May 10, 2008

fring VOIP/IM Hands On Review

I had an opportunity to take a field test for the fring IM/VOIP application on my Nokia N95 today. It proved itself useful in a situation where I needed my phone to step up beyond its basic capability and live up to its name as a smartphone. For the past couple of weeks, my wife and daughter have been visiting relatives in Asia. Giving that we have a 12-hour time difference, I usually communicate with them in the morning (8~10AM GMT -5 = 8~10PM GMT +7). I rushed out of the house this morning and drove from Manhattan to Jersey to do some research in a Barnes and Nobles. As soon as I got to the Lincoln tunnel, I realized I had not gotten a chance to sign on via Skype or Google Talk this morning to arrange for picking up my wife and daughter who’s coming back tomorrow night. This would be my last chance to speak with her because in 4 hours (which will be 4AM their time), they will be off to the airport and they are about to go to sleep soon.

I brought a small Lenovo X61 with me, but 1). I don’t like to sign on unknown wireless network for security reasons and 2). I don’t think there is even an unencrypted network available for me to use anyways. I remembered recently installing fring application so I figured I’d give its VOIP functionality a true test today. As soon as I signed on fring over AT&T’s 3.5G MediaNet, I saw my family on Google Talk. After a few messages via IM (which is painfully slow thanks to N95’s standard 12-key pad), I got an incoming VOIP call from my wife. The application has a unique ring tone which makes my phone sound like a normal incoming call to anyone standing nearby. After accepting the call, I proceeded to carry on a conversation. The call in the beginning was a bit choppy. I think fring requires 10-15 seconds to establish a solid connection. I noticed during certain times when there is a boost in connection, the sound quality is as clear as a land line. Occasionally you’ll notice the sound breaking up and you can never be certain if your voice to the recipient is clear or not… I just assume when I hear the incoming sound become choppy, my message to them would be as well. I placed a second test call to Taipei with my grandmother, and in this round the call was a bit more choppy to the point where it can’t be continued.

Overall, I am pleased with the outcome of my experience using fring as a VOIP software on my phone. It got the job done and allowed me to communicate with my loved ones when I am on the go. However, I would not recommend relying on this solution as a replacement to your desktop VOIP solution just because of its uncertainty (at least not over a data network). I was lucky enough to be able to connect via 3.5G data with full bars/signal; which may be the reason why the overall call quality is acceptable (at times). I would imagine if this call is performed over EDGE network, outcome would differ. I would love to hear your feedback, especially if you’ve experienced this call via EDGE or Verizon/Sprint’s blazing fast EV-DO connection.

Pros: Amazing portable solution which will get you the VOIP needed over data network. Its applications like this that will bring a revolution to the smartphone industry. The solutions is marvelous since it uses your handset just like a phone that is intended to be. While I was chatting on it, people just assumed I am taking a regular cellular phone call. VOIP over your unlimited data package means FREE long distance calls!!!

Cons: User name is limited to the one you used to register on fring at installation, there are no advanced settings on phone to change it (so people will recognize you). In the beginning the app was making all sorts of beeping and alarm sounds which is quite loud (a little embarrassing in public places); again, there are no settings to adjust beeping volume. One time my call was ended, turns out my phone screensaver kicked in which disrupted the data connection; not sure if this is a software flaw or my phone’s flaw and I can’t find a place to adjust this setting.

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