Building a communication system to suit your business needs means evaluating the differences between the two main types of VoIP phones: hardphones and softphones.
Read on to learn all about hardphones vs softphones: what they are, the advantages and disadvantages of both, and ideal use cases for each type.
What is a Softphone?
A softphone is a software application that can be installed on any Internet-connected device to provide users with instant remote access to virtual telephony and VoIP features. Users can access their desired softphone functionality via digital interactive graphical user interface (GUI) elements like a virtual dialpad, buttons, icons, screen alerts, drop-down menus, and more.
Softphones are accessible on desktop and laptop computers, smartphones, and tablets in any location with a working Internet connection, offering high-level mobility and flexibility ideal for today’s workforce.
Within the VoIP softphone interface, users can access advanced VoIP and unified communications features like voice and video calling, SMS texting, visual voicemail, workflow automation, SMS texting, call recording, IVR, call flow management tools, and more–both inside and outside of a traditional office space.
What is a Hardphone?
A hardphone, or VoIP hardphone, is a physical, hardware-based IP phone that looks similar to a traditional desk phone but makes/receives VoIP phone calls via the Internet instead of the wired PSTN network.
Like landline phones, hardphones include a handheld receiver that lifts off a base, a touchscreen display, and physical buttons to access basic features. Hardphones connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi or an ethernet cord, and offer only basic calling features like call transfer, call forwarding, and audio conferencing (conference calling.)
Because hardphones are physically installed on-site, they don’t provide the same level of mobility softphones do.
Softphone vs Hardphone At a Glance Comparison
Essential softphone vs hardphone points of comparison are:
- Hardphones have better call quality because they are physically connected to a dedicated IP network for VoIP calling. Hardphones also have built-in speakers and microphones with noise cancellation, background noise suppression, etc.
- Softphone call quality depends on the available bandwidth and the strength of the overall Internet connection. Though softphone providers offer HD voice and QoS monitoring, call quality suffers when lots of devices/software all share the same system resources
- Hardphones have very limited features compared to softphones–even basic features like conference calling, call transfer, and the ability to record calls can come with high fees and an extensive setup process
- Softphones offer high-value, customizable software-based VoIP technology features like call routing, IVR, ACD, Find Me/Follow Me, call flip, click-to-call, call monitoring, and user presence
- Hardphones are generally more reliable because they are installed on-site and powered by an external ethernet cable
- Softphone reliability varies by provider, so always look for a VoIP platform with a minimum 99.9% uptime guarantee, 24/7 network monitoring with real-time alerts, and geographic redundancy. Common VoIP problems like latency and jitter, phone echoing, and choppy audio may require increased bandwidth, system updates, and/or optional VoIP hardware like microphones and headsets
- Hardphones are much more expensive than softphones, as users must pay maintenance costs and purchase the IP phones and additional hardware like a handset receiver, headsets, cameras, amd ethernet cords (note that some providers offer rental VoIP phones)
- Softphones are much more cost-effective as they can be installed on existing devices (including employee-owned devices) and don’t require maintenance fees
Ease of Use
- Hardphones are intuitive, similar to standard desk phones, and lack complex features
- Softphones come with advanced features and a new interface, meaning a higher learning curve
- Hardphones are difficult and time-consuming to scale, as adding new phones and/or additional phone lines lines requires the purchase, installation, and setup of corresponding hardware
- Softphones are highly scalable business phone systems, as users can add individual/bundled features, additional phone lines, and more phone numbers directly on the provider website. The whole process takes only a few clicks are doesn’t require physical on-site installation nor the purchase of additional hardware
- Hardphones run on a separate network and do not share a server with external third-parties, making them highly secure. Plus, hardphones are tied to a physical location and owned by the company using them, meaning it’s easier to monitor employee activity
- Softphone security varies by provider, specific device, and Internet connection type. Look for VoIP providers offering end-to-end encryption, compliance certifications like GDPR/HIPAA/PCI, spam protection, and more
Softphone vs Hardphone Pros & Cons
Below are some of the main disadvantages and advantages of softphone apps:
- Variety of Features: Broad feature can be tailored to meet a variety of business communications needs
- Mobility: Softphones can run on any compatible computing device, allowing team members to use cell phones, iPads, and laptops
- Low Cost: Less expensive than hardphones as no physical hardware is required
- Security: Users are beholden to the security standards of the Voice over Internet Protocol provider
- Learning Curve: Softphones may include hundreds of features, customizations, and settings that result in a steep learning curve
- Reliability: Softphone call quality is dependent on the strength of the Internet connection and the amount of other software programs running on the same system
- Reliability: Highly reliable with a strong ethernet connection
- Highly Secure: Operating on a separate network makes hardphones highly secure
- Minimalistic: Provide a simpler “no frills” user experience compared to softphones
- Installation: Time-consuming setup process as hardware is manually installed
- Expensive: High maintenance and hardware costs (headsets, conference room equipment, etc.)
- Lack of Features: Limited features compared to softphones–lack UCaaS features like team chat messaging and collaboration tools, SMS texting, video calling, etc.
When to Use Softphones
Softphones are best for:
- Scalability: Softphone solutions enable small business users to easily add phone lines, extensions, or features without purchasing extra equipment, making it fast and inexpensive to scale
- Remote Working: Softphones can be installed on cell phones and other mobile devices, making them a perfect choice for remote and hybrid teams
- Call Centers: Softphones are best for contact centers as they provide multiple communication channels, CRM system integrations, auto dialing, analytics, intelligent IVR, etc.
When to Use Hardphones
Hardhones are best for:
- Familiarity and Ease of Use: Teams already accustomed to using standard physical phones that don’t need advanced VoIP features
- Food Service: Restaurants, bars, and other on-site or brick-and-mortar businesses that only need one phone
- Reliability and Security: Hardphones still offer superior reliability compared to most VoIP service providers