|Ease of Use:|
- GoogleVoice integration, requires a Google Voice account and a SIP account with a DID (incoming phone number) to fully use this feature.
- Call recording (only available for SIP calls, will not record calls made from your GSM line)
- Quick import of accounts from major VoIP providers including sipgate, Gizmo5, voipcheap and many more.
- Excellent sound quality, supports G.722, G.711, iLBC and GSM. Make an in app purchase to add G.729 for great performance over 3G networks
- Sleek and easy to use
- Good for making calls over wifi
- Performance over 3G varies depending on connection
- Does not have any transfer functionality
The following review was conducted in May 2010, and information on subsequent software updates and new version releases may not be reflected within. This review predates OnSIP’s mobile app for iOS and Android, free to OnSIP users, so is not affected by bias.
Mobile VoIP for business is a fantastic concept. You download a SIP client on your mobile phone, configure your VoIP provider account settings, and BAM!—you’re hooked into your office phone system. Now you can make calls with your company caller ID and reach coworkers with extension to extension dialing without using your own minutes.
Acrobits Softphone is a mobile SIP application for the iPhone platform, and we’ll get into that, but first here’s a brief overview of VoIP mobile applications and where the technology stands today.
VoIP Applications 101
There’s no doubt that mobile VoIP implementations for business users continue to gain popularity. “Mobile VoIP” and variations of the term are the latest buzzwords that providers are jumping to capitalize on.
Some providers release their own mobile client accompaniments, and others simply say, “Go download this mobile application, and use our service—it’s going to be awesome!” Many of the service providers in the latter group also claim to be leading “pioneers” with their mobile VoIP solutions, which is fairly good bait for someone completely unfamiliar with the technology.
But is it “awesome?” Frankly, the answer is no more often than not, and here’s why:
Call Quality: Mobile SIP clients generally deliver poor voice quality because the audio depends on your WiFi or 3G signal strength. If you live in a place like Manhattan, a city renowned for its less than optimal 3G coverage, you may find you can’t successfully make calls with any regularity. When testing out mobile VoIP clients over 3G, we ran into several instances where the client dropped its registration and tried to re-register multiple times over a few minutes due to weak 3G. Calls are likely to fail in these scenarios because your provider may think the mobile app is at several different locations. Whether or not this becomes a big issue depends on the registration period of the VoIP client.
Security: Push notifications is a common feature that you can usually toggle on/off that alerts you when someone is calling you even when the app is running in the background. The problem is that your account details get sent to servers used by the mobile application publishers, creating obvious security concerns. This is unlikely, true, but even the remote possibility makes us uncomfortable. Then there are the strict back-to-back user agents like Fring that require you hand over your username and password to work. What we really want to see is a mobile app that acts as a softphone, plain and simple.
Basic Business Functions: Generally, mobile SIP applications don’t have a lot of the features you might want for business. The ability to transfer and be transferred is a basic call function, but it is often either absent or dysfunctional.
This is by no means an attempt to turn you away from trying out a few VoIP applications on your own. We merely want to provide an honest opinion of where the technology is at this time. Now, let’s get into the actual review of the VoIP app we’re looking at today: the Acrobits Softphone.
First Impressions of the Acrobits Softphone
The Acrobits Softphone looks and feels great. You can immediately tell that a significant amount of work went into making the UI attractive and easy to navigate. It’s one of the best-looking mobile SIP applications we’ve seen.
Acrobits Softphone is one of the higher-rated applications we’ve encountered in the App Store (4 out of 5 stars last time we checked). We’ve been looking around for a great desk-phone-replacing mobile app for a while; saying goodbye to our desk phone is a long-standing dream of ours. The mobile app that can do that would have all the standard calling features you’d expect from a business phone and allows you to be reached on your mobile device when someone dials your extension.
We immediately noticed that the Acrobits Softphone had no clear way to transfer calls in its UI. Unsettling to be sure but not an immediate dealbreaker. But then we discovered that we couldn’t reach anyone by dialing their extensions from our auto attendant. Instead, the application simply ended the call. We looked at the SIP trace and contacted the people at Acrobits to confirm what was happening. As it turns out, the Acrobits Softphone has no transfer functionality at all.
If we were to rate the phone purely on business functionality, it would fail at the outset just for the transfer omission. It’s a vital feature for business, and testing out different variations of transfer functions makes up a large part of our interoperability tests.
That said, the rest of this review will focus on the softphone application for what it is, not what we want it to be. So our recommendation to anyone who purchases this app is to tell everyone your direct number. (Update: Acrobits released a business version, Groundwire, that includes features like transfer, multi-line, call grouping, etc.)
Ease of Use
The Acrobits Softphone provides a very user-friendly experience. At the top left-hand side of your screen, you’ll see your registration status and the account currently in use. Clicking on it allows you to switch between your accounts easily.
The softphone comes with four main screens that can be accessed by the bottom navigation menu. The first screen is your “Quickdial” menu, where you can have up to 12 numbers or SIP addresses set up for speed dial. You can even assign pictures to each contact.
The next screen is your “History” with all your calls and missed calls arranged in a list. Tapping a list item automatically dials that contact, while selecting the blue arrow brings up a screen with more call details. This is also where you can listen to your recorded calls.
The next and main screen is your keypad, where you can dial using numbers or SIP addresses. You have several options while a call is in place, including:
Put the call on speakerphone
Access your contacts and the keypad
Place the call on hold
Record the call
You can access the softphone settings in the upper right-hand side of your keypad screen to find account info, change preferences, download G.729 in add-ons, see your usage, and even access SIP logs that you can send to Acrobits for troubleshooting.
The final screen is your contacts, taken directly from your iPhone directory.
The voice quality over WiFi is fairly good. It sounds better than your average cell phone call and is comparable to what you might get on your (non-HD) desk phone. The sound quality over 3G is entirely dependent on where you are, so take this with a grain of salt. The first 10 to 15 seconds of the call sounds somewhat like the other person is talking through a fan with major intermittent delays in the audio. After that, everything begins to sound completely fine—better than a cell phone call. You might also run into some minor echo issues, but it is not a deal breaker. We are concerned that someone on the other end might hear the audio in the first 10 seconds of the call and just say, “Ugh. Call me back,” and hang up.
As mentioned, the Acrobits Softphone does not do transfers. Try reaching anyone behind an auto attendant and the call simply ends. If someone tries to transfer you, nothing happens. This client is designed for making and receiving calls; if you’re looking to get any fancier with your call handling options, you will be disappointed.
In other issues, don’t rely on 3G unless you have a very reliable connection. There were times when the softphone dropped its registration multiple times over the course of a few minutes, meaning that our system believed that the phone was registered at three or four different locations simultaneously.
Configuring the Acrobits Softphone is relatively easy, but you need to know which user credentials to input into which field. This can be confusing as field labels change from VoIP provider to VoIP provider. We’ll show you how to register one of the users in our “example” hosted PBX, hiro.
Here are hiro’s user credentials.
The app opens to the keypad. Select Settings, then SIP accounts, and use the “+” sign to add a new account. Finally, select “Generic SIP Account.” With hiro’s credentials, the “New SIP Account” screen should look like the third screenshot below.
OnSIP is a recent addition to the list of providers, so adding an OnSIP account is a breeze.
The Acrobits Softphone is a sleek and easy-to-use VoIP client for the iPhone platform. It’s very good for making calls over WiFi, but the performance over 3G varies depending on your connection. If you’re lucky you’ll hardly notice the difference, but downtown Manhattan isn’t so fortunate.
This app is geared toward people who want a simple way of staying connected via VoIP and who have a strong 3G connection or don’t mind using WiFi. It is also a very inexpensive way of doing call recording. Due to the lack of any transfer functionality, we can’t recommend this softphone to users who are looking for something that will mirror their desk phones in terms of sheer business functionality.
Have any success stories with Acrobits? We'd love to hear your experiences.