Obihai OBi110/OBi100 review (a perfect Google Voice companion)
In previous posts, I’ve written about Google Voice (GV) and all that it can do and about how to utilize GV in conjunction with Gizmo5 to make free calls. However, that party slowed once Google bought Gizmo5 and stopped taking new signups, and then it was completely over when they shut it down completely earlier this year. However, the party can continue now that GV has enabled the ability to utilize Google Chat to make/receive GV calls in custom applications. Various companies are taking advantage of this ability and this is where Obihai’s OBi110 for $50 (or £50) and OBi100 for $44 really shine.
So what exactly are these?
The Obihai OBi110 and OBi100 are essentially enhanced internet phone adapters (ATA/VOIP adapter) that allow you to use a normal land line phone to make/receive calls (using your internet connection) using various VoIP providers (phone service over the internet). One of the main features that really makes Obihai’s devices stand out amongst other ATA adapters (such as the Linksys PAP2) is that they have the ability to directly utilize Google Voice as one of the phone service providers (without having to use any other 3rd party service or have a computer running). This means being able to utilize Google Voice’s features (free US/Canada calls, call forwarding, voice mail transcription, etc) directly from a traditional landline/home phone while at the same time having access to all the Obihai features such as call bridging, free obi-to-obi calls, and much more:
What does it look like:
Even the power supply is small as well as dual voltage (100-240v 50/60hz), so it can be used world wide:
Why would you want one?
The main reason I bought one was simply to save on calls. Google Voice allows free incoming/outgoing calls to the US and Canada, and very cheap UK calls (they recently lowered rates to UK mobiles – it’s now cheaper than any other VoIP provider that I use). I work from home in the UK and deal with our US and UK offices all the time (and don’t get reimbursed for phone usage), so this saves me an incredible amount of money. I didn’t want to sign up for an expensive UK land line calling plan, nor did I want to pay the price for a higher/unlimited cell plan, so being able to utilize the Obihai boxes for GV is perfect for me (especially since it’s a no hassle setup and doesn’t require a dedicated computer or similar to run it).
Prior to using an Obi, I set myself up a FreePBX system using the easy to install and use Incredible PBX. Discussing IncrediblePBX would need a whole post (or more) by itself, but it’s basically an incredibly supercharged Obi100 that runs on a computer. It has so many features, and works great – however, it does require a dedicated computer to run on (which would cost more than the Obi devices) and has a lot of features I would simply never use
So that’s one (big) reason, cost savings for calling from home, to get an OBi110/OBi100. Here are some more reasons and sample scenarios in how you could/would want to use an OBi:
- Call internationally from your cell phone at cheap (or free) rates. With the Obi devices, you can set it up so that when you call into it, you can have the option to then call back out from it using any of your configured VoIP providers. For a specific example, I currently have a free Google Voice and free Sipgate UK VoIP account setup on my Obi110. Sipgate UK allows free incoming calls and they even provide a free UK phone number. So, from my cell phone in the UK, I dial my Sipgate UK number which gets picked up by the ObiAttendant (which is a built in automated operator which you can turn on and off for each configured phone service provider). I then select the option to make an outgoing call and then proceed to dial a number from the US (which is routed through my GV account), and my call is connected. I have just dialed an international number from my cell phone using my “regular” minute plan as opposed to dialing internationally directly from my mobile and paying £0.49/minute (yes, I know there are cheaper mobile providers).
- Call directly through your Obi110/100 from your cell phone using your data connection. Obihai has a mobile app, “OBiON”, for iOS and Android which will allow you to make calls directly from your Obi device using your phone’s data connection. However, I’ve never had great success/quality when using OBiON (and by judging by the app reviews, it’s the same with many other people), so perhaps it’ll get better in the future, and in the mean time, you’ll probably want to stick with utilizing the ObiAttendant/call through feature mentioned above (if you’re wanting to use your Obi device with your cell phone)
- Save on cell minutes when at home. This is basically my “cost savings” reason above, but when I was still living in the US, I did not have any land line service and relied entirely on my cell phone. Seeing as how I didn’t want to pay the price for a huge minute plan (or unlimited), I could see running into issues if I ever needed to make multiple hour+ calls to support (either for fix the internet, get a computer warranty repair, etc). However, having an Obi110/100 and GV would allow me to make as many calls to tech support as I’d want without paying anything (besides the initial cost of the Obi device of course).
Is it easy to setup (with or without Google Voice)?
Most definitely, and it’s quick too – check out Obihai’s excellent step-by-step guide (and below is a very brief overview):
- 1. Unbox the Obi110/100 and plug in the power supply, Ethernet cable, and your land line phone, and put it where you want (I mounted mine under my desk near the modem):
- 2. Get your Google Voice account ready (it’s best to use a dedicated Google Voice account – one not associated with the email address you regularly use – so it doesn’t conflict with the GMail chat app when you have GMail open). Turn off Call Screening, Enable calls to be forwarded to Google Chat, and turn off direct voicemail access.
- 3. Go to http://www.obitalk.com and sign up for a new account. Once registered, click on Add Device and follow the on screen instructions to add your device to your account (you basically dial a **5 number which has the Obi device connect to your Obitalk account automatically).
- 4. Then click “Setup google voice”, enter in your google voice email address and password, click Submit, let the device restart, and bam – you’re done!
How does the OBi100 differ from the OBi110?
Besides the obvious differences in size, the only way they differ is that the larger and slightly more expensive OBi110 offers an FXO (or “line”) port that the OBi100 does not:
An FXO port allows you to plug directly into your “actual” land line provider (assuming you have one) so that you can have both your land line connection and your Google Voice/VoIP connections all managed and accessible through the OBi110. It’s also useful to have the OBi110 if you have a land line, even if you don’t have service, as you can (maybe) utilize it to make 9-1-1 calls if/when necessary (though you can also setup “E-911” service with various VoIP providers). This way, all incoming calls from all your phone providers can be answered, and dialed from, a single home phone – very convenient!
FAQ/frequent questions I’ve seen:
Since the OBi110 and OBi100 have been released, there have been tons of deals and general information threads on various forums across the web and many people always ask the same questions – Here are a few of the more frequent ones:
- You can’t use this (with or without GV) outside of the US: False. I live in the UK and have no problems with either device and they even have the OBi110 for sale at amazon.co.uk now. The only caveat is that if you want to use Google Voice outside the US, you must sign up from a US IP address as well as have access to a US phone number for the initial ‘activation’ (GV will call this US number to confirm your account). Once you have an account, you can use it anywhere. Note that if you live in the UK, you may need to buy a BT-to-RJ11 plug adapter in order to get a UK phone to work with the OBi devices (they’re cheap!):
I had an OLD cordless UK phone that worked fine, but then purchased a new one and it wouldn’t work with the same RJ11-to-RJ11 cable from the US that I was using, so I had to stick w/the RJ11 to BT cable the new phone came with and purchase an adapter to switch the BT end back to RJ11. (For those interested, the UK uses a different standard phone plug [“BT” as it’s frequently called] and it appears that on the RJ11 end, the two outside wires are swapped when compared to the US style RJ11 plug, which is why a standard US RJ11-to-RJ11 plug won’t necessarily work)
- Related to the above, you do not need to have two OBi devices (one setup in the US and one setup in whatever country you are living in) in order to make calls (whether they be US/Canada calls or local to the country you live in) with GV if you are outside the US.
- This is not the same thing as a Linksys/Vonage PAP2 ATA. While it is very similar, the Obi110/Obi100 has MANY more features that the PAP2 does not, most notably again, being able to utilize GV directly (whereas the PAP2 cannot).
What else these devices are not and cannot do:
- No answering machine built in. If you want to have an answering machine, you’ll either need to get a physical answering machine plugged into the phone port, or let the VoIP provider(s) handle it (ie, GV).
- You cannot connect a SIP/VoIP phone to it (directly). This device is not like an Asterisk server where you can connect a SIP/IP/soft phone. You can, however, setup the Obihai bridge (OBiAPP for PCs) on a computer and then connect a SIP/IP/VoIP phone via the bridge. For example, say you wanted to use X-Lite (a softphone app which lets you make a call from your computer, similar to dialing from GMail) – you would need to have OBiAPP running on a computer and you would then connect to the OBiAPP which then connects your SIP/IP/soft phone to the OBi110/OBi100. Again, this requires you to have the OBiAPP running on a computer anytime you want to make/receive a call from a sip/ip/soft phone.
Some final thoughts:
There is SO much that you can accomplish with these devices and there are TONS of articles, reviews, guides, etc on how to use them and tips and tricks. Most notable to me are the series of posts over at The Michigan Telephone Blog which goes through a very detailed review and how-to guides for setting up various things. Obihai also has a good support system and very active user forum if you want any sort of question answered (or see if anyone else has the same question or issue).
One thing to note is that yes, one of the major selling points for these are it’s simple integration with Google Voice. However, Google Voice has (so far) only stated that calls to the US/Canada will be free through 2011 with no mention as to what happens in 2012 (it may remain free, they may start charging – who knows). However, no one knows if they’ll stop the free party, but even if they do, I wouldn’t expect it to be much (as there are other providers that offer unlimited US/Canada calls for $3-4 a month, so I would think Google would meet, if not beat, those prices). Plus, this works very nicely with any other VoIP provider out there (Sipgate US or UK, Call Centric, VoipFone, etc the list goes on ).
It’s only available from Amazon for now, so head on over there and pick one up:
Have any questions about using the OBi110 or OBi100? Have you picked one up and want to share your tips and tricks? Sound off in the comments below!