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Call us for a free FastStart Consultation: (844) 852-3639

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Buyer's Guide

by Daniel Harris,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: March 10, 2017

With the vast number of VoIP softphone products on the market, choosing the right solution for your phone system can be daunting. (Technically, all softphones are for VoIP service, since they’re essentially software for placing calls over the Internet.) To help make your decision easier, we’ve compiled this guide.

We’ll outline the common features of softphones and give a rundown of popular products to help you make the right decision for your business. We’ll look at:

What Is a VoIP Softphone?
Common Functions of VoIP Softphones
Benefits of VoIP Softphones
Vendor Landscape
Crucial Considerations for Buyers

What Is a VoIP Softphone?

The name says it all: software phone. Softphones are software applications that run on devices (laptops, smartphones, tablets etc.) with Internet connections and allow you to make and receive calls. Softphones are thus designed for Internet phone service, commonly known as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), rather than traditional phone service.

A VoIP softphone is perhaps easiest to understand when compared to an IP phone i.e., a hardware office phone designed to make calls over the Internet using a business VoIP service rather than traditional land lines.

Both IP phones and softphones serve as endpoints to which VoIP phone systems connect calls, but one is software and the other is hardware.

Some businesses choose to deploy softphones rather than hardware phones as phone system extensions. For instance, if your employees work remotely, it makes more sense to connect the phone system to applications on their laptops than to desk phones in an office they rarely see. Additionally, you can deploy softphones alongside desk phones and connect the same extension to both endpoints. This gives your employees more flexibility in their communications options.

Softphone-only deployments are gaining in popularity and can also help keep the costs of switching to VoIP down, since IP phones can be expensive.

Common Functions of VoIP Softphone Software

VoIP softphones often include the following core capabilities:

Voice calling The key functionality of softphones. Make and receive calls through your Internet connection.
Video calling Place and receive video calls on devices with cameras. (Note that video calling is not the same as video conferencing, which frequently requires a more advanced application.)
Call history Track incoming and outgoing calls.
Voicemail Let callers leave voice messages when you’re not available. Listen to voice messages and return calls.
On-demand call recording Users can frequently initiate on-demand call recording from the softphone user interface (UI).
Directory of contacts/presence Just like your smartphone, a softphone has a directory of contacts. The difference is that softphones also generally display which contacts are currently online (a feature known as presence).
Call transferring Softphones allow you to transfer calls to contacts in your organization.
Click-to-dial Because softphones are installed on your device, they allow you to click on links on web pages and in emails in order to place calls automatically, without touching a keypad or picking up a receiver.

More advanced softphones offer a smorgasbord of features beyond these basic capabilities, and are known as unified communications (UC) clients. Generally, these clients are offered directly via the vendor of your phone system or UC system, whereas softphones are commonly offered by third-party vendors. If you’re just looking for basic inbound and outbound calling capabilities, a softphone will generally be enough, while UC clients are for supporting advanced communications like multi-party video conferencing on smartphones and tablets.

Benefits of VoIP Softphones

There are many benefits of choosing a softphone over, or in addition to hardphones:

  • Reduce costs by reducing hardware. Softphone software gives you the option to forego traditional office phones. You’ll save money by not having to buy extra hardware in the first place.
  • Integrate with computer systems. Because softphones use your local computer network, they also integrate with your existing computer-based systems. Many softphone applications, including the ones mentioned above, can integrate with contact databases such as Outlook, Thunderbird and Mac address books. Softphones with click-to-dial allow you to place calls from your customer relationship management (CRM) software, Web browser or accounting system. This is a highly useful feature for call center agents and other employees that have to place lots of outbound calls (e.g those in accounts receivable).
  • Place calls through Wi-Fi. Normally, when you make a call with your cellphone, it goes over a cellular network and you have to pay per-minute rates as well as prohibitively expensive roaming fees if you’re out of range of your providers’ network. Softphones allow you to place calls over a Wi-FI internet connection, so you bypass the cellular network and avoid per-minute rates and roaming charges. You still need to pay for the data connection or the Wi-Fi connection unless it’s public. This feature results in significant savings for employees who travel abroad frequently.

The Vendor Landscape

There are both free and paid softphones on the market. To help you determine which softphone solution is right for you, let’s take a look at a few popular products.

3CX. 3CX offers both cloud and on-premise business phone systems. Manage calls from your desktop and use your computer to make and receive calls.

3CX has softphones for both Windows and Mac, and it includes native Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) apps for Android and iOS.

Screenshot of 3CX interface for Mac


3CX softphone for Mac

Bria X-Lite. One of Bria X-Lite’s most attractive qualities is that it’s free. Several softphone vendors offer “freemium” versions that may have only limited functionalities and/or be supported by ads.

Bria X-Lite includes functionalities for voice and video calls, instant messaging and voicemail support. This free solution is meant to act as a stepping stone to the paid option, Bria 4. It is compatible with Windows and Mac systems.

Screenshot of Bria X-Lite softphone voice calling and chat user interface


Bria X-Lite softphone, video calling and chat

Zoiper. Another notable option on the market is Zoiper. Along with voice and video calling, it offers call recording, call transfer and auto-answering. It also has native conferencing, so you can conduct conference calls without relying on a third-party service. It works on Windows, Mac and Linux systems.

Zoiper video calling user interface


Zoiper video calling

Crucial Considerations for Buyers

Free vs. paid softphones. Many softphone vendors offer what are called “freemium” clients (e.g., Bria X-Lite) to encourage customers to eventually pay to upgrade. Some freemium products rely heavily on advertisements within the application to stay free.

These clients can work well for smaller companies or companies with limited needs. However, larger enterprises or those seeking more complex functionalities will need a more advanced client.

Phone system/headset compatibility. The #1 factor that should guide your choice of a softphone is compatibility. The softphone needs to be supported by your phone system, so check with your vendor or your vendor’s channel partner about this issue. Most major vendors list compatible softphones on their websites or in product literature. Additionally, if you’re planning to use the softphone in conjunction with a headset in a call center environment, you need to ensure that the softphone is also compatible with the specific brand of headset you’re using.

Softphone platforms. Softphones are trending toward OS agnosticism. Users want apps that run on Windows, Mac and Linux, as well as on smartphone operating systems such as Android and iOS. Thus, many providers are now offering their products on many different platforms, and they’re developing mobile clients.

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