ActionTec with Skype Architecture
Internet Phone Wizard With Skype
Price: List: $69.99, I've seen it online for $56.61
So you're a Skyper but you hate being chained to a headset connected to your PC? Well, have no fear, ActionTec's Internet Phone Wizard with Skype to the rescue! Essentially, the ActionTec Internet Phone Wizard is an ATA (analog telephony adaptor) that lets you connect your corded or better yet, cordless analog phone to the unit to make and receive Skype calls. It also features a Line port for connecting an analog line giving you dual-line (VoIP & PSTN) capability on the same phone. This is probably its best feature - you can use your favorite home cordless phone to receive or make both Skype and PSTN phone calls. The Internet Phone Wizard will send ring voltage to your phone on an incoming Skype or PSTN call. I tested both and it performed without a hitch.
ActionTec Internet Phone Wizard Front
I was curious the REN (Ringer Equivalence Number) on the device which determines how many phone devices it can send dialtone and ring voltage to - just in case I want to split the line and have 2,3, or even 4 phones hooked into the single Phone port. In theory, if you don't have any ring voltage on your house wiring (i.e. you cancelled your home landline), you can connect the output from the Phone port to a phone wall jack and power all of the house's phone outlets. I contacted ActionTec and they told me the REN is 1, so it's only designed to provide ring voltage to one phone. Bummer.
Although the ActionTec USB device is advertised as working with Skype only, I did try it out with other VoIP softclients. Since it's simply a USB audio device, in theory it should work just fine, right? Well, yes and no. I was able to configure my Xten softclient to use the ActionTec as my audio device and also set it as my default microphone. Next, I was able to dial from the Xten softclient to a PSTN number and talk using the phone connected to the ActionTec Internet Phone Wizard. The problem was that the ActionTec provides simulated "Skype" dialtone, essentially waiting for you to dial a Skype user or make a SkypeOut phone call. So while I was in my Xten call, I could hear the ActionTec simulated dialtone (continuous tone). I was able to get it to stop simply by pressing one of the touchtones (to make it think I was going to dial a Skype number), however after a few seconds it thinks you misdialed and starts to play a series of tones indicating a dialing error. I think the ActionTec Internet Phone Wizard should offer a touchtone override mechanism (i.e. press # followed by *) that lets you use the phone as an audio device with microphone capability, so you can use it with any application, not just Skype.
ActionTec Internet Phone Wizard Rear
One nice feature is the Call Waiting feature that lets you accept an incoming call on your landline while you are in the middle of an Internet call and vice versa. You hear a call waiting tone and then simply press # # on the handset to switch to the other line and put the current caller on hold. It's too bad the unit can't conference the two together; now that would be a cool feature! I should mention that you can switch between outbound landline and Skype calls by pressing "#", and then enter either a number to use for SkypeOut, or a speed-dial assigned to your Skype contacts. I tested both a Skype-to-Skype call and a PSTN phone call on the ActionTec and the audio quality was superb.
The main gripe many will have against the ActionTec Internet Phone Wizard is that it requires a connection to your PC via the USB port to work - and thus your PC must be on in order to make/receive Skype calls. It would be nice to have a standalone device with Skype software embedded so you don't have to leave your PC on all the time to make/receive Skype calls. On the other hand, if you didn't have this device and your PC was off, you wouldn't be able to make/receive Skype calls either. So I think we should judge this product based on what typical Skypers can and can't do already without the ActionTec product. I should point out that although you can't make Skype calls with the PC off, you can still make PSTN calls. In fact, if the USB cable becomes disconnected or even if your PC is off, you can still make/receive PSTN calls. There is a relay switch in the unit to make the analog line pass through.
Skype is working on "standalone" boxes with Skype software embedded so you don't have to have your PC on, but we shouldn't judge the ActionTec product based on some future product we would like to see. The ActionTec Internet Phone Wizard is available today and it does what it advertised to do - let you make/receive Skype calls while not being chained to a PC headset by letting you use your favorite analog phone. If you are an avid Skyper and would like to be able to make & receive Skype calls using your home cordless phone, and still make & receive calls on that same phone, then this may be the perfect product for you. Heck, with SkypeIn combined with SkypeOut, not only can you cancel your landline to save money, if you have a ton of Skype contacts, you can even cancel your Vonage line, CallVantage line, or any other VoIP service provider. Pricewise, Skype probably has them all beat!