The VOIP wars are already crowded with more competitors than can possibly build a business. Well capitalized players like Vonage and Skype battle with nimble startups like Gizmo and Jajah in a race for relevance. All have their own twists on the idea of cheap or free calls using the internet. The most recent entrant, Hullo, is a worthy addition to the crowd. Hullo is most like Jajah, with a few notable differences.
Jajah allows easy phone-to-phone calls from their website. It has a somewhat complicated pricing structure, but the important thing to know is that it is free or damn close to free for most calls in the US and Europe. To make a call, you type in your phone number and the phone number you are calling. A moment later your phone rings. Pick it up and the person you are calling is ringing on the other end. From that point on it’s a normal phone call. Jajah generally requires you to initiate calls from their website, although they do have an Outlook plugin, firefox extension and Mac address book plugin as well to ease the process of calling. Simple, straightforward, cheap.
Hullo is a little different. The actual process of having a call is the same as Jajah – first your phone rings, then the person calling you. But as Alec Saunders notes in his review, it does a lot more, too.
First of all, it’s impossible to spend money on the service, at least for now. Everything is free. If you compare closely to Jahah, that isn’t saying much because Hullo only works in North America and Jajah is free in that market. But there are no complicated pricing plans to figure out before making a call.
Hullo is a client-based application that looks like an instant message box. It runs separately from the browser (and unfortunately is only available for Windows machines).
But where Hullo really shines is in the added features. You can make a call from any normal phone or directly from your computer with speakers/headset and a microphone. You can also do group calling by dragging contacts into the call or adding a new phone number. If you need to switch phones, you can drop off the call and add your other number.
Hullo is also useful as a call forwarding device. They issue every user an extension on a normal phone number. When that number is called, Hullo will call your saved phone numbers in the order you tell it to, until it tracks you down.
In our limited testing we found Hullo to have excellent sound quality and a useful productivity tool even when you are away from your computer. A Mac client is needed (or a Firefox plugin), and the interface on the site could use a good scrubbing. They should also kill the free concert ticket promotion – Hullo doesn’t need gimmicks like that to get users. But the service itself is excellent. And like Jajah, it is useful even if you are calling people who are not users of the service.
We also agree with Alec that the service would be better if they added instant messaging and presence features. I would also strongly suggest that they add in a simple call record feature. Podcasters will then flock to the product.