How do you fancy making low-cost or no-cost Skype phone calls over the internet using your DECT phone? It's something you can do by means of a little box that connects the phone's base-station to your PC via USB. Bob Crabtree takes a long hard look at USRobotics' 9620, the second USB telephone adaptor we've reviewed. The first, D-Link's DPH-50U, got a thoroughly-deserved kicking
Anyone who's made Skype phone calls over the internet knows that this usually works well if using a microphone headset and acceptably even using a laptop's built-in mic and speakers. What they also know is that it's a bit of a drag because each method ties you to a PC - and that can be hard to live with if you're used to the walkabout freedom of mobile and DECT phones.
So, we were delighted to report, back in June, on a bunch of forthcoming Skype-compatible hardware that cut the cord between phone and PC.
Among these was the D-Link Skype USB Phone Adapter DPH-50U, an inexpensive product that we reviewed in depth in August. That write-up dished out a right royal beasting because D-Link's offering, while great in theory, failed to work reliably.
At the time, though, we said to watch out for an early review of the 9620 USB Telephone Adapter - a competing and similarly-priced product from USRobotics that we also reported on in June and which appeared to work a whole lot better judging by our initial tests.
But, since then, there has been no such review and you may have been wondering why.
Well, as we continued our testing of the USRobotics product, we hit an all-too-familiar brick wall. Calls being made via Skype were now ending abruptly, just as had been happening with the D-Link box.
However, when we explained our problems to USRobotics - and unlike D-Link - the company gave the impression that it was seriously concerned. We provided USR with a full run down of the configuration of our test PC and the software that we were using and were told that the company would look into things and try to get back to us at an early date.
Pretty soon after, USRobotics did come back to us, saying it was able to replicate the problem we'd reported. The cause, it said, was Skype's own software - or, rather, the impact that a new version had had on the ability of its program (V1.14.09UR22) to work together with Skype's - and it was now trying to come up with a solution.
All we'd done, though, was what other users were very likely to do - allow Skype's app to be updated, not realising that this might have any effect. And, seemingly, USR didn't even know this new version of Skype was coming and had been caught short by the way that the USR program and Skype software no longer worked in harmony.
We were very disappointed that USR promised nothing more - the product was on sale in a number of countries and we knew that end-users had to be suffering, too. But we left it at that and sat back and waited.
All three sockets are at the rear
One minor positive, though, we were advised by USR why it thought we'd been completely unable to get its box to work with one model of DECT phone, an elderly BT Synergy 2110, when the box had (initially any way) worked fine with an NTL VS2000 - the phone we used thereafter.
This, it said, was because BT had at one time wired the connections of its DECT phones in a non-standard manner - something that's changed now, apparently. The cable that USRobotics supplies to link its USB adaptor to the phone wasn't, of course, wired in a non-standard way, so the phone wouldn't work.
That reasoning seems plausible to us even though it wasn't offered by D-Link when we'd reported the same issue - but, fact is, D-Link came up with no logical explanation of the problem.
A whole bunch of email and phone exchanges with USRobotics took place subsequently about the early-terminating calls and these left us convinced that the company was indeed planning on a fix. But, after a few weeks' lull in communications, we started hassling.
This resulted in our being sent, on September 19, a USRobotics beta software package - V1.30.06UR11. This, we were told, was likely to solve the problem and, when it had passed quality assurance, would be rolled out for general use. The delay, USRobotics said, was due to the need for a complete revision of the driver.
Dive over to page two, to see what happened when we tried it out.
However, if you're not au fait with all the benefits and features that Skype offers (and there are many), before you do that, you might care to check out one explanatory page of that D-Link review - Skype - too good to be true? - to quickly get up to speed.
Know it all? Then press on to page two...