How it Works
Using the Linksys CIT 310 is much like using any cordless land-line phone. "Dual Mode" means that you can either use the device to make regular calls through your phone service, as you would with any cordless phone, or, you can allow the phone to connect through your computer's high-speed internet service and--using your Yahoo Messenger with Voice account--make internet calls anywhere in the world. A base station connects both to your regular phone jack and to a USB port on your PC. Once you've set up a Yahoo Messenger account, your computer will send your Yahoo contact list to the phone. All you then have to do is scroll through the list and push a button to call the computer of any of your contacts. A separate button connects you to your regular phone service.
To make calls to cell and land-line phones you'll need to purchase "Phone Out" time. Prices vary depending on the country you want to call, but most international calls run 1 to 2 cents a minute. Of course the Linksys handset also makes it easier for friends to call you through free internet services. You won't pay for computer-to-computer calls, but rather than rushing to your computer and pushing various keys to answer an internet call, the handset will ring at an incoming internet call, allowing you to answer just like a traditional phone. The final option is to allow friends to call your internet phone from their cell or land-line phones. For a modest fee (currently around $30 a year) you can purchase a "Phone In" number others can use to call you.
The handset has a nice modern design that feels comfortable and natural in either hand. At 5.5 inches high by 1.08 inches wide, it more resembles a contemporary cordless phone in size and shape than it does a cell phone. While the small color screen has only moderate resolution, it does offer manual adjustment of brightness and contrast. Of course, this phone is meant for calling only--not for viewing email or videos--so it's more than adequate for the job.
Setup and Operation
Users who are already Yahoo Messenger customers, or who are already practiced in the arts of internet telephony, will find the Linksys CIT 310 a snap to set up. If you're new to VOIP, though, setup may be a little tougher, although the accompanying software relieves most of the stress. Pop in the disk and you will be guided through the process of connecting the phone and setting up a Yahoo Messenger account. From there you can follow links to purchase Phone Out time or to obtain a Phone In number. Managing your list of contacts is done on your PC, which then sends the information to the phone when it is in the base station. Once setup is complete the device functions very much like a modern cordless phone--choose from your list of contacts or dial a number and push the call button. We found that within a few minutes of familiarzation with the handset we were able to make both national and international calls with ease.
Connection Quality and Convenience
Let's be honest: VOIP is simply not yet as reliable as a land-line (or good cell connection), nor is the sound quality as high. That said, we tested the phone by making a series of calls locally, nationally, and internationally and found we were able to achieve pretty good, but not great, reception. Calling a friend in London we experienced a lag for a few seconds, but once the connection was established we noticed only a slight reduction in sound quality compared to a land-line conversation. Those familiar with internet phoning are aware that only one voice in the conversation can be heard at a time, making it impossible for you and your conversation partner to talk over the top of each other. To some this can be a bit disconcerting at first, but we found that only a brief warm-up period is required to adjust.
The Linksys CIT 310 advertizes a connection range of about 50 meters between handset and base station during indoor use. Our experience was that the connection is about what you would expect from any modern cordless phone. We had no trouble moving from room to room or to a different floor in the house from the base station, but could not stray too far outdoors. While the phone frees internet phoning from a direct connection to your PC, it can only be used within range of the base station connected to your PC. This is in contrast to a Wi-Fi based internet phone, such as the Netgear Skype Phone, which allows you to connect to the Skype VOIP network whenever you're in range of any accessible Wi-Fi hotspot.
Speaking of Skype, we compared the connection quality of the CIT 310 and Yahoo Messenger with Skype calls. We found voice quality to be very similar, and the Yahoo Messenger service offers much the same functionality as the venerable Skype service. Overall, if you don't require a Wi-Fi based phone, and you can live with having the base station connected to your computer, the CIT 310 provides a dandy alternative to Skype.