As the developer of Phone Amego, I've had the opportunity to use several SIP phones in order to
support them in Phone Amego. Ironically, many advanced phones are not very good at CTI, so
I'd like to describe some of my own experience here. For casual home use, a VoIP telephone
adaptor and cordless phone may be all that's needed. For professional or office use, SIP phones
offer better sound and advanced features to make handling calls easier and more efficient.
Any phone call that passes through the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) or an analog
phone is limited to narrowband 4 KHz audio. To take full advantage of the Internet phone
revolution, a dedicated SIP phone or soft-phone with HD voice is desirable. Many SIP phones
include advanced speaker phones with built-in echo cancellation and noise reduction. The result
is more like sitting in the same room as the person you are talking to (even if its a conference
call with several participants).
In my experience, the leading SIP phone makers for SOHO users are Cisco, Polycom, Yealink,
Aastra, and Snom. Each have strengths, but my favorites so far are Polycom and Yealink. Notice
your ITSP (Internet Telephone Service Provider) may support some phones and not others, so
that's a possible consideration.
Polycom has a well established reputation for the best sound quality, especially for multi-party
conference calls. Their compatibility with VoIP services and support for CTI is excellent (probably
the most widely supported phone available). Any of the Polycom Soundpoint IP phones should
work well with Phone Amego. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the speakerphone on
my Polycom IP320. It sounds great and callers can hear me easily. These are terrific phones, but
more expensive as you get into models with larger displays and more keys. A small nit is that
the phone needs to restart after most parameter changes and seems happiest when using a
boot server (since some settings and firmware updates can only be managed from the server). If
you would rather not deal with this, consider Yealink or an ITSP that provides a Polycom boot
Yealink is a rising star offering advanced features (HD Voice, IPv6, and intuitive UI) at entry level
prices. The user interface is clean and way ahead of most. The SIP-T22P makes a very nice office
phone and is available for around $80. Support for CTI is simple and straight forward. Yealink
phones are my favorite for value and ease-of-use. The display on the SIP-T20P is too limiting so
it's worth the extra $20 to get the SIP-T22P or higher. As a relative newcomer, Yealink phones
are not as widely supported but easy to manage yourself and growing in popularity.
Cisco makes many phones, but the SPA-xxx series work similarly to their VoIP telephone
adapters which are compatible with Phone Amego. Cisco is more focussed on their corporate
customers running Cisco Call Manager, so support for open source Asterisk has not always been
as good. These phones do not support dialing directly via Ethernet.
Aastra phones (67xx series) are often cited as one of the best phones for Asterisk with powerful
multi-line support and application features. My personal experience is limited to the Aastra 9133i
which does not support dialing directly. A somewhat awkward feature is that once you specify a
notification URL to work with a computer for CTI, the phone will complain with a "Page Load
Error" if the computer is turned off or not available. Lots to like, but not my favorite for CTI.
Snom phones work well with Phone Amego but the entry level models have limited displays. I
haven't fully explored their strong support for open standards including uaCSTA (user agent
CSTA - an industry standard for CTI).
Avaya phones are popular in corporate call centers and can trace their heritage back to Lucent
Technologies and the old Bell Labs. With a large portfolio of complete phone systems, I'm not
familiar with how they work in an open standards environment (SIP based VoIP).
If there's a great SIP phone I've overlooked, or you have other experience to share, I welcome
Q: I am really not seeing a lot of value in all this telephony hardware,
since if software can be used for the same thing, I already have the
devices, iPhones, iPad, Mac, PC, Apple TV, etc.
A: I used to feel the same way. The devices we have are really good and more than capable of
acting as a phone with the right software. Why spend more time and money on dedicated
telephony hardware? It's a good question.
The other side is of this argument is that all modern phones are software. Why do you care what
hardware the software runs on? What matters is the user experience. In my role, users kept
asking me to add support for Polycom IP phones, so I bought one on eBay to try it. I was
stunned at how good it sounds. Way better than any soft phone I've used. How is that possible?
Dedicated DSP hardware that has been carefully tweaked to optimize voice quality and clarity
along with careful attention to audio system design in the handset and speaker. The result is a
phone that sounds and works better, plus you get powerful CTI features built-in. In contrast,
soft-phones are often poor at CTI.
By using dedicated business phone, you gain stability (from upgrades and other ill behaved
software), reliability, better sound, a better user experience, lower cost (cell phone plans are
expensive), fewer dropped calls, better CTI, and business features like call transfer, hold,
conference, mute and so forth.
Softphones and video conferencing on mobile devices are clearly going to be huge, but they are
not a full replacement for a business phone.