VoxOx 2 sounds better--but is it?

When VoxOx was released last November, it was hard to deny that the communication tools it offered were impressive. Its stability was also impressive--in a bad way. Check out what this new version's got, and why it's worth looking at.

When VoxOx was released last November, it was hard to deny that the communication tools it offered were impressive. Multi-protocol chat, VoIP, some rudimentary e-mail updates, and an SMS-callback feature to initiate international calls for the cost of a local call were all rounded up under one roof. It had a problem, though: stability.

VoxOx 2, available for Windows and Intel Macs running Leopard but no longer for PPC Macs, truly looks like it's fixed the stability issue. Along the way, its publisher TelCentris, has gifted it with a robust Personal Assistant feature, a super-address book that attempts to collate all your contact info under one pane, and fax support--unexpected, but there it is. VoxOx 2 can fax.

VoxOx's Personal Assistant lets you manage multiple phones from one number. (Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Perhaps most importantly, VoxOx 2 comes with claims of more stable back-end support. The best features in the world won't matter if the program crashes or the feature dies mid-use. TelCentris improved the server support by becoming a universal Competitive Local Exchange Center, owning its own infrastructure, according to Kevin Kertz, CTO and co-founder of VoxOx.

This bore out, at least with the SMS Callback feature. When you register your cell phone number on VoxOx, you're provided with a phone number to text message. Send a note to that number with the number of the phone you'd like to call in the body of the message and you're soon connected but via local numbers for both parties. After the launch of the first version, this feature experienced frequent failures, but at least for today it worked well.

The Personal Assistant is the strongest new feature, and encompasses a wide range of tools.

Notably, it doesn't offer transcription, as Google Voice does. However, Google likewise lacks many of the features in the VoxOx Personal Assistant. When a person calls the free individual phone number that VoxOx provides for you, VoxOx can be set to turn on your personal assistant. Depending on which options you've selected, you can have the PA try to find you at numbers that you've entered, take voicemails, screen calls, and customize ringback and hold waiting music. You can also personalize responses for individuals or groups in your address book, or add a recording of your name.

VoxOx 2 emphasizes your contact list in the new interface. (Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

This service worked flawlessly, and the options panel for configuring everything was clear and easy to understand. I was expecting a much more chaotic interface, given how many different moving parts are involved, but that wasn't the case at all. The only catch, of course, is that you must give out the VoxOx number for the Personal Assistant to work.

There's a Web-based option for VoxOx for users who want or need to manage their communications from the cloud, but it's not as slick as the Google Voice interface and logging in was buggy when I tested it.

Other new features include several skinning choices for instant messaging, drastic improvements to the previously horrendous IM logging, support for Twitter, Facebook IM and MySpaceIM along with Google Chat, Jabber, Yahoo, AOL, MSN, ICQ, and Gadu Gadu. Users can update statuses and avatar pictures from within the VoxOx Contacts window, which has been moved to a frontal position as it is in other IM clients. There's a CID Spoofer for when you place a call from VoxOx but don't want your number to appear in the recipient's caller ID, and there's the super-address book.

VoxOx's revamped apps keep users focused on the tools they need. (Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

It's a searchable contact list that collates IM, e-mail, and phone contacts under one pane. It's not quite where it needs to be yet, with IM broadly supported but e-mail limited to Yahoo Mail's address book. There's planned expansion for importing address books from Gmail, Mac's Mail.app, Outlook, AOL, and Microsoft's Hotmail, but that hasn't arrived yet.

Future plans include opening an SDK for developers, mobile device synchronization, and an iPhone app.

Users are currently given 100 points for signing up, and can earn an extra 120 points for each user they recommend. Points can also be purchased from within the VoxOx interface at 100 points per dollar. VoxOx has made its all-in-one feature set its key selling point, so hopefully the stability problems that the program has faced in the past will stay there. It could be an incredible boon to users to get all these toys from one provider, and largely for free.

The first 200 CNET readers who sign up for VoxOx 2 will receive 1,200 free VoxPoints, which equals 1,200 free U.S./Canada calling minutes (or free texts). VoxPoints are also redeemable for international calling and texts at various rates. In addition, CNET readers to sign up within the first 48 hours of the VoxOx 2 launch will receive 200 VoxPoints--double the standard amount of free points given to new users upon sign-up. New users must sign up and SMS verify in order to get their free VoxPoints. To take advantage of the special CNET deal, go to http://signup.voxox.com/cnet2vox.