The OBi110 is a device that allows you to use the internet for making phone calls. This is hardly groundbreaking in and of itself; VoIP has been around for a long time now, and you probably wouldn’t have thought of Obihai when thinking about your internet phone options. I myself had used Vonage for a few years before moving over to FiOS, which included phone in its bundles. So in my review for this product, I am looking at the OBi110 in a couple of ways. 1) How easily does it integrate with my existing system? 2) How difficult is it to set up? 3) How is the call quality?
Before we get to this, let’s me talk about what the OBi110 is. The device can, at it’s most basic level, act as a connection to a physical phone in your house, and allow you to make or receive calls to other OBi devices for free (using a special 9 digit number assigned to your device), over the internet. This does not require a PC to use, just an internet connection plugged into the device directly. If you chose to ignore all the other functions of the device, you would still have free phone calls to a select group of people. Fortunately, there are ways to expand upon this functionality. The first is unique to the OBi110; it has a port that allows you to hook up an existing phone line from your telephone company, which immediately allows you to receive incoming calls from both other OBi devices, as well as from people calling your standard phone line. You can also make calls through the OBi110 as though it was your regular phone line. The third way you can use the OBi110 includes the ability to add what are called Voice Service Providers (think Google Voice), which you can link to your OBi110. Doing this (which requires very little setup, more on that in a bit) will allow you to make and receive calls from either your VSP, your standard telephone line, or your OBi number, all simultaneously. And in the instance of VSP and the OBi number, for free as well (Obviously you’d still be paying money to the phone company if you choose to keep that line active). This is all seamless on your end, you pick up the phone and make calls, and can even direct what service you want to call through by dialing certain prefixes (this is optional; you can simply dial a number and it will behave normally). If this all seems a little confusing, watch the following video for more (even though I don’t consider it to be the best explanation either):
(You may need to refresh the page to see the video)
The OBi110 itself comes with a few items to get you going. The actual control box is small and unassuming, measuring a little over 4″x4″. With the OBi110, you will also get a small ethernet cable and telephone line, along with the obligatory power supply (small sideways rectangle) and instruction manual. I use instruction manual lightly – it’s basically a quick-install card that, while sufficient in its detail, is not much beyond the basic installation steps. As I did not get a retail box, there may be other items that come with the retail packaging, but what I got was enough to get everything up and running.
Which brings us to the actual installation of the OBi110. I will preface this by saying I live in a house that’s just about 100 years old. Needless to say, internet connectivity was not exactly the rage back in 1914, so I have limited options when it comes to finding a spot that could reach both a phone jack (of which there’s only 2 in the house), and some hard-wired ethernet cable. I could have gotten by with not using my telephone line, which would have freed me up to simply connect the OBi closer to my computer, but one of the nice features is having access to your home phone, so I didn’t want to lose that. So long story short; if you have an older house, consider whether you have an ideal location that is both near a phone jack and an ethernet port. Once you decide on the location, the installation takes a whopping 3 minutes. I hooked up the internet connection, plugged in my phone line, plugged in my phone, and plugged in the OBi110. I created an account at http://www.obihai.com, linked my account to my device by calling a number, and was done. There were no issues at any point, and the addition of the device to my online account was instantaneous. I then took a moment to add a Google Voice number to the account, which again became instantly linked to my device at home. When I made a test phone call from my home, my cell phone was ringing with my google voice number. Yet when I immediately called back to my old house line number, my home phone rang immediately. So basically, in just a few minutes, I had created a bridge that connected my new OBi number, my google voice number, and my home phone. There is also the option to add a second VSP (and it’s recommended that if you don’t use a landline, that you find an online 911 service to add, as OBi does not support 911). All told, installation was a breeze; the longest part of the whole process was the 2 minutes it took to register.
The OBi110 has a ton of phone features, above and beyond all of the connectivity you get. To run a quick quote from the company’s FAQ on the features:
Call Forwarding (ALL, Busy, No Answer), Call Waiting, Caller ID – Name & Number, Call Waiting Caller ID, Call Transfer, 3-Way Calling, Caller ID Block, Automatic Call Back, Call Return, Anonymous Call Block, Do Not Disturb, Conference Calling, Anonymous Calling, Message Waiting Indication – Visual and Tone Based, Speed Dialing of 99 OBi Endpoints or Numbers
That’s a lot going on, and it’s all included for free. The call quality was fine, I noticed no difference between calling from the OBi110 and calling from Google Voice or my landline. Making calls was also the same process, requiring no extra steps unless I wanted to route my call through a specific device. There are a few other features that are specific to OBi, such as the Circle of Trust, which allows you to authorize other OBihai users to use your device to make calls. The website documentation for the product makes up for the lackluster included documentation, and has a robust FAQ and document library, should any issues arise.
Overall, I’d have to say that I’m impressed with the device. I didn’t really know what to expect, and I certainly didn’t expect the installation and setup to be so quick and painless. Not having to have the device hooked up to the computer, or running through a special router was a nice bonus, and the fact that it was seamless in its transition from Google Voice to landline makes this a clear winner. Obviously, if Google Voice stops being free, you will have to weigh your options, but there are a variety of different services that you can use with the OBi, and the OBi110 always has the landline fallback if you aren’t quite ready to ditch it completely. With the relatively low cost of entry (the unit is currently retailing on Amazon.com for $49.99), if nothing else this is a great way to get Google Voice onto your home phone line. Consider it a bonus that you can take the device with you if you go on trips, and still have your google voice number accessible wherever you go. I recommend this product to anyone looking for a way to reduce the costs associated with their phone bills, and also for people who are exploring the viability of Google Voice or other such services as a replacement for their landline.
You can check out their website for more information.