Thursday, 28 May 2015

Top Free Windows Softphones Compared

14:57 Posted by Jurgens Krause , , , , , , , , 1 comment
Photo by Irita Kirsbluma

Which softphone you use may depend largely on why you want to use a softphone in the first place. For example, if you are looking for an alternative to FOP (Flash Operator Panel) then I would suggest the excellent Dialplate application, but if you are just a normal desktop user looking for a cheap way to make use of your company's existing VOIP infrastructure, then have a look at these.

When comparing features I will only be looking at the features available in the free version, and not the premium one where applicable.



1. Zoiper

For a long time, Zoiper has been my weapon of choice a number of reasons. It is a well established name in the VOIP/Softphone arena and has excellent support.

Review Version 3.7.30891 32Bit

Interface


The default skin that comes with Zoiper very dark, which I don't personally like. There are however four skins included, which includes a light version of the default skin. With the default skin Zoiper has departed from the traditional approach of trying to mimic a desk phone. I personally love this, since traditional phones were designed to be operated with fat fingers punching bulky buttons, and that is not necessarily the best approach for a softphone. If you prefer a more traditional interface, Zoiper's powerful skinning system makes room for more a conventional approach.

Menu options are fairly straightforward, and advanced features are not obfuscated behind complex menu structures.

Useability

From starting installation to making my first VOIP call took less than five minutes. Configuration was simple and quick and everything was where you would expect it to be. Since the default skin is optimized for use on a computer, rather than trying to emulate a desk phone, I was very pleased with how quickly I could access my recent calls, contacts and anything else I needed.

Features

Apart from the standard base set of features, Zoiper provides the following additional features that can be quite useful:
  • Echo cancellation
  • Automatic gain control
  • Noise suppression
  • HID Headsets
  • Video Calling
  • Windows Contacts Integration
  • Built in contacts directory
  • IAX Account
  • XMMP Chat

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Skinnable
  • IAX Account
  • Multi-Platform

Cons

  • No G722 support
  • Recording, transfer and conferencing considered "Premium"
  • Cost of Premium same as entry level desk phones

2. X-Lite

X-Lite is the baby brother of Counterpath's excellent Bria Softphone, and you can definitely see the pedigree reflected in the free version.

Review Version 8.4.3

Interface


First impression is that it is a very clean and sleek looking interface. The ads at the bottom of the main interface are a bit distracting, but considering that it is a free product I can't really complain. The ads are also designed to compliment the interface rather than clash with it.

Unlike Zoiper, X-Lite has no skinning options (that I could easily find), but I was extremely impressed with the interface as is, since it is sleek, not overly dark or light and has a pleasing flat appearance common since Windows 8 introduced the Metro Interface. It also does not try to be a deskphone simulator, which I like a lot.

Useablility

The download was quite large, and the servers seemed slow when I was downloading, so it took me longer than I would have liked to get it going, but once it was installed, setup was a breeze. A link on the main window took me to where I needed to be to set up the account. Account setup was straightforward and had me chatting away within seconds. The inclusion of the G722 codec means that the quality of the voice call was superb, but do note that this is dependent on having a provider that supports G722 as well as adequate network bandwidth to support a wideband audio call.

The contacts page is well laid out, and allows for contact grouping as well as setting favourite contacts. X-Lite also allows easy retrieval of voicemail if supported by your provider.

Features

  • G722 Support
  • Video Calls
  • 3-Way Conference

Pros

  • Beautiful default interface
  • Ease of use
  • 3-Way Conference
  • G722 Support

Cons

  • Advertisements
  • Call transfer not supported
  • Expensive upgrade path
  • No Skinning
  • Only Windows/Osx

3. MicroSIP

MicroSIP is a fully open source softphone, and if Zoiper can be considered light, the MicroSIP is almost weightless. Built on the extremely stable  PJSIP stack that is used in Asterisk itself,

Review Version: 3.10.1

Interface


For some reason it seems that interface designers are not keen on contributing to open source projects (with a few exceptions). MicroSIP's interface is strictly utilitarian, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It is what allows it to be as lightweight as it is, and despite being quite bland, it remains very usable.

Usability

What MicroSIP lacks in beauty, it makes up for by being easily the best documented product in the list. Every configuration option is accompanied by a little link taking you to the MicroSIP help site that explains the option in detail.  Configuration is not a problem either, and the simplicity of the program means that nothing is hard to find. Contact support is basic, bordering on spartan, but remais useable.

Pros

  • Extremely lightweight
  • Vast codec support
  • Simple interface
  • Open Source
  • Portable

Cons

  • Very basic interface
  • No Transfer or Conference
  • No voicemail integration

Conclusion and Comparison Matrix



G729 G722 Conference Skinnable Voicemail IAX
Zoiper O O O X X X
X-Lite O X X O X X
MicroSIP X X O O O O

Having been a stalwart Zoiper user, I have no compelling reason to change. I like the G729 support in MicroSIP and I like the interface of X-Lite, but neither of those are enough for me to jump ship just yet,

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