Why buy an Internet telephone?

It's good to talk, says David Phelan, and it's even better if it's cheap too

VOIP - which stands for "voice over internet protocol" and has become the generic term for internet telephony - is the technology of the moment. If it has baffled you, don't feel bad - it's a bit of a minefield. In essence, though, it's just another way of making phone calls. You need a computer with a broadband internet connection but the advantage is that calls, even to other countries, can be cheap or even free.

If you think there's no such thing as a free lunch, you're right. Some telecom suppliers promise to give you broadband internet for free, but you'll have to pay for something (such as an inclusive calls package) to qualify. Also, free calls are often only available within a particular network. For example, Tesco Internet offers free calls from one Tesco user to another, and Skype (probably the best-known VOIP service) also has free calls within its own network, but calls to regular phone numbers require SkypeOut, which has cheap, but not free, calls.

Should you use VOIP? If you travel overseas with a laptop, you can save a lot of money on hotel-room phone charges. But if you don't have broadband, or even a computer, say, then you may find it takes a long time to recoup this initial outlay. Call quality is variable - some users feel that there's less crackle through VOIP, especially internationally, but it's also often the case that the technology can cause an increase in distracting voice delays.

Philips VOIP 321 phone, £69.99

You may not want to make all your calls via VOIP, so the VOIP321 from Philips handles both internet calls and regular phone calls. It's a DECT handset - that is, it's cordless and digital so call quality is especially clear for landline calls. It connects both to the BT landline socket and by USB to your computer. Pressing the Skype key brings up the Skype contacts list. And it has a series of ring profiles so you know whether you're receiving a Skype or a regular call.

Ups Handy for Skype and BT calls.

Downs Your computer needs to be switched on to use it for Skype calls.

Contact Philips (tel: 09061 010 016; www.philips.co.uk)

Netgear Skype wi-fi phone, £169

The name most associated with VOIP is Skype. It recognised it was a simple way for its broadband-equipped users to talk to each other free. It's easy to use. Download the Skype software and call other users. Calling regular phone numbers is cheap (less than 0.5p per minute). And this phone from Netgear has wi-fi, so you don't have to be sitting next to your computer, you merely have to be within the range of your home wireless network. However, it doesn't have a browser on it so you can't use it in public wi-fi hotspots that need authentication to get on to them.

Ups Neat styling.

Downs Unsuitable for most wi-fi hotspots.

Contacts www.netgear.co.uk

Verball, £29.95

Finally, VOIP needn't be dull. Verballs are basically speakerphones that connect to your computer and work with various internet telephony programs, though it's optimised for Skype. Verballs come in several guises, including a football kit-wearing model called Striker and one named Britney with big blonde hair. Call quality is not bad, and is abetted by the Verball waving its arms and flashing its horns every time a call comes in. Once you've answered, you then talk to the creature which does its best to move its mouth in time to the words of your caller.

Ups Cute and funny.

Downs Tacky.

Contact www.firebox.com

Tesco E337 Internet Phone, £14.97

Tesco aims to make its service as easy to use as a fixed-line phone, so all you need to do is install the software and plug in the phone. Any user can call any other Tesco internet phone for free. Calls to other numbers are 2p per minute to other UK landlines or 25 countries worldwide.

Ups Cheap and simple.

Downs Tethered to the computer.

Contact Tesco (tel: 0845 045 0130; www.tescointernetphone.com)

Vonage V , £19.99 for the phone, £7.99 monthly subscription

Billed as the smallest phone in the world, the V Phone is a USB drive which contains all the software you need to make VOIP calls - so you could use a computer in a business centre (it's not Mac compatible). You're given a standard UK phone number, and calls are charged accordingly. Since the subscription includes unlimited UK and Ireland landline calls, your calls to another UK number would be free even if you're in a hotel in Los Angeles. This also has the advantage that as far as your callers are concerned you appear to be in London, too. Handy if you're a philanderer, perhaps.

Ups Very portable.

Downs In our tests, the sound was poor.

Contact www.vonage.co.uk

Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits