Sarah and I didn’t have a landline for a long time. If people needed to reach us, they could call our cell phones. However, when we switched cable providers this summer, we found it was one of those “it’s cheaper to get the phone+WiFi+cable” bundle. Great, but we weren’t about to give away the new phone number to anyone since people knew to reach us on our cell phone numbers or my Google Voice number. But it was handy to have a dedicated handset…that’s where the ObiTalk Obi110 comes in.
First, the ObiTalk service does a great deal more than just Google Voice. A LOT more. But let’s start with my primary use, and then get into the incredible array of options you have when you’re using it. Setting up GV with the Obi is ridiculously easy. Enter your Google login, select Google Voice as the primary call-out number, acknowledge that Google Voice does not support emergency services calls, and you’re done! The only other step is to set up GV to forward to the telephone number the Obi is connected to, and then you’ve got seamless calling to and from any regular phone through Google Voice. That alone makes it a great service since you get all the benefits of Google Voice, plus you can use it as the “family line” without having to dial through GV first. Obi also lets you use VOIP services like calling Gmail contacts (and calling through Gmail!)
That leads us into the real benefit of Obi. Essentially it can act as a bridge and allow you to call over VOIP from anywhere. You just dial into your Obi device and make the calls, and it doesn’t cost you roaming charges, international toll charges, etc. Other services like Skype offer this, but Obi ties into a regular phone line, making it more reliable and a bit more centralized. You can also easily set your preferred contacts, so only specific people can access those features or be available for Gmail chatting. Everything is laid out very simply through the ObiTalk website, and it’s ridiculously easy to fiddle with the settings. I admit, I don’t have a high level of patience for complicated VOIP offerings, mainly because I don’t spend much time on the phone. So for the features offered it had to be easy, or it wouldn’t be worth the headache. I’m happy to say I had the ObiTalk up and running in 15 minutes, and at least 10 of those were spent moving our entertainment unit to access the router/phone plug. I was shocked at how fast it was all set.
Don’t believe me? Check out ObiTalk’s instructional video:
I did hit one snag, and it was either user confusion or ObiTalk’s description of how to use the Obi remotely. I can’t say for certain because I’ve been known to misinterpret technical writing before, but here’s what happened. In order to test the dial-into-Obi functionality, I tried to call it from my office. Obviously, the real benefit here is if you’re overseas, but I draw the line at traveling internationally to complete a review (my day job frowned upon that level of dedication.) However, I could not figure out how to access the “Obi Assistant” that would allow me to use the Obi as a bridge for the call. I entered my cell number as a “trusted caller”, but the Obi Assistant wasn’t picking up. I tried checking out the support forums, which at first led me to believe I had to try to call the 9-digit Obi number, but Verizon didn’t recognize that as a number. Finally, I realized I had to call the actual phone number for the jack, aka the number the cable company assigned us. Boom, two rings and Obi was asking me to dial 1 to continue the call or 2 to make a new call. Hitting 2 and dialing my office line connected me to my office (and the caller ID showed my Google Voice number, as per my Obi settings). As a test, I also called directly from my office line, which went through without any Obi Assistant popping in. Only “trusted callers” get access to the Obi Assistant, and you can change those right from the ObiTalk dashboard online.
It struck me driving home that the Obi has another great use in addition to international calling. All the major cell carriers offer some variation on “friends and family” numbers, basically somewhere between 5 and 10 numbers that have unlimited calling and don’t count against your minute’s bucket. It’s a bit of effort, but you could set the Obi number as one of these favorites, and by calling through Obi, never burn your cell minutes! With some planning, the Obi can effectively give you unlimited calling (as long as you have a compatible family plan).
Overall, I really like the ObiTalk 110. Obviously, if you travel overseas often, this is a no-brainer. If you use Google Voice and you want a dead-simple setup, the ObiTalk delivers that too. But when you add it all together, along with the unlimited calling options, for $89.99 list (and $49.99 from Amazon!) this is a great little device. If you’ve ended up with a landline from a cable bundle and you’re wondering if it’s even worth plugging a phone in, the ObiTalk is a great way to maximize your use of that extra phone line!
MSRP: $84.94, or you can get it for $49.99 from Amazon [affiliate link].
What I Like: Small; easy setup; Works well with Google Voice; Many options for VOIP and landline calling; Keeps you from paying international calling fees
What Needs Improvement: Some of the dialing instructions can get confusing.