It looks like the Nokia N90. Ritz is going to be the first US dealer with it–it’s a high-end cameraphone, so apparently it goes to the camera stores first. Ritz will be selling it for around $400 with activation. That’s cheaper then expected–I heard rumors that the N90 would be in the $700+ range, even with activation. I’m still waiting for the N91 or E70, but I’m feeling a bit better about them. If Nokia can get the N90 into US consumers’ hands in a reasonable timeframe, maybe the other two won’t be too far behind.
One side effect of running my own business is that I’ve been spending a lot of time on the phone. Unfortunately, the $10 analog phone that I was using was hard to use for more then 15 minutes at a time, and it wasn’t always very easy to hear what the other party was saying. That’s not a great mix for a business phone.
So, I’ve been looking around to find a cheap way to get a good phone with a headset on my desk. None of the analog headsets phones that I’ve looked at have been very appealing, so I’ve been looking at cheap VoIP phones with 2.5mm phone jacks. Amazingly enough, VoIPSupply.com decided to clear out a bunch of old phones via eBay at just the right time, so I was able to pick up a Pingtel Xpressa for a song.
The Xpressa was a first-generation VoIP phone, and it was orphaned by Pingtel over a year ago. However, in many ways it’s still the highest-end SIP phone on the market. It comes with a Palm-like 160x160 grayscale display, supports (pre-standard) Power-over-Ethernet, and runs Java applets natively on the phone. The SDK is still available from Pingtel, but you have to hunt for it a bit. I paid about the same for the Xpressa as I did for my Sipura/Linksys SPA-841, but the Pingtel is clearly better in nearly every area–it’s easier to use, it’s more solid, it’s more attractive, it has more features, and sounds better. It’s lacking a few NAT features and I can’t find a way to use different ringtones for different lines, but other then that it does everything that I need. It comes with a standard 2.5mm headphone jack, so I picked up a cheap Plantronics headset; I’ve spent nearly two hours on the phone so far today, and everything has been perfect.
Er, well, mostly everything. I actually ordered the mango colored model from VoIPSupply, but somehow ended up with a charcoal-colored phone instead. Hopefully they’ll be able to fix that soon. Also, since Pingtel discontinued the phone (and actually sold it off to an unnamed vendor, alleged to be 3com), they’ve pulled all of the add-on software packages off of their website; that means that I haven’t been able to find their LDAP-based phonebook. I’ve been fishing around and I’m sure that I can find a copy somewhere. For now, I’ve been using Jon’s Phone Tool to dial from Quicksilver. JPT is swimming in features, 95% of which are useless to me, but it seems to do a decent job dialing my phone for me, so I’ll probably pay the $12 fee for it if I can’t get the Pingtel Phonebook to work.
Update: As expected, VoIPSupply is fixing the mango-colored problem. I should have a mango phone on the way shortly.
Om says that the Nokia 6682 is now availably directly from Nokia’s website for $599. The 6682 is Nokia’s current high-end business phone–you can spend more on one of their communicator models or on a fashion phone, but if you’re looking for a regular phone with lots of features, the 6682’s about as good as you’re going to do in GSM-land.
The site that started this also mentions that the Nokia N90 is nearly available. The N90 is basically a specialized camera-phone, with a real lens and a formfactor that’s designed to make the camera more usable. It also has the highest-resolution screen that I’ve ever seen on a phone–352x416. If it had WiFi like the N91, then I’d probably be drooling over it. As it is, I’m waiting to see what’s available in February when my current Cingular plan runs out. If the N91 actually includes a SIP client (as has been rumored), then I’ll be very tempted.
Darn it, I think I’ve fallen in love with another unreleased phone.
This week, it’s the Nokia N91. It was announced a couple months ago, and isn’t supposed to ship until late in 2005. It’s going to be marketed as a “music phone,” but I think the specs more or less speak for themselves:
- 4 GB hard drive
- 2 MP still camera, 352x288 video capture
- Series 60 3.0 software
- Video player (MPEG4, Real, H.263)
- GSM/EDGE/WCDMA (3G) support
- FM radio receiver
- mini-USB jack (can act like USB mass storage device)
- phone keypad and music controls, but no keyboard
- battery life: 12 hours music playback, 3-4 hours talk time, 7-ish days standby time
You can get more details from Nokia’s own flashcrapular site.
It’s not a small phone by any stretch. It’s very slightly smaller then a Treo 650–4mm narrower, 1mm thinner, 16g lighter.
The thing that I find so fascinating about the N91 is that it can replace practically every device that I’ve been cramming into my pockets:
- iPod–the N91’s not as nice as the iPod photo, but for light use, it’ll probably be good enough.
- pocket camera–much better then my T616 (which is worthless as a camera). 1600x1200 is big enough for web photos and the occasional whiteboard photo at work. If the shots are anything like the N90 sample shots then I’ll be happy.
- organizer (it’ll sync with the Mac once Apple tweaks their list of supported Series 60 devices). It’s not quite as capable as the Clie that I’m still dragging around, but it’ll probably be good enough.
- USB flash drive (you’ll need a mini-USB to USB zip cable, but they’re small)
- video player (er, well, if you don’t mind watching on a 2” screen)
- photo album – if the iPod photo can do it, why can’t the N91? Their screens are basically the same resolution.
The other thing that fascinates me about the N91 is its SIP support. The specs list support for JSR-180, which is SIP for J2ME apps. There are rumors online that the demo N-series phones have native SIP support in the phone UI. That’d let me use the N91 as a cordless phone when I’m at home or at work, which is just one more thing to like about it.
Of course, there have to be downsides–the camera doesn’t look as good as the one that comes with the N90 (but the N90 doesn’t have 802.11 or the hard drive). It doesn’t have the N90’s video-conferencing camera, either (that’d be cool with SIP). It’s kind of big. It doesn’t have a keyboard (although external bluetooth ones will work). It won’t ship until the very end of 2005. The specs don’t list 850 MHz support, although they’re clearly marketing this to the US, so presumably there will be a US model with 850/1900 MHz support. Finally, the price: at least $700 US before subsidies, possibly closer to $900. So, frankly, it’s probably too expensive for me to buy, but I’m going to be really tempted. Since Palm is rumored to be saving the next Treo for Spring of 2006, the N91 may not even have any competition for “Cool Phone of the Year” in my mind.
I want to see a combination VoIP/MVNO double-play. That’s one company that sells cellular service (using someone else’s network), sells VoIP service, and integrates the two services.
There are two specific scenarios that seem obvious:
They sell the customer mobile phone service and VoIP service via an ATA or SIP hardphone. This would be great for people who have turned off their home phone service while continuing to pay for some form of Internet access. One number would ring both devices, the first one to pick up wins. Outgoing calls would have the same caller ID from either device. Alternate products would be family plans with multiple phones, each with their own number, then a shared number that will ring all devices; and centrex plans for small businesses, where the company provides both VoIP desk phones and mobile phones.
They sell the customer mobile phone service and act like a SIP client. This way the customer can integrate their mobile phones directly into their existing phone system. Ideally, the MVNO’s SIP gateway will register and unregister with the SIP PBX as the phone gains and loses service; this will let the PBX do the Right Thing with voicemail, and also enable a number of other services.
Personally, I’d love to buy services like this. I’d prefer GSM phones, simply because the most interesting phones are almost always GSM-only. Accoring to Cellular News, there are at least three GSM MVNOs in the US right now, using both Cingular and T-Mobile’s networks, so this is certainly possible.
On the hardware front, several companies seem to be providing GSM/SIP gateway equipment:
Blueslice concentrates more on WiFi/GSM roaming, but the basic technology seems similar.
It’s possible that Earthlink will be rolling something like this out soon–they’re building a MVNO, and they share at least one board member with Bridgeport Networks. They seem to be concentrating more on EV-DO then anything GSM-related, though.
There seems to be a huge push in the cellular industry to integrate SIP into their networks, so something like this will be possible sooner or later. My current contract with Cingular is up in 6 months; it’d be nice if someone has something on the market that I can buy by then.
I ordered a Sipura SPA-841 SIP phone from VoIPSupply.com last week, and it arrived last night. I haven’t had enough time with it yet to write a really comprehensive review, but I’d like to share a couple first impressions.
First–the SPA-841 is a lot smaller then I’d expected. It’s under half the volume of my Cisco 7940. It fit into a 2” tall FedEx mailing box, which I didn’t expect at all. Even though the base is small, it’s not very light–it feels like a real office phone, even if it’s a lot smaller then most of the office phones that I’ve used. It doesn’t seem to slide around too much on my desk.
Once I plugged it in, it booted very quickly. The Cisco phone takes around 30 seconds to boot, while the Sipura is ready for use in under 10 seconds.
The SPA-841 comes in a box with no documentation. Once you plug it in, you can configure it via HTTP using a web interface that the phone provides. Supposedly it’s also possible to feed it a configuration file, but Sipura only gives out the configuration file documentation and tools to VoIP service providers, not end-users. Personally, I’d rather edit text configuration files on a server and upload them to the phone then fiddle with the hundreds of settings that Sipura provides on their web interface, but if I’m only dealing with one phone, it isn’t a big difference. If I end up buying another couple SPA-841s for around the house, I’ll probably start agitating for open provisioning tools.
Even though there isn’t a whole lot of documentation, the phone isn’t too hard to configure. I spent about 15 minutes with it and had it accepting incoming calls, dialing out, and handling voice mail. The voice mail light (Message Waiting Indicator, or MWI) is just a dinky red LED sitting in the middle of the phone; I really like Cisco’s MWI a lot better. The Sipura also provides a MWI stutter dial tone, and it’s hard to miss that, even if you don’t see the tiny LED shining at you.
At this point, it seems to work, but I’m not completely happy with the way it’s configured. Once I’ve finished tweaking the config, I’ll write up a full review with pictures comparing it with the Cisco phone and provide a few configuration recommendations.
Update: I haven’t had time to finish the review yet, but I wanted to add a couple quick notes:
The phone does come with a getting-started flyer, a glossy 8.5x11 mini-booklet with directions for plugging it in, connecting it to the network, and configuring it to talk to a few different SIP providers. It doesn’t come with anything more substantial. Sipura’s website has had a 71-page PDF Users’ Guide for a while, and just recently added a 79-page PDF Admin Guide. I haven’t had time to read the admin guide yet.
The audio quality seems perfect. I’ve only spent a half-hour or so on the phone, but I haven’t noticed any dropouts. The handset is pleasantly loud.
The latest firmware release, 3.1.1 (the update from last week’s 0.9.5–nice version number jump) includes support for “SIP-B,” which is apparently a standard being pushed by a few phone and softswitch vendors that make it easier to add PBX-like features to SIP phones. This includes bridged line appearances, shared missed-call DBs, called-number ID (the opposite of caller ID–it shows the name that goes with the number that you dialed), standardized call park/pickup support, and a few other useful features. Unfortunately, the SIP-B spec doesn’t appear to be public right now, even though the vendors involved have made some attempts at running pieces of it through the IETF’s standardization process. I suspect that SIP-B is really just a blanket name that covers a bunch of small, independent SIP enhancements that will be pushed through the I-D/RFC process one at a time, but for now there’s no real documentation available. Hopefully that will change soon so Asterisk can better support SIP-B hardware. (Micro-update: Sylantro has sent me a pile of documentation on SIP-B. I’m not sure that it’s complete, but there’s quite a bit of it, and they’re getting ready to put it on their website. So I’m mentally adding them to the “good guys” list when it comes to standards compliance and promotion)
Several people have mentioned that they’ve had problems with the rubbery phone buttons on the SPA-841 sticking. I suspect that they’ve fixed this with more recent phones, as mine has been perfect. I wouldn’t say that the buttons are as nice as Cisco’s, but I don’t have any complaints.
I guess that’s a good summary of the phone–it’s not as nice as Cisco’s phones, but I have no complaints about it, either. It seems to work well enough, it has a decent feature set, and it’s cheap. I’d love to see them add PoE support, a ‘SPA-842’ model with a built-in Ethernet switch, a backlight for the LCD and buttons, and some way of supporting external dialing directories, but none of these are really critical–as it is, the phone works quite nicely, and I’ll probably order 2-3 more SPA-841s over the next few months.
It looks like Cingular’s Treo 650 page went live at 9:00 PST last night. Surprisingly, they’re selling it for only $400 after rebates, with a 2-year contract. I was expecting a price closer to $600. In addition, PalmOne is now selling unlocked GSM Treo 650s direct for $599.
If I read Cingular’s web site correctly, it looks like I could get a 650 for $400 and swap to a new contract without paying any early termination fees, but I’d have to buy a new phone for my wife. On the other hand, going through PalmOne’s site makes it pretty clear that they can sell me an AT&T-locked phone for $549, but then I’d have to fight with Cingular to get them to add EDGE data support to my existing AT&T contract.
Frankly, this looks like enough of a headache that I’m going to put off dealing with it for a month or two. I mean, I’ve been waiting on the 650 since June of last year, I guess another couple months won’t kill me.
Brighthand says that Cingular is showing off the Treo 650 at CES. Although the Treo 650 was announced over two months ago, so far Sprint is the only carrier selling it. Cingular is supposed to be next, but it’s been taking them longer then expected to stock the thing.
Since I’m an AT&T/Cingular customer right now, and my contract isn’t up yet, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to Cingular’s Treo 650 plans. Unfortunately, I have this feeling that I’m going to get screwed–Cingular is still running AT&T’s old network as a separate network from their own. AT&T users who want to change their old AT&T service plan into a Cingular plan apparently end up needing new SIMs. Since all of AT&T’s phones are locked to AT&T, that means that most people who want to switch from AT&T plans to Cingular plans need new phones. So here’s my problem: I have a family plan with AT&T. If I get a Cingular Treo 650, then I’ll almost certainly need to switch to a Cingular plan for both phones. However, that means that I’d have to replace my wife’s Sony-Ericsson T616 with a new phone, and I’m not very eager buy two phones at the same time. Especially since Cingular will almost certainly be skimpy on the discount, or try to give us a crappy non-Bluetooth phone in exchange for the nice little T616.
I’m waiting until Cingular actually announces the phone before I make any plans, but I suspect that this is going to turn into a major ordeal, and that’s a pity, because the Treo 650 seems like a nice little phone–I had an opportunity to play with one last week, and I was really impressed. The screen is wonderful, the keyboard is good enough, the camera seemed good, and it’s only slightly bigger then the Sony Clie that I carry around now.
Gizmodo is reporting that Seiko is working on a three-piece watch-phone, where the phone itself sits in your pocket, you talk via a bluetooth headset, and the watch provides the display. I’ve been expecting to see something like this for a year or two–it’s one of the more obvious ways to structure a next-generation phone system. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it’ll work very well in practice.