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Ooma Telo and Telo Air wireless adapter hands-on


Remember the Ooma Telo? It suffered the same fate as most home VoIP adapters: a lifetime chained to the home or office router, bound forever by a freedom-crushing Ethernet cable. But no. No more. The benevolent engineers at Ooma have decided to set the Telo free. Hello, Ooma Telo Air Wireless Adapter -- you're about to put VoIP in our kitchen.

Ooma's Voice over IP service and the Telo adapter itself are hardly new, but we couldn't resist giving the outfit's new VOIP liberating dongle a try. Read on for more.

Gallery: Ooma Telos and Telos Air wireless adapter: hands-on | 20 Photos

Before we could cut the cord, we had to get Ooma's voice service up and running. Setup was ridiculously easy -- a quick jaunt through an activation prompt on the Ooma website had our number picked, our E911 address assigned, and our adapter registered in under five minutes. Best of all, there was no need to stop and process payment information. Update: Our test unit was rigged to skip the payment registration -- Ooma doesn't charge for service, but still needs to bill you for government taxes and fees, which average under $4 a month. The Standard Ooma account is free, and offers call logs, voicemail, and a modest array of standard options configurable from the account's web-based dashboard. We wrapped up our quick number-pick, and plugged the Telo into both our router and an analog phone -- it booted right up.

After a refreshingly painless setup, the Ooma Telo works just like you'd expect -- it makes calls. It doesn't masquerade as a traditional phone, however -- it has its own sense of flair. The Ooma's dial-tone, for instance, is preceded by a flowery four-note jingle, blossoming the traditional tone from more jaunty origins. The Telo adapter also doubles as a voicemail access point, which is fine by us -- if it's going to be hanging around our phone all the time, it may as well have a tangible purpose.

Making the switch to wireless may not have been a chore, but it wasn't quite as easy -- plugging in the Ooma Telo Wireless Adapter was simple enough, but its host device lacks the necessary display and input functions to actually select a wireless network. Instead, the phone adapter needs to be connected to a PC via Ethernet and configured through a web browser. Scanning for WiFi networks in a no-refresh browser interface feels a little clunky, but it gets the job done. The browser interface may be a little on the slow side, but it still beats out most router GUIs from a design standpoint.

After a few network tweaks and box resets, we were finally able to kick the Ethernet cable to the curb. We braced ourselves for a latency nightmare -- sure, we do everything over WiFi these days, but voice over IP is one of those obstinately picky technologies that tends to lag if you so much as look at it the wrong way. Thankfully, that wasn't the case here -- try as we might, we couldn't hear a difference in voice clarity, audio delay, or general call quality between the Telo's wired and wireless modes. The now-wireless Telo didn't have any trouble remembering its network configuration either -- we relocated it several times, only to have it joyfully reconnect without so much as a hiccup.

The wireless adapter's performance may have been rock solid, but its build quality was a bit more brittle. Like many wireless dongles, the USB plug sits on a tilting hinge -- our sample adapter's hinge creaked and cracked with every movement. We also noticed that the plastic closest to the male USB plug began to split at the seams when the hinge angled away from a flat position.

From a technical standpoint, the Ooma Telo and Telo Air wireless adapter worked like a charm, but was a little on the fragile side for our tastes. With some careful handling, the dongle's performance was more than enough to dash away most of our wireless VoIP concerns. The Telo itself was sturdy, well designed, and an excellent home voice solution. The only damning fault we could find in the Telo is that it was (expectantly) incompatible with our favorite nostalgic hardware: the 1951 and 1968 Western Electric 500 and 2500 model phones. Incoming calls come through fine, but the rigs' 40-plus year old pulse / tone dialing setups just aren't compatible with the internet age. We still think VoIP is a winner, but phone hipsters may want to stick to copper landlines.

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