Now that I have tested magicJack, netTALK, and Ooma, three of the leading super low-cost phone service providers, I thought it was time to do a detailed comparison of these VoIP providers, as well as a relatively new wildcard - Obihai, a BYOD VoIP hardware provider. First, if interested in the in-depth standalone reviews I've done in the past, you can check these out:
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So is Ooma the Best?
Voice quality is important, but if you have a reliable high-speed broadband connection, you may not be concerned so much about voice quality issues. You may factor "features" as more important than QoS packet prioritization or sending duplicate packets. So you can't simply say Ooma is the best for every user simply because of their QoS features. I had Vonage for years with no QoS on my router and survived. I knew now to initiate a massive download/upload or perform bandwidth-hungry P2P file sharing while on a call. It was a pain, but at the time home routers didn't have great QoS features.
Ooma is also the most expensive of the four when measured across 3 years, 5 years, and 10 years (see comparison chart below). Obihai's latest product, the Obi202 works with up to 4 VoIP Services, including Google Voice and SIP-based VoIP providers. Using Obi202 with Google Talk you can have free U.S. calling simply for the price of the device, which is currently $75.72 on Amazon. Like Ooma it has a built-In router with QoS for VoIP traffic prioritization. The support for 4 VoIP services plus two analog ports essentially gives you a mini-phone system for the home. Homes that need multiple phone lines (teenagers) or need access to multiple SIP providers (international callers / Least Cost Routing) will love the Obi202. Even executives that want to receive work-related calls on their home phone system can use one of the SIP registrations to register with the corporate IP-PBX.
All of the products support hosted voicemail, but Ooma also features answering machine / call screening as the voice message is being left using the built-in speakerphone allowing you to decide if you want to pull the caller out of voicemail. Of course, many users using magicJack, netTALK, or Obi202 hook up an analog cordless multi-handset phone system with built-in answering machines that have this call screening capability. So the price premium on Ooma for this feature may not be worth it.
Obihai's products let you bridge a call from one service to another using the OBi devices integrated voice attendant. For example, suppose I have a home in India. I could make a call from a mobile phone in India to my home (in India) and then bridge via my OBi at home to a USA phone using the Google Voice service. The call from my home in India to the number in the USA is free. This call bridging capability is a huge feature advantage, though not everyone needs this.
Currently, Ooma supports Bluetooth pairing with your mobile phone while magicJack, netTALK, and Obihai do not. However, I have some breaking news about Obihai that they will "soon" have a Bluetooth adapter, called OBiBT or ObiBLUE or OBiBLUETOOTH Adapter. They haven't finalized on the name yet. In addition to the OBi202 USB port support for the OBiWiFi Wireless Adapter and ‘beta’ functionality that lets you connect a mass-storage device that turns the OBi202 into a secure file server for any content on the storage device, the OBi202 will soon support a Bluetooth adapter. The OBiBT adapter will allow users to pair their cell phone to the OBi so that they can make and take calls from telephones attached to the OBi202 phone ports from the cellular provider’s service.
This is great for people with friends and family plans that allows them to make unlimited calls between mobiles. Also, with the OBi202’s service bridging capability, a user can call a cell number that will connect to the OBi auto-attendant and then bridge the call using a VoIP provider like Anveo or Google Voice to an international (or local) number. So not only can the LD/International portion of the call be cheap, but using your cell phone to call home and/or bridge to a LD/Int’l call will be free.
Both Ooma and Obi202 support 5 REN (Ringer Equivalence Number) which is more than both magicJack and netTALK which is around 3. This is important if you plan on hard-wiring the device to your home wiring and using the device to power several analog phones in your house. The higher the REN, the more analog phones the device can "power" for dialtone and ringing.
When you think of magicJack or netTALK you think they are the cheapest phone service provider you can buy. magicJack costs $209.74, while netTALK costs $184.75 over 5 years. That seems cheap until you realize Obihai's Obi202 with Google Voice costs just $74.95 over 5 years. In fact, Obi202 costs just $74.95 period! You buy the device and then simply leverage Google Voice's free U.S. calling to make calls. This presumes Google Voice continues to offer free U.S. calling of course. Google hasn't indicated any plans to start charging.
However, even if you sign-up with a SIP provider like Anveo or CallCentric you can still save money with Obi202. For instance, Anveo offers a free "value" plan that comes with 40-150 min/day free calling with over usage charged at just $0.015/minute. So if Google Voice ever decided to start charging for calls, Obi202 offers cheap SIP calling options as well.
I wasn't able to find a detailed comparison chart between these four providers, so I decided to make one myself. It took a lot of time to compile this information, but I hope this comparison chart offers a nice at-a-glance feature-by-feature comparison of these four VoIP service providers. Now, let the magicJack vs netTALK vs Ooma vs. Obihai battle commence! (click for larger easier-to-read image)
Before analyzing each product's pricing, I figured magicJack would be best compared with netTALK where it's a battle mostly over price, while I figured Ooma would be best compared with Obihai where it would be more of a battle over advanced features. It turned out my assumptions were mostly true. If cost is your main concern then netTALK or magicJack will suit your needs. If you're looking for more advanced features, then Ooma or Obihai would be a better choice.
Obihai's Obi202 is a wildcard in the feature/price equation because it turns out they're cheaper than any of the other three while still offering advanced features. Further, Obihai has more flexibility in choosing your actual phone provider (up to 4, including registering with your corporate PBX), while Ooma locks you into their phone service. Ooma, netTALK, and magicJack offer plug-and-play functionality while Obihai requires a bit more technical know-how, so some users are willing to pay a premium to not have to deal with technical support.
All four offer strengths and advantages depending on the consumer buying it, which is why I created the comparison chart to judge what's best for you. But if you had to pin me down and pick my favorite of the four products it would have to be the Obi202 for its flexibility, free Google Voice calling, powerful call bridging, and its 'pending' Bluetooth mobile phone support.
Current List Prices (6/22/12):
magicJack plus - $82.99
netTALK DUO Wi-Fi - $63.49
Ooma Telo - $185.98
Obihai Obi202- $75.72