and my brother actually prefers it. He has recently purchased an old laptop on eBay, which only has 802.11b wireless networking built in, so at that speed he is better off with audio only anyway. As I said above, the audio quality is good, and the program is nice and simple to use.
When you are in a Gizmo call, there is a "Map It" button in the active call window. Click on that and it opens a map showing the two ends of the call. Kind of a neat "gee whiz" kind of feature.
Overall, I have been very impressed with Gizmo, and I would recommend it to anyone who would be satisfied with a text and audio client, and no video. Just remember to watch out for the two big irritants:
- If you have multiple audio input/output devices, every time you start Gizmo you should go to Edit / Options / Audio and just click "Save", to be sure it has selected the devices you want.
- Voicemail is activated by default, so if you don't want it go to Edit / Voicemail Settings, and un-tick the "Activate Voicemail" box.
Also, if you have a Linksys router and you have trouble with incoming calls, go to the router Administration page and make sure uPnP is activated.
Of course, Gizmo is good for more than PC-to-PC calls and text chats. They also have CallOut and CallIn to/from PSTN (POTS) phones, and the ability to chat and even talk with friends on other SIP-based services, which can be very nice. I will go into more detail on these features in my next blog entry.