Linksys Wireless-G IP Phone
September 01, 2006
You don't need Skype to use this slick phone sold by the SIP-based VoIP vendors. You will, however, need to keep the power charger close.
Price: $180 to $200
Pros: 802.11g support, color display
Cons: Limited battery life; can't connect at hotspots that require authentication
Since its purchase by eBay about a year ago, IP telephony provider Skype has been rapidly gaining in both visibility and users. In fact, a growing list of vendors have released (or are planning to release) Skype-compatible products, including several Wi-Fi phones.
Although increasingly popular, Skype isn't the only Internet telephony game in town -- there are myriad vendors that provide VoIP services through SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) rather than the proprietary technology used by Skype.
Pricing and Availability
The first thing to know about the WIP300 is that you probably won't be able to find it at a retail store. That's because the WIP300 is mainly resold by VoIP providers, but the phone can also be bought online at prices ranging from about $180 to $200 or more.
The WIP300 supports SIP v2, and so should be compatible with the networks of most SIP-compatible VoIP providers. Some providers (most notably Vonage, though there are others), restrict the use of third-party equipment with their services, however, so unless you're getting the WIP300 from your provider, it's a good idea to check with them before buying to make sure the phone will work. (My test unit came pre-configured with service provided by VoicePulse.)
The WIP300 is a compact candy bar style device that measures 4.65 x 1.77 x 0.78 inches and weighs only 3.5 ounces, making it small and light enough to easily tuck into a shirt or jacket pocket. (Snug pants might be another matter.)
The WIP300 sports a very well-designed keypad, with large and brightly-backlit buttons. In addition to standard send and end keys, there's a pair of soft keys flanking an easy-to-use four-way navigation joystick. I particularly like the dedicated clear button that easily lets you erase mistyped characters.
The WIP300 has a 1.8-inch color LCD with 128 x 160 resolution and 65K colors. Although it's a tad small, it's as bright, crisp and easy to read as any mobile phone display. There's also a 2.5mm headset jack for handsfree talking, but Linksys doesn't include anything to plug into it.
One potentially handy aspect of the WIP300 is that its AC charger connects through a mini-B type USB connector instead of a conventional power jack. This means that if an AC outlet isn't around (or they're in short supply) you can charge the phone in a pinch by connecting it to a PC with a standard USB device cable. Alas, the appropriate cable isn't included in the package, but one can be easily purchased online for less than $10.
WLAN and SIP Configuration
Unlike some Wi-Fi phones which only support 802.11b and thus can't be used on 802.11g networks unless they're configured for mixed b/g mode, the WIP300 is a native 802.11g device.
If you happen to have a compatible Linksys router, you can use the SES (Secure Easy Setup) feature to automatically configure the WIP300's settings -- including wireless encryption -- by pressing one button. I have a Netgear router, and configured the WIP300 through its menus instead.
You can use the WIP300's site survey feature to find available networks or enter a specific SSID name. The WIP300 works with pretty much every major form of wireless encryption and authentication -- WEP, WPA and WPA2, plus TKIP, AES and PEAP. Entering a text-based encryption key on a numeric keypad is always a chore, but fortunately you should only have to do it once per network, as the WIP300 supports multiple profiles, so you can use the phone on different WLAN networks without reconfiguring it every time you connect.
The WIP300 can store information for up to six separate SIP accounts. Although disabled by default, the WIP300 includes STUN (Simple Traversal of UDP) support to make SIP work through a NAT firewall. I didn't need to turn it on, and was able to use the WIP300 without making any firewall modifications. In addition to indicating the connection to (and signal strength of) of a WLAN, an icon on the display indicates whether or not the phone is successfully connected to a SIP server.
Although you can theoretically use the WIP300 at a Wi-Fi hotspot, forget it if the location requires authentication or sign-in, since the phone lacks a built-in browser. (A higher-end model, the WIP330, has this capability as well as other upgraded features.)
I found that the WIP300 provides very good overall call quality and range. The phone maintained a strong connection to two Wi-Fi networks I used it on, and neither I nor my callers experienced any audio dropouts or other quality issues (though that may say as much about VoicePulse's service as the WIP300).
If the WIP300 has a major Achilles' heel, it's probably the battery life. The phone uses a 900 mAh Li-Ion battery that Linksys rates for an average 3 hours of talk time or 50 hours on standby, but I barely managed about 1.5 hours talk and 36 hours standby. That's OK for around the house, but taking it on the road even for a day would almost certainly necessitate hauling the charger along as well.
The WIP300's phonebook will store the names and numbers of up to 200 of your closest friends and colleagues, and you can put nine of them in the phone's speed-dial menu. There's a detailed log that lets you see the last 20 calls you've dialed, received or missed. The phone even includes a built-in POP3 e-mail client, but checking e-mail on any device that lacks a conventional alphanumeric keyboard is of dubious value.
Native 802.11g support and a vibrant color screen make the Linksys WIP300 a good Wi-Fi phone for around the home or office, though limited battery life and the lack of browser support may limit its usefulness while you're on the road.