Most people who want to make video phone calls use Skype. You just plug in a webcam into your computer, download the free Skype software, and follow the easy instructions to make free calls to other Skype users, or cheap calls to regular phones.

We’ve been testing a new system that lets you make Internet phone calls to any kind of landline, cell phone or Internet phone. The phone includes a video screen that shows you a picture-in-picture view of yourself, as well as the person you’re talking to.

It’s called the “Vidtel,” (for video telephone), and it sells for $200 from Vidtel.comVidtel video phone. There’s a $20 a month charge on top of that. This covers unlimited calls in the U.S. and Canada, and an additional five cents a minute for calls to most other countries. If you want to see the other person on your video screen, they have to have a Vidtel phone too. But there’s no software to install, you just plug it in. The Vidtel looks just like a regular landline phone with a 4.5 inch by 3.5 inch viewing screen built in.

The Vidtel must be connected to the Internet to work, of course, just as Skype must be connected to the Internet. We use a long Ethernet cable that goes through a tiny hole in our living room wall and connects the Vidtel to our router. The video phone does not have WiFi built in but it does support WiFi so you would need an adapter for it to work wirelessly. We could have used something like the “HomePlug,” sold by Netgear and others, to turn the local wiring system into a carrier for digital signals, or the Dlink Wireless Pocket Router.

We have tried several of these video phones over the years and the is the best so far. Besides getting to see your aunt’s new baby or your cousin in the service, the Vidtel phone offers many other features that traditional phone companies charge extra for. These include Caller ID, Call Forwarding, Call Waiting, Voicemail, Caller ID Blocking, Anonymous Call Block, Speed Dialing, etc. If you miss an incoming call, the service sends you an email telling you who called. You can ring two phone numbers at the same time until one call is answered or goes into voicemail. Perhaps best of all for many people, you can call people from your Vidtel phone by name, without having to memorize or store a number.


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