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TalkPlus S60: Not Just Cheap, Easy Calls

I have been playing with a new software client for S60 3rd Edition by TalkPlus which allows you to make cheaper calls from your mobile phone. That’s the main draw, but it does a bit more than that. In addition, you are given a secondary telephone number that you can give out to people. It rings your mobile phone, but the number gives you a level of control similar to Grand Central.

Previously, they had released a J2ME client where you had to make your calls from in order to get the savings as well as to make the calls so they come from your secondary telephone number. But the application doesn’t integrate with your existing phone address book and appeared to dial numbers completely unrelated to your call. It does that in order to redirect the call through a VoIP gateway where the call can be properly caller ID masked and ultimately connected using a cheaper method.

The Symbian client currently in a closed beta changes the game entirely. Yes, you have an application running on your phone just like the J2ME one. However, it integrates into the phone much more deeply. Calls you make whether they happen in the application or not, will, when appropriate, be routed through a TalkPlus gateway. Even though the number actually dialed by the phone may be different, the number you see in the call logs is always what you think you called. Nice.

You might think keeping an application running in the background is tough on these devices. One thing I specifically asked Jeff Black about when I had him on the phone the other day was the size of the application in memory. In short: not much, somewhere between 90 and 115 kilobytes of memory. That’s some seriously optimized code. TalkPlus just needs to make sure they mark that memory non-killable so Symbian’s memory management doesn’t kill the program when trying to find more memory for an application.

By default, you can select to have calls appear as your normal mobile number or a virtual # that TalkPlus provides you. In the TalkPlus application, you can go into a contact and specify that a particular dialing profile be used. For example, when I call home, I always want my normal mobile number to show up. If I call someone I don’t know, I might use the TalkPlus number as my outgoing. Either way, once I’ve made the selection in the TalkPlus app, it’s all transparent. There is even a little icon that shows up on the Active Standby screen that tells you what number you dial out as by default is. That’s cool!

Note that this application does use data. However, the data is only used to do the initial call setup and uses a minimal amount of data. Any data plan, even the one that comes with T-Mobile (US) prepaid is sufficient for this service. The actual call occurs over the standard voice channel for the phone, which means the voice quality as good as GSM.

Within the next couple of weeks, you may be able to “alias” additional numbers, such as your home or office number. A simple verification process will ensure the number is under your control. Additional automated checks are performed later on to ensure that, for instance, you didn’t go over to your neighbors while at a dinner party and hijack their phone for nefarious purposes.

There are some other features, like the ability to set up instant conference calls. While I’m not 100% certain, I believe the conference is handled in the TalkPlus servers, so there’s only one outbound call from your phone. That can be a money saver right there. The other cool feature is that you can manage your TalkPlus voicemail right from the application. You can see the messages left to your TalkPlus number and manage them right from the handset. Visual voicemail.

Of course, the client is not without it’s issues. For contacts that don’t have a first name and last name–and I have several–they show up as “(unnamed)”. That’s irritating. It should show the Company name, which is what it shows in the native S60 address book application. I also think that they need a much smaller download URL for their client to make it easier for people to download the client. 7 digit dialing isn’t supported right now, which is a pain for me.
All in all, I am impressed with this client and what it can do.  I look forward to the next round of beta.


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