I love my Ooma. I know, I know; when you hear the name you think of Letterman- “Oprah-Uma, Uma-Oprah”, but Ooma isn’t a comedy bit. No, Ooma is a phone service that lets you buy hardware once and then get unlimited calls within the US and low cost calls internationally for the life of the unit.
I’ve written about Ooma before, and while at CES in January, I previewed some of their upcoming services. Now I’ve had a chance to use the Ooma Telo and new features in my own home, so let’s take a look. But be warned… there’s a lot of ground to cover here.
A little background before we begin. I first heard about Ooma when Wayne posted on a Gear Deal for the Ooma Hub. I saw the post, was intrigued and ordered one. Having tried Vonage, MagicJack and a few other VOiP services I was skeptical about the product and the true savings. I went ahead and bought one though and discovered that my skepticism was unwarranted. The Ooma Hub was easy to set up, was totally free to use, and it worked perfectly. So long as my internet connection was up, things worked exactly as planned. I became an Ooma fan and began telling everyone how great it was.
When Ooma released the update to the Ooma Hub — the Telo — I thought about buying one, but since the Hub was working fine I saw no reason to do so. That changed when I spent some time at the Ooma booth during CES 2010. I saw a host of new features that Ooma would be rolling out and found that many of them would only work on the Telo.
Ooma was kind enough to send me a Telo review unit so that I could see the updates first hand. They are significant , and they move Ooma from being “just” a telephone into a full “communication system”.
There are a number of different elements to the Ooma system, so let’s take a look at each and then the system as a whole.
The Ooma Telo
The first thing you notice about the Ooma Telo when compared to the original unit, the Hub, is how much more refined it is. It looks sleeker and feels more solid.
When you place one on top of the other you notice that they have about the same footprint.
But from any and every angle the Telo just looks better and more modern; the Telo makes the Ooma Hub look… well ancient.
Some of the immediate differences you’ll notice (in addition to the color of the units) is that the Telo replaces the physical buttons with touch sensitive. That alone makes the experience of using the Telo immediately feel more refined. None of this is surprising given that the Telo is a second generation device.
While the Telo and the Hub look entirely different, the real changes are on the inside. The Telo sounds better and is ready for some of Ooma’s awesome new services. At the same time, Ooma continues to sell both units and both share many of the same key features.
Both the Telo and the Hub provide free US calling, means you can call anyone, anywhere in the US for nothing and pay only applicable taxes and fees. Both the Telo and the Hub include bundled calling features such as caller-ID and call-waiting. Both let you access voicemail remotely from any phone or web browser, and both give one-touch voicemail access from anywhere in your house. Both provide terrific voice quality that is, in my experience with both, on par with a landline. Both let you choose a new number from most U.S. area codes. And with both the telo and the Hub you can port your number for $39.99, or for free if you purchase an annual subscription to Ooma Premier. (More on Ooma Premier in a bit.)
And of course both provide 911 Service once you have your registered address and both provide a landline backup option so that you can still place 911 calls if the internet goes out.
In both cases setup was simple and quick. Ooma provides an excellent step by step guide for the process that will help even the most tech-adverse person start using the system in minutes.
And the list goes on. In other words, as Ooma explains, “The Ooma Telo has all the features the Ooma Hub has to offer, and then some.”
So what are some of the additions that come with the Telo? Here is a quick chart to get an idea…
The online phone book, HD Voice and support for the Telo handsets are all nice features, but to my mind they don’t immediately make the case for spending $249.99 for the Telo instead of $219.99 for the Hub, especially when the Hub is often available at a significant discount. But if you were shopping for an Ooma system I would strongly suggest getting the Telo. Why?
Because when you look at the additional features that come with the Telo when you subscribe to Ooma Premier for $9.99 a month it quickly becomes worth the additional expense.
Each Ooma unit comes with a free 60-day trial of Ooma Premier. After that Premier costs $9.99/month or $119.99/year. (If you sign-up for a year, Ooma will wave the $39.99 fee for porting a number or send you an Ooma Telo handset.)
I never saw the need for Premier when I was using the Ooma Hub, but with the Telo it becomes worth it. Here’s why.
With Ooma Premier you get an “Instant Second Line™” That means your one Ooma number functions as two phone lines at the same time. In other words, if someone is using the phone you can pick up a different handset and get a fresh dial tone to make your call. Similarly, if the phone is in use and a call comes through it will still ring, allowing you to pick it up from a second handset.
With Ooma Premier you also get three-way conferencing and multi-ring so that when a call comes into your Ooma number it will also ring your cell (although if you are using Google Voice this is unnecessary). Premier also gives you a back-up number so that if your internet connection goes down calls will be automatically forwarded to a secondary number. And the list of features goes on… and on… and on… (The full list can be found here.)
If you go to the extra expense of buying the Ooma Telo, you’ll get some additional features such as Google voice Extensions and added functionality through the new Bluetooth adapter.
As a Google Voice users the Google Extensions is a killer feature, and I’m so impressed by what the Bluetooth adapter can do that it is worth a look at it in its own right.
The Ooma Bluetooth adapter was one of the advances that was featured at CES, and it adds a host of functionality to the Ooma Telo system. (Sorry Ooma Hub owners, you’ll need to upgrade in order to use it.)
The adapter simply plugs into the back of the Ooma Telo. Once installed (it takes all of two seconds), it will:
Ooma Premier customers to merge their mobile phone and home phone together by taking mobile calls on their Telo system or their headset.
In other words, with the adapter connected you can use a Bluetooth headset to talk on the phone just as you would were you using your cellphone. In addition you can pair your cellphone with it (up to 7 phones or headsets can be paired at a time) and then answer your cellphone from any Ooma connected phone in the house. That means you can leave your cellphone on your desk or by your bed and, so long at the Ooma Telo is within 30 feet of it, your cellphone will ring through to your home phones no matter where you are in your house.
For me it means I can put my iPhone in the one spot in my house that gets reception (thanks AT&T!) and use the phone without the annoying drops I constantly encounter.
Finally, the Bluetooth adapter lets you transfer calls mid-call. Thus, if you are on a Telo handset, you can transfer the call to a Bluetooth headset. Similarly, you can transfer a mobile call to the Telo once you walk into the house.
The bottom line is that the combination of the Ooma Telo and the Bluetooth adapter creates an interconnectivity between cell and home phones that is both powerful and convenient. After just a few days of using it I couldn’t imagine not having this combination.
Ooma Telo Handset-
In order to use the Ooma Hub, I connected my phone system to it the way I would previously plug the phone system into a jack in the wall. Thus the Hub became my phone service, but I used the same wireless phone system I always did.
The Telo, on the other hand, has a specially designed handset that works seamlessly with it. While you can also use an established phone system in the same manner as the Hub, by using Ooma’s own handsets you get additional features.
The handset itself is small and round. It comes with a charging cradle, an adapter, a setup guide and the handset itself. Setup was simple. All I did was follow the guide step by step and within a minute both of the handsets Ooma sent were registered with the Telo base.
The first advantage of the Telo handset is that it is specifically designed to work with the Telo to give the best call quality possible. The handset also gives one-touch voicemail access, access to the Ooma online phonebook, and works as an intercom. And if you are a Premier subscriber it works with the Ooma Instant Second Line, Call Screening and special voicemail features. Up to four of the $49.99 handsets can be used at a time.
Personally I like the look of the handset and the way the curved back feels in the hand. Elana, on the other hand, is less enamored with it and finds it hard to hold for an extended period.
The Ooma Telo has another kind of handset that can be used with it. This one has a touchscreen and is called the… iPhone. 🙂
Yup, Ooma’s iPhone app (it also works with the touch and the iPad) is now available, and it extends the Ooma ecosystem even further.
Ooma iPhone App
The $9.99 iOS app lets you make and receive calls on your iPhone, iPad, and –so long as you use a headset– the iPod touch. Better still, it works over both WiFi and 3G; if you are a Premier subscriber you’ll get a bucket of free minutes each month.
The Ooma Mobile app is priced at $9.99. Calls using the Ooma Mobile app start at 1.9 cents per minute for US calls or applicable rates for international calls. Ooma Premier customers using the Ooma Mobile app receive 250 minutes of U.S. calling for free every month. For a limited time promotion, Ooma Premier customers who also subscribe to Ooma’s International Bundle will get 750 minutes of free calling in the U.S. and to 70 other countries. Use of the Ooma Mobile app requires an Ooma account.
The app loads quickly and the call quality is excellent. It supports Bluetooth headsets and, thanks to Ooma’s “PureVoice” reduces the bandwidth used while on 3G. The app is easy to use, runs in the background if you are using iOS 4.0 and displays your Ooma home number when you call out since it IS an extension of your home phone system. It has already replaced Line2 on my iPhone.
Because Ooma Premier subscribers get a monthly allotment of 250 minutes of calls it makes using the app a no brainer. After the 250 minutes, or if you do not have Ooma Premier, domestic calls at 1.9 cents a minute. Be warned that before you start using the iPhone app you need to log into your Ooma online account and pre-pay for calls. This is a slight annoyance that has drawn fire from some in their App Store reviews but it took me all of 30 seconds to do.
I will admit that I was taken aback to find that this app costs $9.99 when other VOiP apps are free, but I am finding it so useful that I am still happy to have bought the app. And since I am an Ooma Premier subscriber now, I’ll happily use my 250 minutes each month.
So that is the Ooma Telo ecosystem. It includes the base unit, Telo handsets, a Bluetooth connection to your Bluetooth headset and cellphone and an iOS app. I bought my original Ooma system and have been thrilled with it. I paid just under $200 and it has been one of the best tech purchases I have made due, in part, to the fact that within a brief period the investment paid for itself by letting me cancel my phone service. After that, it began saving me money I would have otherwise spent on a monthly basis. Add in the awesome functionality both the Ooma Hub and the Telo offer and you have a company that has a great product that deserves to see wider adoption.
The Telo takes everything up a few notches. The base unit looks better and feels more substantial. This is largely irrelevant to me since my Ooma sits high up on a shelf in my home study (I don’t use the answering machine portion so I don’t need access to it.) What makes the Telo great is the improved call quality, the added functionality added by the Bluetooth adapter and handsets and the extension of the Ooma system to my iPhone and iPad. It all works together in a well-conceived and executed system.
I have some issues with Ooma but they are not in the areas of the hardware or services. I do think the iPhone app ($9.99) and Bluetooth adapter (($29.99) are overpriced. And when you start adding in Telo handsets and Ooma Premium the system can quickly become pricey. That said, if you weigh your current monthly phone bill (assuming you still have a home phone and have not gone to cellphone full-time), even a tricked out Ooma system may sell itself.
As far as hardware and call quality go, not to mention the fact that Ooma keeps adding value and functionality to the system, I can’t recommend Ooma and their products strongly enough.
I’m Dan Cohen and I’ve been a satisfied Ooma user since August 2009. 🙂
Ooma iOS App
What I Like: Easy Setup; Awesome features that continue to expand; Great call quality; Integrates home and cell phones
What Needs Improvement: Can become pricey as you add accessories; iPhone app is overpriced (but I would still recommend getting it)