The Ooma Telo is an affordable and versatile landline-replacement home-phone system, one that delivers unsurpassed call quality. It’s like Vonage without the monthly subscription charges, and like the MagicJack without the computer requirement. Consequently, it’s my favorite landline replacement to date.
When you buy the stylish Telo adapter ($250), you effectively buy free local and long-distance phone service for life. Ooma offers highly competitive international rates, too, as well as free calls to other Ooma owners. The adapter plugs directly into your router or broadband modem, and it works with existing phone handsets.
The Ooma Telo’s calling features are somewhat limited: You get voicemail, call waiting, and caller ID, but that’s it. If you want more telephony bling, Ooma Premier adds a second line, three-way calling, voicemail via e-mail, and a host of privacy features. The Telo includes a 60-day Premier trial; after that, a subscription to Premier will cost you $10 per month or $120 annually. Sign up for a year and Ooma will waive its rather steep $40 fee for porting an existing number (which you can skip if you want to choose a new number anyway). As with Vonage, you have to pay a few dollars each month for various taxes and fees–with or without Premier.
Even the rates for Premier are still significantly lower than those for Vonage. And in my tests, Ooma’s call quality was far superior to that of Vonage or Google Voice, and on a par with that of NetTalk Duo. I made and took calls with both my old Uniden cordless phone system and Ooma’s fancy Telo Handset ($50), and the audio sounded crisp and echo-free every time. I especially liked the Telo Handset’s optimized design for the service: It supports one-button voicemail retrieval and permits syncing with Outlook 2007 contact lists.
Ooma offers a couple of interesting extras not matched by Vonage or any other VoIP service. The first is an optional Bluetooth adapter ($30) that pairs your cell phone with your Telo so you can answer incoming mobile calls on your home phone. That very convenient feature worked beautifully on my iPhone. In addition, ycan use your Bluetooth headset for calls around the house, another nice perk.
Speaking of iPhones, a new Skype-like Ooma app lets you make calls over 3G or Wi-Fi, with your own phone number appearing as the Caller ID at the other end. I wouldn’t mind the $10 fee for the app if calls were free, but, like Skype, Ooma charges extra (1.9 cents/minute) for calls to anyone except other Ooma users.
The complementary iPhone app is the only real misfire in an otherwise exceptional product.
Macworld’s buying advice
The Ooma Telo may have a higher upfront cost than other services, but if you skip the Premier subscription, it’s guaranteed to save you money in the long run.