Ooma Adds Smartphone Features to a Home Phone

With everyone owning a cell phone (as in 6 billion of them right now), the age of the expensive landline telephone is slowly coming to an end. Of course, the need for a "home" phone line isn't completely gone as long as cell phones have minute limits or spotty reception. Sometimes people want to be on the phone for hours without worrying about potential effects of cell phone radiation.

Those looking to cut costs but not the cord on having a home phone have switched to VOIP (voice-over-IP) services that are cheaper and typically offer better services than the traditional telephone company.

One of these VOIP providers is Ooma, and it has an interesting business model where the calling service is free once you buy its Telo hardware. At the basic level of service, all the user must pay are the local taxes and fees, which only add up to a few dollars per month. From there, a user can make an unlimited number of nationwide calls. Ooma also sells a premium level of service for $10 a month that adds features such as spam/telemarketer blacklists, a second phone line, Google Voice integration, and more.

While VOIP services have the edge on price, typically they've fallen behind in terms of features offered by today's smartphones. Ooma hopes to change this with its reveal of its new HD2 handset ($60, shipping November 1) that integrates features not found on traditional cordless home phones.

The handset features a 2-inch color screen, which integrates with an online contact list that supports importing pictures and contacts from Facebook, Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Outlook and Mac AddressBook. Once imported, the phone is capable of displaying the contact picture and phone number of an incoming caller. This is much easier than the number-by-number entry method of regular home phones.

Ooma also boasts HD Voice compatibility, so on supported systems, sound will be more natural sounding – like a Skype call – thanks twice the voice data rate.

Impressively, the high-bit-rate voice and the transmission of photos is all packet data that's sent over DECT wireless technology – all at frequencies that won't be open to interference to Wi-Fi.

Those with Ooma's premier service can also opt to assign different phone numbers to different HD2 handsets, which allows for one Telo base station to handle different lines for home, office, or even a dedicated "kids" line. The handset is also able to open a second line for an incoming or outgoing call, so one member of the household can't hog the line.

UPDATE: Ooma's now released information about another new product coming November 1, called the Linx, that wirelessly adds another RJ-11 phone jack anywhere at a power outlet. The Linx is a $50 little black box that plugs directly into an outlet and connects to the Telo base station via DECT. This will allow users to continue employing their existing phone hardware throughout the household, as well as giving them the capability to expand the range into further reaches, such as the garage or backyard. Premium customers can also assign a second line to the Linx expansion.

“The Ooma HD2 Handset and Ooma Linx address two important needs expressed by our customers -- the ability to blend the  smart phone and home phone experience and the wireless freedom to connect telephony devices to the Ooma Telo,” said Dennis Peng, Vice President of Product Management at Ooma. “These new technologies are prime examples of our dedication to delivering the most complete and affordable home phone solution for our customers.”

Those who are looking to cut the cord from their landline provider should be aware that that VOIP services do not work in network or power outages and do not provide the same 911 features (though a user's address is on record for emergency service calls). Still, for many people, the enhanced feature set coupled with the monthly cost savings make for a compelling argument to transition their landline to a VOIP line.

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Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • nebun
    and we need this because?
  • freiheitner
    Surely there must be more to this new handset than displaying the picture of a contact when they call.
  • nukemaster
    Something has to pay the bills(websites are not free).

    At least it is a advertisement about a tech product that actually offers more info then the commercials :)
  • Scar89
    We've had something similar in Australia on Telstra for a while now. It's called a T-hub and comes with a base station which is a fully usable android tablet as-well.
    Not that I own one.
  • ta152h
    I'd correct one part. Dealing with a power outage is very simple, you just use your UPS. It's happened to me more than a few times, and this thing takes next to no power.

    POTS is still the most reliable, but one good thing about Ooma is, even if your phone is down, people can still leave you messages that you can retrieve when it comes back up.

  • zak_mckraken
    What's a ho-me pho-ne? (did I pronounced that right?)
  • chomlee
    I have owned the regular Ooma for 2 years. Unfortunately I signed up about 2 months after they grandfathered in the other users with absolutly no tax at all. I pay about 3 bucks a month and have had absolutely no problems at all. It has gone out briefly 1 or 2 times when my network was down, but my previous phone probably did that just as much. Probably one of the smartest things I ever did.
  • Re power outages - I have the Premier package which, during a power outage, will forward any incoming calls to my cell phone.
  • Ou reviewer of the Linx has lived with Ooma for almost three years, he's pretty enthusiastic about the Linx: http://intheboombox.tv/ooma-linx-a-real-jack-in-the-box-voip-telephone-product-review/
  • Noah Johnson
    I had it up and running in not time - just connect it to your router and plug in your phone. Ooma support walked me through the setup. Their support is great - online chat answers my questions fast. This is a must for saving money. A great product.

    <a href=http://oomateloreviewk.com/>Noah</a>