Review: Belkin Wi-Fi Phone

The problem is this. To get ADSL you need to have a BT phone line. Yet, except for calling my parents, I don’t really use a land-line phone. This has made using ADSL broadband more expensive than I’d have liked as I had to pay ?11 a month for a phone line I don’t make calls with ((To put this into context, our bill for calls last quarter was 38p.)). Fast forward to last month, when I find that I can get cable broadband without phone or digital TV service.

Bingo! Bye-bye BT!

Except… my folks don’t have broadband and would kill me if they had to call me on my mobile. So we needed some way to allow them to call us, especially when we didn’t have a computer switched on.

I toyed with the idea of a SIP phone or a SIP adapter. This seemed a good solution as it’s a “standards compliant” VoIP system and, my thinking went, more likely to be future proof. I even got as far as ordering one on eBay but a dodgy seller put an end to that. Eventually I realised that I had never really had much success with SIP ((I’m thinking that maybe I’m cursed. I bought a Bluetooth headset that refused to work with the dongle I had for my iBook. At home I needed to open lots of ports but always got mediocre sound quality and, when trying to buy credit, I could never get an authorisation code. Clearly it was never meant to be.)) but had never had problems with Skype. I decided to give the Belkin WiFi phone a try.

The pictures look good. If you think of a modern, “candy bar” style mobile phone you’re along the right lines. First impressions of the real thing are positive too. The slightly rubberised plastic case feels solid — robust but not heavy — and nice to the touch. It’s simple to slide off the back cover and insert the battery.

It takes a little effort to push back the flap that covers the power socket but that’s probably a good thing. I charge it for four hours before realising that the “half full” battery icon on the display probably really means “charging.”

Powering the device on I find that the buttons, while looking the part, are slightly wobbly and let the rest of the phone down. The second slight disappointment is the screen, which is actually smaller than you first think it will be. Sure, it’s big enough but there’s plenty of space for a bigger one.

It’s necessary to pick your language (there was only one) and accept the Skype T’s and C’s before it tries to connect to a network. It’s pretty quick and immediately finds and tries to connect to an unsecured network. Not mine, of course, as I use “WPA Personal” security on mine.

It looks like it gets a connection but reports that it’s unable to connect to the Internet. I use the menus to try to select my local network. The interface should be familiar to anyone with a mobile phone. The little joy-stick and two menu buttons along with on-screen prompts are simple to follow, partly because it’s much less sophisticated than most contemporary phones. I find the network section, select my network and enter the password and we’re in. Pretty easy.

Next it says that my Skype password is wrong. Odd. I’ve not even entered a username yet! The “sign in” button just tries again and, despite looking, I don’t see anywhere to enter a new name.

I give up and decide to look in the manual.

It suggest that it should just be there under the sign-up menu and, strangely, it is now. Oh well, I enter my username and password. And that’s it. It quickly connects and downloads my contacts list. I see myself online using another account on my MacBook.

I fiddle about with the menus, playing with some of the ring tones. There are only a few but I find a half-decent “ringing” sound and confirm that the vibrate option is on.

Next I make a Skype-to-Skype call which sounds great at my end and is, reportedly, just like the user is on a PC from the other side.

Feeling emboldend I try a landline number. Again, from the handset it sounds pretty much as good as any other phone. It’s not quite so good for the recpient of the call, who complains of an annoying echo. Nevertheless it’s clear enough to be useable and we happily talk for fifteen minutes without any glitches.

In fact, once connected, the only glitch I’ve come across is not directly related to calls but is, potentially, a bit of a show-stopper. After the call I put the phone down and, like most mobile phones, after a short time the display goes into “screen saver” mode. Unlike my Sony Ericsson T630, which displays the time, the Belkin’s screen goes completely blank, leaving no indication that the phone is switched on at all.

That’s not the show-stopper, that’s just annoying.

But after ten minutes or so the phone appears off-line and making a call to it diverts straight to voice-mail. This makes it completely unsuitable as a home phone as any time someone calls we’re likely to be offline! The story so far is that I have sent an email to their technical support people and am waiting for a response.

Overall it has good hardware but disappointing software. I have no problems with “basic” — I hardly use any of the complex stuff on my mobile — but it’s difficult to unreservedly recommend a product that takes itself off the network all by itself. If, however, Belkin have a solution then I’d be pretty happy with it. It’s not cheap (but then none of its competitors are) but making free calls without switching on a PC is a compelling prospect.


5 responses to “Review: Belkin Wi-Fi Phone”

  1. We’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now and I have a few more comments.

    Firstly I’m not terribly impressed with Belkin technical support. I’ve heard nothing back from them. I did, however, find a way to stop the phone drifting on- and off-line, though: leave it plugged into the mains. Kind of defeats the idea of a wireless phone but does make it more useful.

    There have also been a few glitches. On receiving a call last week, I unplugged it from the power and I could no longer hear the caller (although they could hear me). Calling back “fixed” that. We also had an issue calling one particular freephone (0800) number. It’s only fair to note that this is likely a problem with SkypeOut rather than the handset. I mention it merely to say that using Skype as an alternative to a landline is not 100% seamless.

    We’ve also noticed is that you always have to enter the country code and international dialing code. It’s odd to have to dial +44 when ringing a local taxi company!

    Oh, and the final complaint is that the software to update the firmware is a Windows-only executable! Not a happy situation for this Mac-only house.

    That’s quite a lot of glitches and problems. It’s clearly a “Version 1.0” product but I’m not seeing anything that couldn’t be fixed with a firmware update. Let’s hope that Belkin’s software engineers are more efficient than their helpdesk operators.

  2. Thomas Armour avatar
    Thomas Armour

    Thank you-just what I was looking for.
    This really is the business.
    I use “Internet calls .com” calls to Australia landline are free, can you see any problem connecting to other than Skype

    Looking for lowest puchase price-so far ebay ?85.99+?6.5 PP.

    Anyone know better?

    All the best-I wonder just how long the free calls will be available,lets hope A long,long time.

    I am an NTL user my total bill(phone,cable tv and Broad Band) was ?70+ now around ?32.00 per month and a further ?7to ?10 for calls to mobile in Australia so we are happy VOIP users

  3. I’m not familiar with “internet calls,” I’m afraid. If it’s just a calling card — where you call a freephone number and then get connected — it will probably be okay. (I say “probably” as we have had some problems connecting to some freephone numbers.)

    If, on the other hand, you would ordinarily install some other software on your PC then you’re out of luck I’m afraid. It is basically just an embedded version of Skype that you install on your PC or Mac.

    I bought mine on eBay for roughly the same price.

  4. I finally heard back from Belkin technical support and they have offered to exchange the unit for what they claim to be a less broken model. Fingers crossed!

  5. Re Belkin WiFi phone.

    I recently bought one as I am now working out of the country for some months. I did a few tests with it before I left the UK and all seemed ok.
    However now I am trying to use it and I find it wont switch on!! Its a brick! Its been on charge all day – still dead. Took the battery out to reboot it – still dead! Any ideas?