The Great Communicator, Pt. 1

The Great Communicator, Pt. 1

Futurist and Mac user Bruce Sterling once observed that broadband eats up traditional services and business models - and the rise of voice over IP (VoIP) may very well prove him right. Whether you’re looking to replace your home phone or simply spare some precious minutes on your cell-phone plan, making calls from your Mac is now easier and cheaper than ever. No fewer than three services provide full-featured calling from the Mac, and we review them here.



All of the VoIP services listed here have one major drawback - they can’t call 911. If you’re thinking of replacing your landline or cell phone with your Mac to make calls, this will leave you without that traditional lifeline in an emergency.



Skype boasts the greatest name recognition and one of the largest installed user bases of any computer-based VoIP service, not to mention the greatest number of made-to-order handsets and headsets. This popularity alone makes it the choice of many users, since it increases the likelihood that friends and family members can take advantage of the free computer-to-computer calling.


In our testing, Skype’s popularity was largely deserved. Sound quality in Skype-to-Skype calls was consistently excellent, whether calling from a Mac over our home broadband connection or using public wireless hotspots. Quality took a hit when calling from a computer to a landline, and another hit when calling from a computer to a cell phone, but it never fell below quality of the average cell-to-cell call.


Skype’s popularity ensures it the greatest number of supported handsets and headsets, which should help you sound your best.


Skype was also the most helpful and intuitive VoIP client we tested. For instance, only Skype allowed us to save our preferred country code as a dialing preference, rather than making us remember it each time we dialed a number. Free features such as conference calls and video calls quickly became staples. And the ability to forward Skype calls to our cell phone extended Skype well beyond our Mac.


Overall, the software integrated nicely with other applications on the Mac. Skype automatically muted the current track in iTunes when a call was received or made. Address Book integration, though, could be improved. While the program easily imports names and numbers from Address Book into its own contact list, the duplication makes it difficult to keep new contacts synchronized between the two.


Skype easily imports contacts from Address Book, but the duplication can make managing your contacts more difficult.


Finally, call recording is conspicuously absent from the feature list. While this is available using several third-party applications - including one of our favorite sound apps, Audio Hijack Pro ($32) - we’d prefer to see this feature built-in. Paid features such as voicemail and a dedicated phone number are reasonably priced, but the abundance of options gets confusing in a hurry. Deciding whether to get Skype Pro, Skype Unlimited, or simply buy a block of SkypeOut credit took much longer than installing it and making calls.


The bottom line. Despite minor complaints, Skype remains the best Mac-compatible VoIP client on the market.




PRICE: Free for computer-to-computer calls, per-minute charges for calls to landlines or cell phones, additional charges for other features

REQUIREMENTS: 800MHz G4 or faster or Intel processor, Mac OS 10.3.9 or later, 512MB RAM, microphone

Excellent sound quality. Advanced features such as conference calls, call forwarding, voicemail, and video calls. Universal binary.

Options for paid services can be confusing. Call recording conspicuously absent.



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As its name implies, SightSpeed is at least as focused on video calls as it is on voice calls. Perhaps as a result, its voice offerings aren’t quite as robust as Skype’s and Gizmo’s. In our testing, SightSpeed’s sound quality was slightly less impressive, with occasional skips and noise. Call forwarding to landlines or cell phones isn’t supported at all. The app supports video conference calls and can record video clips and publish them to your website.


SightSpeed’s video capabilities can’t compensate for its lack of polish or Mac integration.


Despite these extras, the software suffers from poor integration with other apps. It can’t import contacts from Address Book, for example. Unlike Skype and Gizmo, SightSpeed doesn’t pause iTunes when you receive a call. Call recording produces an AVI file, which is QuickTime-compatible but hardly Mac native. In addition, the app window sometimes went blank when it was minimized or hidden behind other apps, but dragging it offscreen and then back again usually fixed the problem.


SightSpeed also reserves the largest number of services for paying customers. Conference calls, call history, call recording, and voicemail all require an upgrade to the Pro version, which is separate from the charge for a dedicated phone number or the credits required to place calls to landlines or cell phones. The free version also displays small ads.


The bottom line. SightSpeed’s feature set is enticing, but the software’s lack of polish sticks out like a sore thumb on your Mac’s Desktop.


COMPANY: SightSpeed


PRICE: Free for computer-to-computer calls, per-minute charges for calls to landlines or cell phones, additional charges for most other features

REQUIREMENTS: 1GHz G4 or faster processor, Mac OS 10.3.9 or later, 256MB RAM, broadband connection (for full-motion video only)

Excellent sound and video quality. Supports video blogging and videoconferencing. Universal binary.

Most features require payment. Free version displays advertising. Poor integration with other applications. A few obvious bugs.







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Is voicemail available if your mac is off line or shut down. For example, skype business phone, your flying to customer, he calls to change the appointment time, will there be a voicemail when I fire up my mac in the hotel later? Also, will it forward to my cell phone if my mac is offline in the same situation?



Out of all the apps I looked into, I'd have to recommend Call Recorder for recording Mac Skype calls — it's under half the price of Audio Hijack Pro, and integrates extremely well with Skype. Furthermore, it can record calls automatically, and has some additional features like recording video, and easily-changeable quality settings to help you get the size-quality balance you're looking for. Even better, their tech support is responsive and extremely friendly!

I haven't seen them covered in MacLife before, but I sure hope, with such a generic name and outstanding quality, that if Skype does include built-in recording, that they purchase 'em. Severely recommended... and great series of articles! :)

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