I've been trialing a new gadget last few weeks called an OBi. OBi is essentially a Internet VoIP bridge box similar to what you might get if you subscribed to Vonage. Why would you want to get an OBi? The number one reason is that you could then ditch your traditional phone (POTS) line, and make calls for a whole lot more inexpensively. But it's much more capable than just having a handset than can make and receive calls. Read on for of what you can do with an OBi.
Started by some of the same folks that originally invented the VoIP phone adapter (ATA or Analog Telephone Adapter), Obihai is the company behind both the OBi box and the online OBiTALK portal for managing your account and device. So they certainly have the right credentials for the industry they're in.
How do the OBi boxes work? At its core, it's simple – plug the OBi box via an Ethernet cable into your Internet router, then plug a traditional telephone handset into the OBi box. Sure, you need to configure the device, but that's made fairly easy by creating an account on the OBiTALK website and running through a wizard that detects your home Internet connection and communicates with the box to configure it.
Once configured, you can now make phone calls directly to another OBi owner using their unique OBi #. Those calls of course get routed over the Internet using the VoIP protocol. My experience with the calls were that you simply can't tell the difference any more. The reason I say “any more” is that when VoIP first appeared on the scene, while it was acceptable, you could tell that the quality wasn't the same as a standard analog connection.
But that's not all you can do. In the past few years, Google Voice has made some serious inroads into the telephony business, and are shaking things up with their low or free rates, not to mention the host of features they offer and integration with e-mail and other online services. And OBi touts their integration with Google Voice.
How does this differ from the OBi service? Well, instead of only being able to make calls to other OBi users, you can make outbound calls to any phone number, and receive calls via your OBi box on your Google Voice phone number. Fantastic. I've been using this the past 4 weeks or so and am really impressed with it.
If you wanted, you could also subscribe to another VoIP service like Vonage or Ooma, but if you're primarily a cell phone user, and only make sporadic calls on your home landline, then Google Voice should suit you just fine, and calls to numbers in the US and Canada are still currently free.
This is hardly the end of the OBi story. The OBi boxes are really little computers with a sophisticated set of telephony features that you once could only find in PBXes that cost tens of thousands of dollars. I won't get into the details here of every single thing you can do with the OBi, and will let this video explain it a nutshell, but imagine being able to let your friends and family call into your OBi and then dial out again, or go abroad and continue using your OBi without getting a huge phone bill!
Obviously, I'm impressed by the OBi's feature set and quality of voice calls, but what I find more amazing is the price point of the OBis. There are 2 models: the OBi100 ($44) and the OBi110 ($50), the main difference being that the OBi110 has an additional line port that you can use to plug into a traditional phone network, perhaps if you have a home business and wish to maintain a POTS line just in case.
But you don't have to take my word for it. Just read the hundreds of positive reviews on Amazon (OBi100, OBi110). It's rare that you see 4.5 to 5-star ratings on Amazon for even very good, well-known products.
(Disclaimer: Gizmos for Geeks received a complimentary review copy of this product.)