It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what a FQDN (fully qualified domain name) is or what a SSL certificate does when it’s at home, because 3CX does the hard work for you.
We opted into using the 3CX cloud hosted version of the platform for the review and the set-up process was almost effortless. You can choose between three different types of 3CX offering and each one has a well-defined set-up process and lengthy how-to guides.
The first offering is on-premise where you can download the software onto Windows or Linux and follow the instructions from there. Then there are two cloud options – you can host in your own cloud account with PBX Express or you can host it on 3CX. The cloud options supported include Google, Amazon Lightsail, Microsoft Azure, AWS, or a variety of Openstack compatible hosts.
The 3CS phone system was judged against very specific criteria, one of which being how relevant it is for the small to medium business and whether or not it ticks the right boxes for a business of this size. For more information, read our full round-up of Best Small Business Phone Systems.
The truth is that most small businesses want as much functionality as possible with as little fuss and cost as possible and this is where 3CX manages to squeeze in as a market leader. Not only is the system pricing structured in such a way as to allow for precise budgeting and control, but the pricing is transparent and unlikely to hit anyone with an unexpected shock at the end of the month. It is also easy to use, has plenty of self-help options, is full of customisation tools, and does more than just help the business make phone calls.
Unlimited extensions: Yes
Pricing model: $2 per user per month annual license fee, dependent on use case
Number of users: Unlimited
Platform lock-in: None
Deployment options: On-premise, hosted cloud, your own cloud platform
Mobility apps /access: iOS and Android
Customer service: Tutorials, learning guides, customer support center
3CX phone system review: Features
For the layman, finding out that 3CX offers you an open platform that doesn’t lock you into any SIP trunks may sound complicated and nonsensical, but the reality is that this feature ensures you cut costs by controlling and choosing your own SIP trunk. We could go into a long description of SIP trunk definitions, but for those of you just looking to invest into a PBX solution that isn’t going to drown you in a learning curve, take it as a given that this is an added advantage.
Another feature worth mentioning is the customer support. 3CX has designed its website and software to be as accessible as possible with installation guides, learning resources, a contact center and a support center. There is comprehensive documentation provided to help you get to grips with specific IP phones, administration of the 3CX platform, and to train company employees.
On top of the easily installed software you can download and install apps for Android and iOS devices. These apps connect to your 3CX network from anywhere, at any time, allowing for you to essentially expand your office out into the world without hassle or extra cost. The 3CX VoIP apps turn smartphones into portable PBX systems and include chat, conferencing and push notifications.
Further, there are backup and restore and security features that add on a much-needed layer for peace of mind, ensuring that the system is protected and data stored correctly. You can adapt your settings as you work with the system which makes a huge difference for high-growth startups looking for a platform that can grow with them. The 3CX platform offers an extensive array of unified communications tools that allow you to build customer experiences, manage employee expenses, collaborate with clients and branches all over the world, and send instant messages across multiple devices.
3CX phone system review: Design and Usability
3CX is very versatile and has a feature-set that makes life easy for the small business owner who doesn’t have either the time nor the energy to embark on a complex PBX crusade. The 3CX dashboard offers an instant view of the system and the status of elements such as the firewall, FQDN, number of active trunks, and a highly detailed event log, among other things. When in the dashboard you can quickly allocate new trunks, set up new phones, blacklist IPs, and manage your updates. In fact, while setting 3CX up on the system, we received an email outlining the latest update and its importance. So, from a security and functionality perspective, the system is easy to balance and control and any system errors or concerns are flagged in red.
The built-in firewall checker is fast and thorough and any issues are relatively easily resolved. We had some challenges with an IP mismatch but a quick reset immediately resolved the problem. You can also schedule calls, manage inbound /outbound rules, set up ring groups and establish advanced rules fairly quickly and easily from the dashboard. While those who aren’t familiar with PBX platforms may find the initial start daunting, 3CX has taken the time to explain how things work.
3CX phone system review: Performance
It is quite hard to find things wrong with 3CX’s platform as the company has clearly paid attention to what the business wants and then gone ahead and made it happen. Smaller businesses will appreciate the pricing structure that’s as low as $2 per user, dependent on system and hosting choices made. The digital receptionist was easy to set up and the tests found her responsive and accurate, there was little fiddling about with settings and the list of menu options was extensive enough to suit most company requirements.
When setting up your IP phones, expect this to happen automatically – ours appeared on dashboard refresh as soon as they came online – and user assignation is a matter of clicks. You can set your updates to automatic which also helps, this not only manages firmware but your license key, recordings, voicemails, custom templates and more.
Using the app for the iPhone and Android mobile devices was also seamless. We simply downloaded from the relevant store and followed the prompts. You can even configure queue ringtones and firmware settings for your mobile devices and use Google Firebase Cloud Messaging to send push notifications. There is also an extensive menu of settings that comes with the 3CX dashboard. Here you can do anything from set up an email address that will automatically email new employees and welcome them to the system to conferencing, hotel services and voice mail options.
There are enough settings and features included in 3CX to make it fun for the entrepreneur who wants to explore the full functionality of a rich PBX system. Many happy hours can be spent customising hot desking, contacts, fax facilities, bridges, ring groups, call queues and SIP trunks, among others.
3CX phone system review: should you buy?
3CX is a versatile and sassy PBX system that’s priced perfectly for the small to medium business market. From the ability to add or remove users based on costs and affordability to the annual pricing model that can be structured around on-prem or cloud, 3CX has an option that’s suited to specific budgets. On top of the costing advantage that this solution brings – the cost cutting compared with traditional systems is significant – there are plenty of customisation and business management options. You can do anything from adjusting the automatic voice messages that the system dispenses on demand to creating customised voice notes for individual employees. It’s a clever system that’s compatible with leading operating systems, making it a sensible choice for the business owner that isn’t interested in high drama, just high output.
What other phone systems should you consider?
While 3CX is one on the best phones systems in the market right now, it certainly isn't the only choice. Here's our pick of the others you should consider when choosing which is the best for your business. Click through to read the full review.
RingCentral is the best phone system for a medium-sized business; Vonage Business Cloud is best for reliability and reputation; 8x8 Virtual Office is best for all types of business size; Grasshopper Virtual Phone System is the best phone system for startups; Ooma Office is best for the startup and the SMB.
To see all these phone systems compared, check out our best small business phone systems buying guide.
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