The dream of running a single communications client on your desktop that combines all instant messaging, e-mail, and social networking accounts plus a voice- and video-calling service into a single window--is closer to becoming a reality with VoxOx. Competing with services like Digsby, which aggregates instant messaging clients and Skype, VoxOx looks sleek and includes more features than most competitors, but some wonky beta software issues and a confusing interface need to be worked out before we can wave goodbye to other services.
Setting up VoxOx
Downloading the relatively large 25MB installation file to our Lenovo ThinkPad X200 from VoxOx's Web site took 4 minutes over our Wi-Fi connection. The install process was straightforward, and we were able to create an account, including a username and password, from the client itself. Learning to take advantage of VoxOx' overabundance of features is easy with the setup wizard that pops up as soon as you log in. It cycles through the service's five main features, including configuring your instant messaging accounts, making phone calls, text messaging, and adding your social networking and e-mail accounts.
The tabbed VoxOx interface mimics the Apple iPhone's main menu. The Home tab contains sixteen brightly colored square icons for contacts, a keypad for dialing, account settings, and more. The main menu is cluttered with icons and tabs, unfortunately; we needed a day of frequent use to remember where
Click to enlargeto find certain tools and settings.
The heart of the application, the contact list, lies in the second tab. Currently, VoxOx supports AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, Windows Live, and Yahoo instant messaging services. Through the Setup Wizard we were prompted to add our instant messaging usernames and passwords; we entered our AIM, Google Talk, and Yahoo information and were immediately logged into each of the respective services. Chatting with buddies takes place in another window and, like flipping through tabs in a Web browser, you can toggle among conversations. Those who prefer to scatter conversations around the desktop may not appreciate the inability to pop out chat windows.
Perks include the ability to change the font and transparency of the entire window. But the most useful (and humorous) feature is the acronyms button, which brings up a list of over 200 online shorthand (or NetLingo) terms--everything from the common LOL (laughing out loud) to the rarer LSHMBH (laugh so hard my belly hurts).
Voice and Video Calls
Like Skype, VoxOx provides a VoIP service with which users can make calls to other VoxOx users or to any mobile or landline phone. All new members get 2 hours of free talk time for calling landline or cell phones, and they can purchase Vox points thereafter (1 Vox point is equal to about a minute of a long-distance domestic call). We struggled at first to make calls; a software glitch caused the service to think we were already on a call. When we succeeded in calling a VoxOx contact and a mobile phone, quality was clear, yet some of the calls had a slight delay.
Click to enlargeWant to spice up your calls? Try the Fun button, which brings up a set of soundboards that let you send audio clips over the phone. During our testing the selection of clips was limited to The Terminator, but our callers laughed when we had Arnold say "I'll be back" as our send-off.
VoxOx assigns each user a free incoming phone number (Skype charges $60 a year for its SkypeIn service). Though you cannot choose the area code at this point, you can receive incoming calls on the line for no extra cost and have calls forwarded to a mobile or landline phone via VoxOx's personal assistant. You can also configure a voicemail message and customize your very own hold music by uploading your favorite MP3 for free.
We encountered glitches when attempting to make a video call to a VoxOx buddy. A number of times, starting our video caused the program to crash; when we managed to get the video going, images looked clear and our caller had no problem seeing us, although with some latency. VoxOx is capable of three-way video-calling, and the company plans to roll out more conferencing options in the future.
E-mail and Social Networking Support
VoxOx assigns each user a VoxOx.com e-mail address, which is accessible only through the VoxOx client. The "Chat to E-mail" panel gives an instant messaging feel to sending e-mails and worked very well. Though we were able to import Yahoo e-mail contacts from our Yahoo address book, the program doesn't yet allow for sending or receiving e-mails from existing e-mail accounts. The company hopes to add support for the most popular e-mail services, including Gmail and Yahoo Mail, in the next year.
Beyond e-mail, VoxOx lets you communicate with your social networking buddies, but only through Facebook for the time being. After we logged into our Facebook account from the program, it placed all our Facebook friends on our contact list. Clicking on a contact pulled up that individual's information, including his or her phone number or e-mail address. You can also access contacts' Facebook pages, which will launch your browser, but to our dismay we couldn't see status updates or wall posts from the VoxOx client itself.
VoxOx doesn't forget about mobile phones. You can send text messages to your buddies right from its interface. Clicking on the text button from the Home menu allowed us to enter a friend's cell phone number and start texting; we traded messages through the chat client with our contact on her cell phone. Sending text messages from the VoxOx interface is free, but standard text messaging rates apply to those who are on the receiving end of the messages.
The service also allows you to take your VoxOx number mobile. Its Call-Back feature is very similar to Talkster's service, allowing you to make VoIP calls from your cell phone to anywhere in the world at a local rate. The Call-Back interface has an option for Web-initiated callback and one for starting the callback with an SMS, but both methods use your VoxOx number to call your cell phone and then connect you to the contact you want to reach. Calls made to a colleague at a New York City landline and to a cell phone sounded like regular cell phone calls; there was no static or lag.
VoxOx attempts to be a one-stop shop for your communications needs and cobble together the functionality of different services into a single interface, but the service still lacks stability. Its inability to connect calls from the desktop consistently, and its tendency to crash, indicate that VoxOx is a work in progress. Nevertheless, patient souls will appreciate the ability to chat using multiple clients and to make inexpensive calls. Assuming VoxOx works out the bugs, it will be a formidable tool.