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netTALK DUO Re-Reviewed: It Works - Just Not So Great

netTALK DUO would be a great replacement for Skype or Vonage or MagicJack, if only it worked better.

I finally got my netTALK Duo running and have been making calls with it for the past week. While it's not a total Fail like my first go-round, the product remains frustrating.

(Read my initial review of the netTALK DUO here.)

After exchanging multiple e-mails with Carlos in netTALK technical support and fiddling with the firewall and other settings on my D-Link router proved fruitless, netTALK kindly sent me a Linksys WRT54G2 router last week. This did the trick: my DUO finally started working.

How well? Alas, not well enough. For about half of the calls, the issue was merely echoes, noise or delays. Not as bad as my iPhone, but certainly worse than what I've experienced in my extensive use of Skype and Vonage.

For the other half, the calls still, by my definition, failed. Caller A (usually me or my wife) can hear Caller B, but not vice-versa (Caller B gets dead silence).

Instead of blaming the DUO, could it have been Caller B's poor connection (i.e. a dodgy cellphone)? I don't think so, as in all cases, a call back from my iPhone to the exact same number resulted in a successful call.

I know it's not my Internet service. According to this VoIP speed test, my connection (Comcast Performance, 15 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up) is great.

I love netTALK's price, promise and even its technical support (though, I should note that I only got a response from netTALK after my negative review appeared).

But I would only recommend netTALK to highly technical consumers who are relatively undemanding about voice quality. That doesn't describe me: I bought netTALK expressly so my wife and I could talk long-distance to our getting-hard-of-hearing parents.

For everyone but hard-core techies, netTALK DUO remains too much of a buggy 1.0 product.

Yet, only two improvements would allow me to wholeheartedly this product.

First, netTalk needs to step back from the marketing spin and be upfront that, as of today, some routers will simply break netTALK.

netTALK support admits that they know this. So why isn't this list of netTALK-friendly routers posted on their main site, rather than buried in their support forum? It would help customers like myself and others avoid plenty of pain.

netTALK should even go one step further and actually test and certify routers that work with netTALK so that customers know what to buy.

Sure, all of this adds complexity that will frighten away some customers. But it's gotta be better than dealing with disgruntled customers like me after the fact.

Alternatively, netTALK could emulate Vonage's technical approach. Vonage's latest VoIP adapter has two Ethernet ports - one that connects directly to the DSL/cable modem, and the other that connects to the wireless/Ethernet router.

This is key: by being located before the wireless/Ethernet router, Vonage's adapter can avoid potential problems caused by how different routers implement firewall and other network filtering technology.

For sure, adding all of that extra technology will make the DUO, which is currently the size of two Chapstick cases, less elegant (the Vonage adapter is the size of a thick sandwich).

And it will assuredly be more expensive for netTALK to produce. But it'll provide better voice quality and more reliable service for customers. And I'm sure there will be savings on the back-end from less customer support.