Follow-up: Belkin Wi-Fi Phone

Back in November I wrote about my then-new Belkin Wi-Fi Phone for Skype. At the time I was fairly pleased with the concept but less so with the actual implementation.

The phone’s hardware was fine. The unit as a whole was reasonably solid. The buttons were a bit wobbly and the screen was smaller than you might initially think, but there was nothing to complain about too much.

The software, however, was more problematic. The main issue we experienced was the unit drifting on- and off-line when it was left unattended. The only way of keeping the unit on-line all the time was to leave it plugged in. Not exactly optimal.

On trying to upgrade the firmware we found that the update software was packaged as a Windows executable, not ideal for this Macintosh-only home. Of course the idea is that the phone can be used without a computer, so it?s slightly comical that the system requirements to fix known bugs are so specific.

I tried reporting the bugs and asked for a solution from Belkin technical support. My first problem was that it wasn?t easy to negotiate their website. The Skype phone was so new that it was not possible to enter the SKU into their site, so I could raise a support call. After some time playing around I eventually found a way of doing it.

My effort was rewarded with… nothing. I got no reply at all. Maybe they were confused by the UK details as it turns out that I’d posted my question to the US technical support department. I still think it was rude to get no reply whatsoever.

I waited until January 2nd to resubmit the question. This time I was able to do so from the UK site and, fortunately, this time I got a response.

My experience with them has been mixed. In general the information given has been good. My message had clearly been read by a real person. Often I get replies asking me to do something I already tried, or something that it clearly not possible. ((My favourite is from a guy at a company that will remain nameless. He kept asking me to click the Start menu and select Internet Explorer. I explained that I had a Macintosh which had neither of those things. That would have been fine, except he was very insistent that I did, in fact, have a Start menu. And every computer had Internet Explorer. Clearly I was crazy. I eventually gave in, told him that I’d done as he asked and clicked Safari on my Dock.)) But not with Belkin. And they offered to replace the phone without any quibbling.

I packaged the phone up and mailed it back to Belkin. I was quite impressed that they paid for the postage. Realising that our SkypeIn number was now unavailable when we didn’t have a computer switched on, I forwarded calls to our mobile numbers. ((I was a little hesitent to do this as I didn’t find much documentation on what to expect. Do both phones ring? What if one it switched off? What happens if we’re logged in on a computer, too?))

I would also commend them on returning calls. Their call centre was always busy, but after five minutes on hold they’d always take my number and then actually call back. Sure, if would have been easier if I could get through to a real person straight away, but this approach was a pleasant surprise.

However what seems to have been lacking is communication. Responses often took over a week to arrive and sometimes not at all. In once instance I was told that the Customer Services department would be sending me the phone in a couple of days. They say this did happen but I recieved no notification and I ended up writing again a couple of weeks later when the phone failed to arrive. One advisor told me that the parcel had no tracking number. Another said that they couldn’t find my address.

So after all this effort what is the verdict? Does the replacement phone work?

It?s early days yet, but the answer seems to be a qualified “yes.” The phone operates correctly when under battery power. While it does seem to appear offline occasionally when viewed in another Skype window, calling my SkypeIn number from my mobile has, so far, usually resulted in the Belkin ringing. This is not 100% correct in my opinion, but is good enough for our use.

The other definite plus is the reduction in the annoying echo that pretty much every caller on the old phone mentioned. As before, the call sounds fine from the Skype phone. From the other end of the SkypeOut ((One thing that works against the Belkin phone is not a problem with the device itself. In January Skype changed their call plans, requiring a “termination” charge for every call. In the case of many UK calls this will actually double the cost. This makes the case for switching away from having a landline less convincing than it was.)) call, however, things are much improved. And, so far, we’ve not had any problems with the reliability. We?ve not experienced any dropped calls or crashes during a call. This is something I intend keeping a close eye on in the future.

The “qualified” comes from the things that still do not work correctly. For example, left unattended while we were at work yesterday, the phone somehow just got stuck at 15:50. This didn’t immediately arouse suspicion as it does tend to lose time very quickly. Pressing a button brought the otherwise blank screen to life giving the appearance of activity, but nothing actually worked. I had to restart it.

Of course one of the main reasons we sent it back was so that we could reliably run it on battery power. We might have to reconsider this now we know how long it lasts between charges. And the answer is: not long. It has needed charging every couple of days so far, and that’s without it being used for calls.

Overall the replacement phone is a great improvement over the original model. The call quality is improved and it is possible to operate it without mains power, which does mean that it does what it says on the box. Still, the glitches and the battery life stop me from unreservedly recommending the phone.

2 thoughts on “Follow-up: Belkin Wi-Fi Phone”

  1. As a PC user that is often ridiculed by you, Apple people, I read this with certain grin on my oterwise never sarcastic mug.
    I have a Start button…and Windows explorer, but wouldn’t like to brag now…

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