The Freshtel 4030 Stickphone is a USB VoIP phone that connects to a PC, and is able to make VoIP calls via the Freshtel service. The package consists of a USB stick, a headset with microphone handset, and a free Freshtel account, which can be upgraded to make calls if you wish. Conveniently, the Stickphone also doubles as a 128MB USB key.
The 4030 has been designed for travellers and can be used on any PC with a USB port. It isn't cordless, so it can't be used away from a computer. Setup is a fairly simple process; users plug the phone into a spare USB port, and let Windows configure the installation itself. The Freshtel Firefly software, which is necessary to make or receive calls with the service, is installed automatically each time you plug in the Stickphone, so there is no hassle of installation, or having to restart your PC.
The Firefly software is pretty easy to use, as the interface resembles the shape, look and feel of a mobile phone. There is a keypad (although it's easier to use the num pad on your keyboard), two selection buttons answer/end call keys as well as volume and microphone sliders. Dialling a phone number is as simple entering it and then pressing the green call button. The Firefly software also features a contact list, similar to a phonebook on a mobile phone. Conveniently, your contact list always stays with you, even if you change PC's, as contacts are linked to your Freshtel account. The contact list looks remarkably simular to the Windows Live Messenger interface, as users can create groups and hide contacts that are offline.
The Freshtel service works the same as a regular landline, with the exception that the PC and broadband Internet service must be running to both make and receive VoIP calls. The default Freshtel service bundled with the 4030 is a free plan that can make free calls to other Firefly users, but can't dial regular landline phone numbers. To do this, users must upgrade to a monthly plan; more details can be found here: https://www.freshtel.net/firefly/signup/?reset=true
During calls we found the audio quality to be satisfactory, but the volume at its highest setting wasn't as loud as we would have liked. In-call quality was a mixed bag, but we were able to hold a conversation without too much fuss. Most of our callers complained of a slight delay and echo on their end, while we experienced a bit of distortion and hissing at ours. However, these issues didn't really stop us from having clear, intelligible conversations, so for the price, the service is decent. The main point worth noting is that the quality of service (QOS) of VoIP depends largely on your Internet connection, and this is something we have no control over. The quality and overall reliability of the Freshtel service relies on the quality and speed of your Internet connection.
The 4030 is very compact, which means it can easily be thrown into a laptop bag for those who have access to mobile broadband. The 4030 is powered via the USB connection to a PC, so it doesn't need any batteries, nor does it need to be charged. For use as a USB key, the Stickphone will provide 112MB of storage, as 16MB is taken up by the built-in drivers and software.