Softphones Reviewed: yakForFree

Prod interface

In the meantime, key features of the dialpad interface include an AA (Auto-Answer) button which sets the software to pick up automatically, an AC (Auto-Conference) button which instantly sets up conference calls (including videoconferencing), and a DND (Do Not Disturb) button which makes the user unavailable to callers.

The interface itself is certainly attractive, with a central dialpad console, a frame for video on the left, and another frame with a buddy/contact list on the right. Both side frames can be easily hidden or detached and resized. Placing a call is as simple as either dialing the person’s number and clicking the green call button, or clicking and dragging their name from the contact list onto the dialpad.

With the understanding that changes are afoot, we rate Yak’s user interface for now as Fair.

Sound quality
As with many VoIP services, the sound quality can vary widely depending on the quality of your headset and computer and the congestion of Internet traffic—but Yak’s sound quality is certainly comparable to that of its competition.

Notably, we didn’t experience any dropping out during Yak calls, which can be a common problem with VoIP—either one caller drops from the call temporarily and then returns, or the connection is simply terminated. In our experiences, Yak seemed to have eliminated this as an issue.

We rate Yak’s sound quality as Very Good.

Conference calling
Yak can conference up to 10 callers together (we tested with just three). The easiest way to do this is simply to give out your phone number, click on AC (Auto-Conference) and AA (Auto-Answer), and wait for everyone to call in. As they do so, they’ll all be entered automatically into the conference. Another method is to dial each party separately (on a different ‘line’) then click the Conference button.

In our testing, with participants in Los Angeles, Southwestern Connecticut, and Upstate New York, different callers had slightly different experiences. For some, the sound quality was perfect, while others heard some participants much more clearly than others.

Regardless, the setup process for the call was straightforward, and worked well.

We rate Yak’s conferencing as Very Good.

Calling the PSTN
The yakToAnyone option—essentially the equivalent of SkypeOut—lets you make calls from your computer to the traditional public switched telephone network. Getting set up for these calls is extremely simple: Go to www.yaktoanyone.com, enter your account information (e-mail address and password), click on “Purchase minutes for your account,” enter credit card info, and you’re done.

Within the U.S. and Canada, calls cost $0.02 a minute, and rates vary for international calls—a full list of prices can be accessed from a “See all Rates” link at the bottom of the yakToAnyone web site. International rates range from $0.02 per minute to call Sweden, to $1.66 a minute to call East Timor.

Our experience with using yakToAnyone was similar to our experience with peer-to-peer yakForFree calls: Sound quality varied from speakerphone-like to excellent, but calls never dropped. In the process of initiating calls, we did have a couple of dialing errors, with correctly-dialed numbers resulting in Not in Service messages.

We rate Yak’s PSTN calling as Good.

Getting help
The two main sources of support for users of both yakForFree and yakToAnyone are an online message board and a relatively detailed FAQ. E-mail contacts are also available at [email protected] and [email protected]. For the paid (yakToAnyone, Basic and Unlimited) plans, phone support is available at 1-888-YAK-VOIP.

On the message boards, questions range from technical issues to “looking to chat” requests, and they all seem to have been responded to within a few hours.

We rate Yak’s Help facilities as Good.

Conclusion
Yak’s broad range of options ensures that they’ve got a plan for just about anyone, ranging from free service to complete local line replacement—which helps them to stand out from many competing VoIP offerings, including the currently industry leader, Skype.

With the paid plans, additional services include everything from E911 to call forwarding and voicemail—as well as a phone adapter (for $59.99), allowing users to connect a traditional telephone directly to the service without having to turn on their computer.

It’s still early days for Yak’s softphone-based VoIP offering, and with such major changes planned for the service, it’s hard to assess its prospects too clearly, but the range of services offered by the company makes it a promising entry into this highly competitive space.

Ratings Summary: yakForFree
User interface Fair
Sound quality Very Good
Conference calling Very Good
PSTN connectivity Good
Help facilities Good
Overall rating Good

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