“...sadly there is no compelling reason to recommend the VOIP841.”
- Good incoming sound quality; attractive design; clear screen; easy to use
- Microphone feedback; no memory dialing; flimsy-feeling plastic; Skype incompatibilities
On the surface, the Philips VOIP841 hybrid Skype/landline phone sounds like the ideal device for those of us that have yet to embrace VOIP for our everyday needs. Sold through the Skype online store, we assumed all the kinks had been worked out (isn’t that the point of Skype Certification?), but strangely found a number of problems with the way Philips integrates the two telecom technologies. Could something so pretty on the outside really be that ugly on the inside? Read on to find out.
Features and Design
The popularity of Skype and other voice over IP (VOIP) solutions has lead many people to consider casting their traditional landline phone to the wind. But there are still some major advantages to keeping a landline, namely that it remains on should the power go out; you receive working 911 service; and you don’t have to worry about the nebulous state of fax support which varies by VoIP provider. Along came the Philips VOIP841 hybrid phone, and we thought our troubles had been remedied. But, for each problem the VOIP841 solves, it also creates another, and bizarrely offers nothing compelling beyond basic functionality.
Let’s start with the basics. The phone itself looks sleek and sexy, with a shiny black and dark silver finish, plus some nice curves. The button layout is similar to a cell phone’s, so working with it right out of the box is intuitive. The phone fits nicely into the charging station as well, and a separate base unit plugs into your landline and router.
The base station is almost the size of a router itself, but can luckily be placed out of sight. Conversely, the charging station comes across as attractive, yet is made of very light plastic and slides around any surface it is placed on. Rather than include a charging dock on the base and offering the second charging-only stand as an option, you are forced to eat up two power outlets if you place the two beside each other. That’s inefficient, but not a deal-breaker.
In terms of plastics quality, the phone itself looks much sturdier than it actually is. The handset feels light and flimsy, and inspires zero confidence that it will last through more than two inadvertent fumbles. In fact, we did drop our unit, accidentally, from a height of less than 3 feet, only to find it split nearly in two down the seam. Granted, it snapped back together easily and doesn’t appear to be permanently damaged, but any device costing as much as the VOIP841 should be able to take a drop from couch seat height at minimum. At this point, it was obvious that there were going to be problems on the horizon if these were the impressions we were getting before even powering the unit up.
Image Courtesy of Philips
Setup and Use
We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the color screen, and the ease of setting the whole system up. Selecting your country, language and area code after a 14-hour first time charge is all that stands between opening the box and signing into your Skype account. Menus are arranged logically and strongly resemble the basic Skype interface, and landline options are sprinkled in where necessary. Setup takes around one minute and won’t tax you in the slightest. For more difficult installations, nearly every network option you might need can be found in the Settings menu: DHCP, port, gateway, primary/secondary DNS, etc.
Once signed into your Skype account, you can set your status, retrieve your contact list and select the services you subscribe to. You can view all your contacts and any imported from Outlook by Skype on your PC, receive/accept invitations, add or find Skype contacts, and view your call history. Callers can also be blocked and profiles viewed. On the landline side of the equation, you can assign a particular number to each contact (such as with/without the initial “1” or area code), select preference for landline or SkypeOut, and use the built in speakerphone and intercom. The phone uses DECT 6.0, which ensures clear communication to the base unit. The handset volume can also be set anywhere from almost inaudible to blaringly loud, and the independent ringers for landline and Skype calls can additionally be customized to a number of different pleasing tunes.
So far, so good, right? Well, hold your horses… The incoming call quality is great, but the outgoing suffers from some echo, with each word spoken heard through the headset with a split-second delay (very slight, but noticeable and distracting). Micro-vibrations are greatly amplified as well – a symptom of the cheap plastic and omni-directional microphone that handles headset and speakerphone input. Unfortunately, these problems exist during both Skype and landline calls.
If that was all that we found troublesome about the VOIP841, it would have earned a much-higher review score. Sadly, things get worse. Landline integration at the most superficial level works well. But there is no on-phone memory, meaning no speed dial setting or phone book either. In order to access any contact, you MUST be signed into Skype. Even then, there is no way to quickly select a contact, as you must scroll through all acquaintances. Have you heard of a landline phone released in the last 15 years without memory? Neither have we. The obvious workaround for this is to sign into Skype, and leave it set to Invisible or Away, but that causes a whole new set of problems.
Once signed into Skype via the VOIP841, you also lose the ability to reliably use Skype anywhere else. If you do sign in though the desktop client, the program will randomly choose a status (handset or software) setting, and send anyone wishing to text chat a message saying that your client doesn’t support chat features. After a few attempts to talk, the request will go through and appear on the PC, but you’d have to explain the situation to every person in your contact list beforehand. And if you are set to Invisible on the VOIP841, anyone searching for you, regardless of your PC Skype status, will be unable to find you unless they attempt several times. Likewise, calls when both clients are signed in can go to either the handset or the software phone in a seemingly random choice.
If all the above confuses you, here’s the simple version: You cannot login to Skype while your phone is logged in. That means that every time you leave home, you need to log your phone off Skype, or simply never sign in to begin with in the first place. Well, unless you want to access your contacts, that is… note the irony?
The issue of dual logins should have been addressed before releasing this product. While we are unsure if this is a Skype or Philips problem, the VOIP841 is at best cumbersome and at worst nearly useless without some way to manage the situation. In the end, it leaves the user questioning the general viability of the purchase at all. Quite simply, anyone considering the hybrid phone route would be better served by a dedicated Skype WiFi phone that can just be powered on when needed, and a standard landline phone.
Even so, the problems of the Philips VOIP841 are mostly software-related in nature, and we hope to see a significant revision that addresses these concerns (the unit is firmware upgradable via direct download). That possibility is all that kept the VOIP841 from receiving a still lower rating than the disappointing one it’s already currently branded with.
At face value, the Philips VOIP841 has all the bells and whistles a hybrid phone should possess, but fails miserably when it comes to execution. We will post an update in the attached forum discussion thread should a software update be released that addresses the laundry list of faults, but don’t hold your breath. While this is Philips’ first big stab at the Skype/landline phone world, the manufacturer’s inexperience shines through with an unfortunate ignorance to the subtleties that are required to execute such a complicated product. We look forward to the next major revision in hopes that some lessons are learned from the issues reported here. As mentioned earlier, a single significant software patch could wipe out 80% of the problems we experienced. But as things stand at publication, sadly there is no compelling reason to recommend the VOIP841.
• Good incoming sound quality
• Attractive design
• Clear screen
easy to use
• Microphone feedback
• No memory dialing
• Flimsy-feeling plastic
• Skype incompatibilities
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