Ooma Telo: Then there's the Ooma Telo, which hits your wallet with a $250 hardware charge, but promises free local and long-distance service for life. Granted, the standard package's service is pretty basic, with little more than caller ID and voicemail, but putting an end to paying for phone service forever has some real allure. (If you can't live without a monthly phone service bill, you can pony up $10 per month for Ooma Premier, which offers a ton of extra calling features.) The Ooma Telo is a snap to install: Just plug it into your router and set up your account on the company's Web portal, and you're ready to dial.
Google Voice: I also checked out Google Voice. This service isn't really designed to replace a landline, but it does give you some interesting options, starting with a new phone number that's meant to become a kind of single number for life. When someone calls it, Google Voice will ring your home phone, your work phone, your cell phone, or any combination of any phones you want. That saves the caller a lot of a hassle in trying to locate you; and in turn, it helps ensure that friends and family members can reach you more easily. GV also provides free calls to the United States and Canada (but only from your PC), and voicemail that gets transcribed to text (for optional delivery via e-mail). It's pretty cool--and it's free--but it's not the most user-friendly service I've used.
Off the Hook
As a longtime user of voice-over-IP services (before Vonage, I subscribed to Via Talk, and before that, to SunRocket), I've learned that saving money sometimes means putting up with a few hassles. For starters, because your phone service relies on your Internet connection, call quality isn't always pristine. My biggest problem is usually echo, though I've also had occasions when the caller couldn't hear me or vice versa. And if my Internet provider goes down for any reason (power outage, system glitch, or whatever), it takes my phone line with it. Of the four options I tested, only Ooma Premier offers a call-forwarding option that kicks in during network outages.