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.