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Net2Phone

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  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent

Pros

  • Works over BT's NAT-based ADSL service.

Cons

  • Adverts can be distracting
  • usability could be better.

Because it ran successfully over BT's NAT-based ADSL connection, and because it includes a testing routine for volume levels, Net2Phone worked the best of the four VoIP services we tried. Although you download an international version of Net2Phone, you use US dialling codes and pricing is in dollars. Unfortunately, it's the most expensive service among those on test.

At first, the sound quality was dreadful. Our long-suffering correspondents in the US said that throughout the conversation it sounded as though the sound was breaking up. On our end, everything said by the caller was echoed a couple of seconds later, making it difficult to conduct an intelligent conversation. The receiver sounded absolutely fine, however. The sound quality can be improved enormously by making sure that you are using your sound card's playback and recording facilities (adjustable in the Sounds and Multimedia control panel applet).

To help pay for its service, Net2Phone pops up adverts in a space provided for the purpose in its own software. When you register to use the service, you are required to enter a substantial amount of personal information -- birth date, gender, occupation, and interests -- so these ads can be customised. They are extremely annoying.

The Net2Phone software itself occupies a chunk of the bottom of your computer screen, with the number pad to the left, a button to click to initiate or terminate the call, and a couple of other facilities such as a mute button and a facility for sending voice email. You can either call another PC (which is free) or any ordinary telephone anywhere in the world (for a varying fee). When you type in the number you want to call, a small window pops up to tell you how much money you have left in your account and how many minutes that will buy you.

Net2Phone fails on a number of niggling usability points. During the first of our sample conversations, we couldn't figure out how to adjust the voice settings. It turns out that these are unavailable during a call. Similarly, while trying to charge up the account (an operation that resulted in a page that said, simultaneously, that the transaction was successful and that the charge could not be processed), we couldn't work out why there was no access to any of the account information we had entered several times, such as billing address and so on. This is stored in your copy of the software, offline, but the site doesn't tell you this.

Even so, and despite the fact that Net2Phone is relatively expensive and laden with ads, the fact that it works over BT's NAT-based ADSL connection means that you can get much better-quality sound and response than with any dial-up service.

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The Internet phone services built into ICQ and MSN Messenger, which may be extremely convenient for many users, are rebranded Net2Phone.

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