Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Happy Holidays

Some of my friends have been asking me why I haven't updated my blog in a few weeks or written about my iPhone 3GS.

Unfortunately, I've been busy with studies, work, and my personal life as well as nursing a cold so I haven't had a chance to finish or finalize my iPhone 3GS post enough so that I can post it.

I'll be blogging again regularly in January and I will publish my post on my iPhone 3GS. I'll also post some other reviews and my thoughts on hardware/software products.

I wish everyone Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Blackberry Bold 9700 Review

I've had my Rogers Blackberry Bold 9700 for a little under a month and it being my first Blackberry, I'm very impressed with it. My Blackberry Bold 9700 came with but Rogers recently released and even though I didn't experience any issues with, I updated to the newer version and still didn't experience any issues. If it makes any difference in terms of my review, my Blackberry Bold 9700 was manufactured in Mexico. There have been some negative comments about the build construction from the earlier Bold 9700s but I haven't had any issues with the construction and build quality of my 9700.

I've only been using it for under a month but what I like about it is the almost instantaneous e-mail reception as well as the chatting capabilities of the Blackberry service.

Since the 9700 has Wi-Fi, when it is configured to connect to an access point (or router), the 9700 will automatically connect to this network whenever it is within range. This saves you from using a lot of data from the carrier. The Blackberry also compresses data from e-mail, chatting, and browsing so data usage is already efficient on Blackberries when compared with other phones. With this automatic connection of previously configured wireless networks, it makes data usage even more efficient. There is one thing to note about the connection to wireless networks over the carrier's data network and that is that I've encountered 1 program that regardless of whether you're connected to a wireless network will always access data via the carrier's data network. Yes, I did check through the options of this program and there is nothing to indicate a preference for Wi-Fi or to manually select Wi-Fi in this program. I've also encountered another program where you are required to specify the data connection to use and there is no option to automatically toggle/use the carrier's data network when you aren't connected to a wireless network. This means that if you specify that the Blackberry should use the wireless network, the moment you aren't close enough to a previously configured wireless network, the program will not update. Also, if you specify that it should use BIS (Blackberry Internet Service), regardless of whether you are within proximity of a previously configured wireless network and your Blackberry connects to the wireless network, the program will continue to use the carrier's (BIS) data.

Since I haven't received my first bill/statement yet for this account (at the time of this blog entry), I'm not sure how much data I've used. Even though I do a lot of audio/video streaming, most of the time when I'm doing this, I'm connected to a wireless access point or router. I would be very surprised if I even used more than half of the 500MB that I have with Rogers Wireless (my Blackberry carrier).

I've played YouTube videos on my Bold 9700 and the videos are quite good in terms of video quality and sound quality over the carrier's data network (Rogers) as well as over a wireless network. I've also tried a few other video/audio programs like SlingPlayer Mobile for the Blackberry and I experienced similar results. The only thing with SlingPlayer Mobile for the Blackberry is that as of today, when attempting to download the SlingPlayer Mobile software from Sling Media's website using your Blackberry, their website indicates that the device is not supported. I found a link on Sling Media's website to download the software directly to my 9700 without the "phone compatibility check" and I couldn't get it to download when I manually entered the URL into my Blackberry browser. I had to click on the link from a website.

When using SlingPlayer Mobile for Blackberry, I find that the program reacts very slowly to remote control commands regardless of whether you're using a wireless network or the carrier's data network. However, the audio/video quality is excellent on the device.

What I don't like about the Blackberry Bold 9700 is that I find the keys to be a bit cramped when I compare it with the keys on the Palm Treos that I've used (600, 650, and 680). This makes it a bit difficult more difficult to type a text with the Blackberry Bold 9700 than with the old Treo line of phones from Palm.

Another thing about the Blackberry Bold 9700 is that I like the fact that it uses a standard USB cable (unlike Apple's proprietary USB cable) to not only synchronize the device but it also charges the phone as well. However, I don't like that it is a microUSB cable instead of a miniUSB cable (because I have a lot of miniUSB cables).

I do like the trackpad on the Blackberry Bold 9700. You can control the sensitivity of the trackpad via the options so if you find it too sensitive or not sensitive enough, you can adjust the horizontal sensitivity and/or the vertical sensitivity.

On the Rogers Blackberry Bold 9700, a 2GB microSD memory card is included. I found the memory card actually inserted into my phone when I purchased it. Since it was a new activation, the store had opened up my box and inserted the SIM card into the phone in order to make sure that everything worked. The instructions for removing the memory card from the 9700 is not very detailed but in order to remove it, you must push the microSD memory card into the unit (similar to removing SD cards from some laptops/netbooks) and it will eject enough for you to be able to remove it.

I find the Wi-Fi reception strength of the Blackberry Bold 9700 to be good (better than on my iPhone 3GS). For example, while in my bedroom, my iPhone 3GS struggles to access my router's wireless signal while my 9700 accesses my router's wireless signal without any issues. The Bold 9700 handles hidden SSIDs  as well as various encryption schemes. I haven't experienced any issues configuring my 9700 to connect to any wireless network where I had the necessary security credentials.

One of the first things I did after verifying for a few days that my Blackberry 9700 worked without any issues is that I unlocked it via the subsidy unlock code. After purchasing the code, it was quite easy to unlock the Rogers Blackberry Bold 9700.

In terms of the voice quality of the phone, I tested it out briefly with my Rogers prepaid SIM (since the SIM that is in my Bold 9700 is only a BIS data only account). I find the sound quality to be comparable to other cellphones that I've used. However, I would say that people have commented that the sound quality when they are speaking to me is better than when I am using my Treo 680.

I find Facebook for Blackberry (which Rogers includes as part of their default configuration) to be somewhat sluggish when I compare it to Facebook for the iPhone. This isn't really a big deal but I thought that I would mention it. The browsing experience is also better on the iPhone than it is on the Blackberry but this is not to say that the Blackberry browsing experience is bad (which I don't think it is), I just find the iPhone browsing experience to be better.

Something else that I found unusual regarding the Rogers branded Blackberry Bold 9700 is that regular MP3 files (and full length MP3 files) can be used as ringtones. With most of the other Rogers branded phones that I've used (various Nokia phones and various Sony-Ericsson phones), Rogers restricted the phone's ability to use MP3 files as ringtones.

I'm not sure what else I can write after only having used a Blackberry for slightly under 1 month (with the Blackberry Bold 9700 being my first Blackberry device) so I will end this blog entry at this point.

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Rogers Wireless Pay As You Go Prepaid Review

I've been using a Rogers Wireless Prepaid (Pay As You Go) phone for a little over 1 year and I thought that I would write my experience is in regards to Rogers prepaid and some things to look out for.

Rogers Wireless is a Canadian GSM carrier. They offer both postpaid plans and prepaid plans. After doing some comparison shopping for prepaid phones, I went with Rogers Wireless based on 3 things that were important to me. Since I live in a major Canadian city, all the major carriers that offered prepaid services had relatively the same reception so this wasn't a major concern of mine. The things that I was interested in was a long expiry date for a relatively low airtime purchase, a low monthly fee, and if possible various plan options (SMS, data, etc.). If possible, I was looking for a GSM company since I had already had a few GSM phones so I didn't need or want to purchase a new phone. I was also looking at a low upfront cost.

At the time of my prepaid purchase, there was only 1 main Canadian GSM company (Rogers). Fido which used to be a different company was purchased by Rogers. The other companies that I looked at were MVNOs which used the Rogers network. The MVNOs that I looked at were Petro-Canada Mobility and 7-11 Wireless.

The first MVNO that I removed from my list of consideration was 7-11 Wireless because it was somewhat difficult to purchase a phone as well as airtime in the province of Quebec. I could purchase the phone in Ontario and use it in Quebec but I thought that the hassle of doing that as well as the hassle of purchasing airtime wasn't worth it.

Petro-Canada Mobility was the next company to be removed from my list. The reason for this is that even though the expiry date policy was good (or at least it used to be good about 2 years ago), the monthly charge was higher than Rogers & Fido. Petro-Canada Mobility also charged for incoming SMS which both Rogers & Fido did not do at that time. Petro-Canada also didn't offer data or text packages.

My choice was between Rogers and Fido. Since I already had a monthly plan with Fido, I wanted to go with them because Fido offered Fido dollars. However, after looking at the options as well as the expiry date policies between Rogers and Fido, I opted to go with Rogers because even though Fido offered a lower per minute rate, for longer calls in the day, Rogers rate decreased. Something else that Rogers offered and Fido didn't offer anything comparable was that incoming Rogers prepaid calls are free. The final thing that I liked about Rogers prepaid over Fido prepaid was that Rogers prepaid had a lower yearly fee for maintaining the airtime. With Fido, it would cost a minimum of $120 for 1 year. With Rogers, it would only cost $100 for 1 year. Using a workaround, with Rogers, it was also possible to maintain a prepaid account with only $26 per year.

Since I wasn't interested in paying a daily fee for days that I wouldn't use the phone, I didn't consider any of the Rogers prepaid plans that offered this. Based on my calling patterns, I picked the "All Day Plan." The "All Day Plan" offers a rate of $0.25 per minute for the first 5 minutes in the day and then the rate drops down to $0.15 per minute for the rest of the day.

Rogers charges a $0.50 per month as a 911 fee.

Even though they include voice mail for free, when people leave messages in your voice mail box, you are charged per minute rates for this. Also, when you listen to these messages regardless of whether you use your Rogers prepaid cellphone or a landline phone, you will be charged per minute rates for doing this. One last thing is that even if someone doesn't leave you a voice mail message but they get transferred to your voice mail box, you will be charged 1 minute of airtime for this. Because I didn't like this, I opted to deactivate my voice mail box (you can do this online or by speaking with a Rogers prepaid CSR).

One other thing that Rogers prepaid does is that they display your name on the caller ID information when you call someone and if the recipient's phone (landline or cellphone) supports name display. For me, I didn't like this and I managed to get a Rogers CSR to remove my name while continuing to display my phone number when I called someone.

Rogers offers something called "Auto Saver" for their prepaid plans. "Auto Saver" is basically a pre-authorized monthly airtime purchase plan. By signing up with a credit card for pre-authorized airtime purchases of $20 or more, customers benefit from 20% off the regular airtime rates.

Rogers currently charges for incoming SMS as long as you don't have a text package. If you do have a text package, all incoming SMS is free.

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Unlocking GSM cellphone and Manufacturer's Warranty

I often get/see questions on some of the cellphone and electronic forums that I frequent about unlocking GSM cellphones and the warranty status of doing this. Although I don't believe that this is likely, the unlocking laws in other countries might be different and what my current blog entry discusses in my experience in Canada with unlocking a phone and warranty status that I've received or didn't receive after the unlocking process.

First of all, for those people not familiar with what I mean by unlocking GSM cellphones, I have to explain that a lot of GSM carriers or carriers that use SIM cards (in the case with HSPA carriers) do with their cellphones. They apply what is called a subsidy lock onto the phone so that no SIM card other than SIM cards authorized by the carrier can be inserted and used in the phone. Placing another carrier's SIM card into a subsidy locked phone will generally cause the phone or device to display an "Invalid SIM:" or "Wrong SIM" message. On certain phones, you will be prompted for a subsidy unlock code.

Carriers lock the phone because generally they give a discount for the phone and they don't want consumers to use a competitor's SIM card in a phone that they've sold you. Another reason that carriers subsidy lock the phone is because when consumers travel internationally with their cellphones, they want consumers to pay roaming and long distance charges which are often quite high.

There are basically three ways to unlock most GSM cellphones. The first way involves entering the subsidy unlock code into the phone. The second way involves using customized/hacked firmware on the phone which tricks the phone into thinking that it is unlocked. The third way involves using a SIM insert/attachment in your phone. I've seen a fourth method illustrated on some websites for certain phones that would involve hardware modifications to the phone which would definitely void the manufacturer's warranty since it involves opening up the phone so I won't discuss this method of unlocking cellphones since it definitely voids the warranty.

The subsidy unlock code is a unique code that is specific for the phone (i.e. based on the IMEI number of the phone). This means that the subsidy unlock codes for one phone won't be the same for a different phone (since the IMEI numbers are different for the phones) even if the manufacturer, make, and model are the same. The method of going into the subsidy unlock code entry screen is different for the different manufacturers. Unlocking your cellphone via subsidy unlock code does not cause you to lose the warranty. I'll  write more on this later in this blog entry. It is the preferred method for unlocking a phone since when the manufacturer/carrier releases an updated authorized firmware to correct specific problems to the phone or give the phone additional features, your phone will remain unlock if you apply their new firmware.

The customized/hacked firmware method to unlock your phone involves uploading customized firmware on the phone that was not approved/authorized by the manufacturer of the phone. This customized firmware tricks your phone into thinking that it is unlocked or it makes the phone not check the SIM to see if the SIM card matches the carrier. Because you are installing non-authorized software on the phone in order to trick your phone into thinking that it is unlocked, your phone warranty can be void. Another issue with this method of unlocking is that if the manufacturer/carrier releases an updated authorized firmware that fixes specific problems in the older firmware or gives additional features, if you decide to install this authorized firmware on your phone, your phone will re-lock to the original carrier.

The SIM insert/attachment method for unlocking the phone requires that you place your SIM card on top of a thin SIM-like device before inserting it into the phone. It tricks your phone into thinking that it is unlocked or that the SIM card matches the carrier for that phone. Some SIM insert/attachments require that you cut the SIM card and because you must place both the SIM and the SIM insert/attachment into the phone's SIM slot, it can possibly cause damage to the phone's SIM card reader which won't be covered under your phone's warranty. I don't see this happening unless you really have to force the SIM and the SIM insert/attachment into the phone's SIM slot or if your force the SIM and the SIM insert/attachment out of the SIM slot when removing it. Using this method to unlock a phone also adds additional thickness to the "SIM" and depending on the phone can make removing the SIM difficult. These SIM insert/attachments have another limitation in that they don't work with all phones nor will they work with all SIM cards. The good thing about these inserts is that generally your phone's warranty is still valid unless you damage the SIM slot/reader. The negative thing about these inserts is that they may be rendered inactive when/if you update your phone's firmware or if you change your SIM card to a different revision of the carrier's SIM card. This will cause your phone to go back to its original locked state even when properly using the insert. I actually damaged the SIM slot reader on one of my phones using this method but this was probably due to my own carelessness when trying to swap my SIM card. The warranty was already expired on this cellphone and even if it wasn't expired, since the damage was caused by me and no part of "normal use", it would not have been fixed under warranty. Now, this cellphone functions as a very small Android device instead of an Android cellphone since it will no longer accept/read any SIM cards. Of course, I can still use this device to make calls using VoIP (voice over IP) using a Wi-Fi network.

Why does using the subsidy unlock method not void the warranty? The reason for this is that the manufacturer placed this into the phone (and not some hacker) and the phone's native/default firmware was written to accept the subsidy unlock code. Also, in lot of countries around the world, certain carriers will provide the subsidy unlock code if certain conditions are met. These conditions range from fulfilling the length of the contract, travelling abroad for a prolong period of time, purchasing a phone at the unsubsidized price, or just paying the carrier to unlock it. Unfortunately, currently in Canada, there is no condition that warrants the carrier giving or selling the subsidy unlock code to you or unlocking your phone. Certain carriers will unlock the phone for you at a cost but as of today, this is an exception and not a rule.

The subsidy unlock code can be purchased from various retailers/sellers that specialize in unlocking phones. The price of the subsidy unlock code varies between sellers and varies between phones but I've seen them being sold for as low as $1 and for as high as $100. Certain carriers will also "double-lock" their phones so that you will need 2 codes to enter in order to fully unlock the phone.

If you don't know the subsidy unlock code number for your particular SIM based phone, if you try to randomly enter numbers or enter a subsidy code for another IMEI, the only negative impact that can happen is that your phone will permanently lock to the carrier and you will not be able to use the IMEI subsidy code unlock method to unlock your phone in the future. The number of times that an incorrect code can be entered varies between manufacturers and phone models but once this limit is reached, your phone will be permanently locked to the carrier. This is the only "damage" that can occur if you unlock your phone via the subsidy code method.

Some customer service representatives or salespeople for Canadian carriers will say that unlocking a cellphone will void your warranty but because it is just entering a code into a phone without modifying the underlying manufacturer's software/firmware on the phone, it can't void the warranty. More importantly, another reason why it can't void the warranty is because certain carriers (in other parts of the world) will unlock the phone for the consumer under certain conditions. It would be similar to Microsoft saying that the Xbox warranty is void because you happened to push certain buttons on the gamepad/joystick in a certain sequence or a cordless phone manufacturer to say that the warranty was void because you happened to dial a specific number.

With the customized/hacked firmware approach to unlocking phones, the manufacturer as well as the carrier will often times consider that the warranty is void since the software is not authorized/official. If the original firmware can't be placed back onto the phone prior to the warranty request a lot of carriers will not process the warranty request to the manufacturer. The manufacturer will also consider that the warranty is void since the software/firmware on the phone is not the same firmware that they produced for the phone (or gave to the carrier).

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Netgear SPH200D Dual-mode Cordless Phone with Skype Review

When I subscribed to the unlimited North American Skype Plan, I purchased this phone. At the time, I already had the Belkin Wi-Fi Skype phone but because the Belkin device relies on Wi-Fi and I wasn't overly satisfied with the sound quality with the device, I thought that a cordless phone as opposed to one using Wi-Fi would be better.

I believe that at the time that I'm writing this review, Belkin has discontinued this product but I've seen this product for sale occasionally on Ebay.

As you can see from the picture, there are essentially 3 components to this product. The first component is the transmitter unit. It is here that you would have to plug in your regular phone line as well as your RJ-45 network cable from your router. The second component is the handset which is used to make/receive calls. The third component is the handset charging cradle.

One of the things that I like about this product is that the handset is powered by two AAA NiMH batteries so they are easy to replace if necessary.

When someone calls you via Skype, the phone will automatically ring. If someone calls you on your phone number, the phone will also automatically ring. It does all of this transparently/automatically. When you want to place a call, you can have it either automatically use your phone line or Skype or you can have it ask you before each call.

With this device, you can make Skype to Skype calls (these over-the-Internet calls are free), SkypeIn/SkypeOut calls (used to make or receive regular phone calls over the internet at Skype's low per minute rates), and traditional phone calls (it functions as a regular phone through the use of a "landline".)

Now, the most important question is... how is the reception? I find that the reception to be like any other cordless phone for regular phone calls. For Skype calls, I find the call quality to be better than the Belkin Wi-Fi Skype phone but it is nowhere as good as a regular phone call and can't be mistaken as a regular phone call.

Similar to the Belkin Wi-Fi Skype phone, the Skype contact list appears on the display and you can add/delete someone from your Skype contact list directly using the handset. Once added/deleted, these changes are made to your account's contact list so when you use Skype on a PC or another Skype device, the addition/deletion will also be reflected there.

This device supports up to 4 handsets where the additional handsets are sold separately. If you ever lose/misplace one of the handsets (and the handset still has power), there is a paging function on the top of the transmitting unit that you can press. Once pressed, it will page all the handsets that are "married" to the transmitting unit and that are within range and they will all ring.

The cordless phone technology for the Netgear Dual-mode Cordless Phone uses DECT 6.0 (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) and broadcasts in the 1.8/1.9 GHz band which according to the documentation should avoid interfering with Wi-Fi networks as well as offering long range and clear voice quality. Based on my usage, I found that cordless call quality (using the regular phone line) to be on par with other cordless phones that I've used in the past.

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Palm TX (Palm T|X) Review

I've had my Palm TX (or Palm T|X) for about 2 years and I thought that I would write a review on it since it can still be purchased from some retailers, some private sellers, as well as on eBay.

I've been a PalmOS user for about 8 years. As part of my job approximately 9 years ago, I was given a Palm III for my personal/work use. After having it for approximately 1 year, I was asked to return it to the department when I transferred to a different department within the same company. In the 1 year that I was using my Palm III, I was relying on it heavily for appointments, contacts, etc.. I had also purchased some 3rd party programs and found that since I relied heavily on a PalmOS device, I purchased a Handspring Visor Deluxe. After about 2 years, using the Handspring Visor Deluxe, I upgraded to the Handspring Visor Prism and later purchase a VisorPhone handspring attachment for the Prism. When my Visor Prism got somewhat physically/cosmetically damaged), I purchased a Handspring Treo 600. I later sold the Handspring Treo 600 and upgraded to a Palm Treo 650 (Palm had since purchased Handspring). After getting the Treo 650, I found that I did not have a lot of RAM on the device for 3rd party applications so when I saw the Palm TX on special, I purchased it in order to use with my Palm GPS bluetooth module and TomTom Navigator software.

The Palm TX has bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and has a 320 x 480 screen resolution screen capable of approximately 64,000 colours.. It also has approximately 128MB of non-volatile flash memory where 100 MB of actual storage capacity. It has an SD slot which supports SD cards up to 2 GB (does not support SDHC cards). It runs the PalmOS v 5.4.9. For those of you interested in whether the Palm TX supports non-SSID broadcasting Wi-Fi access points, it does. Because of the enhanced/large screen resolution for a PalmOS device, I find the PDA to be somewhat large.

I occasionally will use my Palm TX for web browsing, RSS reading, and Slingbox viewing since even though it is possible for me to do these things with my Palm Treo 650 or my Palm Treo 680, generally, the GSM SIM card that I put in these smartphones don't have access to the carrier's data network and I don't really like swapping SIM cards. I also have access to Wi-Fi access points at home and at work. I will also use my Palm TX occasionally to watch videos (using a 3rd party program called Kinoma Player) and listen to MP3 (using the included pTunes). Since I have a few dictionaries (including some translation dictionaries) installed on it, I will sometimes use my Palm TX to look up words.

In terms of the construction of the Palm TX, I find that it is constructed very well. My only complaint about it (or at least mine) is that the on/off button on the upper right corner of the device seems a bit difficult to turn on or off. The button is slightly recessed and sometimes when I press the button, my Palm TX does not turn on or turn off. Because of this, when I want to turn on my Palm TX, I will generally use one of the 4 shortcut buttons on it.

For those of you interested in my experience with using the Palm TX and SlingPlayer Mobile for the PalmOS, I find that it works quite well. The only thing is that after a few minutes of viewing, the audio and video will go out of synch. This can be temporarily fixed by disconnecting from the Slingbox, waiting a few seconds, and then reconnecting to the same Slingbox again.

If you have any questions/comments regarding my comments/review on the Palm TX (Palm T|X), please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A few days off from blogging...

I've recently been playing around with an iPhone 3GS 32GB and a Blackberry Bold 9700 so unfortunately, I won't be making my next blog entry before Sunday November 22 when I hope to write about one of the above two items or pick another item that I've already evaluated (or I've already been using).

I'll probably be writing a few blog entries on each of the above 2 products since there is so much to write about both products.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Belkin Wi-Fi Phone for Skype Review

A few years ago, when their was a sale, I purchased a Belkin Wi-Fi phone for Skype (F1PP000GN-SK) when I was subscribed to Skype's unlimited North American plan. I was looking for a way of making calls without needing my computer to be on. Even when my computer was on, I did not want to always be running Skype in the background. This phone seemed like a good idea.

In terms of the physical construction of the phone, I find that it is okay (not great... just okay). The keys don't seem to be that great and sometimes the phone will not detect that a key has been pressed.

This phone supports WPA (as well as the weaker WEP) and is also capable of connecting to wireless routers that aren't broadcasting their SSIDs. The phone supports the B & G wireless standards. Connecting to the Skype service is fairly straight forward. Once connected, the phone automatically displays the time (you have to configure the settings and manually adjust/change the time/date based on your time zone), your Skype balance, as well as your online status. Using the joystick pad on the phone, you can navigate through the menu system. Your Skype contacts' availability status will be displayed when you access the "Contacts" menu.

The phone is rechargeable and it recharges via a standard USB cable. According to the documentation, the battery is the same rechargeable lithium ion battery for digital cameras/camcorders made by Fujifilm, Pentax, and Panasonic. I haven't had to replace the battery so I'm not sure how easy it is to find the battery (NP-60).

In terms of sound quality, I find that the Belkin Wi-Fi phone for Skype does a sub par job. I find the sound to be very low when speaking to someone and my Skype contacts have informed me that there are sometimes gaps in the sound. They have also informed me that sometimes the sound level is very low.

Another negative thing about the Belkin Wi-Fi phone is that if someone decides to text chat with you because they see your status on Skype is "Available/Online", you won't get the text message. You will also not be able to reply to their text message on the phone.

I have used the Belkin Wi-Fi phone both to contact Skype users and I've also used it to make regular phone calls. The sound quality is similar in both cases. The sound quality would get better when I approached my wireless router but it would never be what I would consider great.

If you have any questions/comments regarding my review on the Belkin Wi-Fi Phone for Skype, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Registering a new Red Pocket Mobile Prepaid SIM

A few people asked me about my primary US SIM card so I thought that I would write another blog entry on Red Pocket Mobile but this time, I would concentrate on the purchasing & activation process.

As I mentioned in my first Red Pocket Mobile SIM blog entry, I purchased my Red Pocket Mobile SIM on Ebay. I later purchased a replacement SIM directly from the company in the US since I could no longer locate a seller on Ebay selling it. Both came from the US and both took roughly the same amount of time for it to arrive to me in Canada (~ 1 week). The one from the Ebay seller sent it via regular USPS (United States Postal Service) in a regular business sized envelope whereas the one which came directly from Red Pocket Mobile was also sent via USPS but the company used a more expensive USPS option of sending it. I don't remember what USPS option Red Pocket Mobile used to send their SIM card to me but it was in a big USPS international envelope. It took approximately 1 week for me to receive the SIM card directly from the company (shipped from California to the province of Quebec). From the private Ebay seller (located in New Jersey), it also took approximately 1 week for me to receive the Red Pocket Mobile SIM card.

You can also purchase the Red Pocket Mobile SIM card (as well as airtime) in some cities. I've seen it being sold in New York City (in Chinatown) but I don't recall the name of the business establishment.

The first thing to do before considering purchasing the Red Pocket Mobile SIM card or any carrier's phone service for that matter (either through a private seller or directly through the company) is to make sure that there is coverage in the area that you will be visiting (or in the area where you live).

As mentioned in my first blog post on Red Pocket Mobile, Red Pocket Mobile is an AT&T MVNO and they use the native AT&T GoPhone (Prepaid) network. Their coverage map is located *HERE* and you will have to make sure that you select "GoPhone" underneath the "Coverage Type" and in the "GoPhone Coverage Legend," you will have to make sure that "Pay As You Go" is selected.

As you can see, their US coverage is limited but if you will be using their SIM card within their coverage zone, Red Pocket Mobile is an option that I think deserves consideration especially for people who are from one of the places where Red Pocket Mobile only charges local rates to call (or if you plan on calling one or more of these places a lot). These places are Canada, the US, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Red Pocket Mobile also charges local rates to call Taiwan but this only applies to Taiwanese landlines. Calling Taiwanese cellphone numbers costs a premium. Red Pocket Mobile recently added a few other places where calling these places, local calling rates apply. These new places are 3 Mexican cities (Monterrey, Mexico City, and Guadalajara) and South Korea. Calling a South Korean phone number and paying the local rate appears to only work for landlines.

After receiving the SIM card, I activated my Red Pocket Mobile SIM card by going to their website. I filled in Red Pocket Mobile's online activation form and within an hour, I received my Red Pocket Mobile phone number as well as my PIN. The PIN is required to log onto Red Pocket Mobile's website (gives you access to the outgoing calls made to non-US phone numbers).

Since I live in Canada and I obviously didn't have a zip code, I used the hotel's zip code for the zip code field. There are only 3 mandatory fields on the form. The zip code is used to give you your Red Pocket Mobile phone number. The hotel that I was staying at was in Las Vegas so I received a phone number in the 702 area code. The only importance in the area code is how much it will cost people to reach you at the area code. With your Red Pocket Mobile phone/SIM, it costs you the same amount whether you have a Las Vegas area code and you call someone in New York City or whether you call someone in Las Vegas with your Las Vegas area code. As long as you have Red Pocket Mobile coverage, it will cost the same regardless of where you're physically located in the US when you make/receive the call to these places. The SIM ID# field is important since the company needs this in order to activate the particular SIM card. Finally, the e-mail address field is important since this is where you will receive the information (i.e. your newly created Red Pocket Mobile phone number, etc.) I didn't complete any of the other entries before submitting the form and it didn't cause any issues with my account.

When I purchase my Red Pocket Mobile SIM card, the company offered $10 initial airtime upon activation. I'm not sure if they still do this but it is my guess that it is still done.

After your Red Pocket Mobile SIM is activated, if you are in an area that Red Pocket Mobile has coverage, you should activate your voice mail. To do this, you will have to insert your Red Pocket Mobile SIM card into your unlocked GSM phone and call your Red Pocket Mobile phone number. From what I remember, the entire process takes less than 3 minutes so will cost around $0.45 in order to set it up. You cannot activate your voice mail if you do not have coverage since the system requires that you use your cellphone in order to activate it. Once your voice mail is activated, you can access it by calling your Red Pocket Mobile phone number from any phone.

After activating my Red Pocket Mobile SIM, since I thought that $10 worth of airtime wasn't sufficient for my needs, I purchased airtime via the company's website. I picked the option for them to e-mail me my ePIN refill code and I paid using PayPal. Once I received the code, because I was still in Canada, I couldn't enter this code directly into my phone because I didn't have Red Pocket Mobile coverage so I went to their website and submitted the refill ePIN code. The link to do do this is *HERE*. If I was already in the US and if I had Red Pocket Mobile coverage, the refill ePIN can also be entered directly on the handset.

If you are in an area that offers Red Pocket Mobile coverage, you can also check your airtime balance by calling *777#. If you're in an area without Red Pocket Mobile coverage, you can get your balance by calling their North American toll free number 1-888-993-3888 or by sending them an e-mail at cs@redpocketmobile.com. During regular business hours (Pacific Time), I find that e-mails are generally responded to within a few hours.

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Installing Windows XP on ASUS Eee PC 701SD

As mentioned in my earlier blog on the ASUS Eee PC 701SD, I would install Windows XP onto it since a few of the programs that I wanted to use (actually it was mainly 1 program) would not work under Linux. One of the functions that I wanted for this netbook was to be able to connect to my Slingbox. Installing Windows XP onto it was the easiest solution since Sling Media has SlingPlayer for Windows. During my research, I did find some instructions on how to get SlingPlayer to work under Linux but with the other Windows programs that I wanted to run, the easiest solution would be to install Windows XP onto it.

The first thing that I did even when I was running the preinstalled & customized Xandros Linux was that I upgraded the memory from 512MB to 2GB. The next thing that I did was to download all the Windows XP drivers from the ASUS support website. I also downloaded/updated the firmware on the ASUS Eee PC 701SD.

There are ways to install Windows XP using a USB memory stick but since I had my Windows XP Home DVD and I also had a portable DVD/CD drive (see my review on this *HERE*), I opted to do it the easy way and just install Windows XP from DVD. I connected my portable DVD drive to one of the available USB ports on the netbook and booted it. I then selected the option of deleting the existing partitions and used the entire 8GB SSD drive for the installation of Windows XP.

Windows XP installed without any issues. After the netbook rebooted, I ran each of the executable files from each of the driver files (since my Windows XP DVD did not have all the necessary drivers). After each driver installation, I rebooted the netbook. At the end, I had installed all the drivers and they all seemed to work.

During the installation of Windows XP because the netbook had 2GB of RAM, the virtual memory paging file was automatically set to 3GB (1.5 times the amount of RAM on the netbook). This left me with less than half of the 8GB SSD drive for my other applications. Before installing the other applications, I reduced the virtual memory paging file size to 2GB. I also went through the Windows Update process until the netbook was up to date with all the Microsoft security patches. I also downloaded Microsoft's Security Essentials (Microsoft's free antivirus/anti-spyware program) which is not part programs listed in the Windows Update screen.

After doing this, I installed the standard programs that I normally install (Adobe Acrobat Reader, Adobe Flash Player, Mozilla Firefox, TrueCrypt, OpenOffice, Axcrypt, Google Chrome, and SlingPlayer for Windows). The important thing about installing these programs is to install them one at a time since I found that with less than 8GB to "play with," I also had to compress the hard drive.

In terms of the speed of the ASUS Eee PC 701SD, I found that it was very slow. I know that because of the hard disk encryption and the compression of the hard disk as well, this slows down the netbook but the netbook is almost unusable. The netbook would pause/buffer often during YouTube video viewing and the light showing SSD activity would almost be constantly on.

Surprisingly, SlingPlayer for Windows viewing is very good (better than YouTube video viewing). It does pause occasionally but not as often as it does during YouTube video viewing even when the netbook is accessing the Slingbox via the internet as opposed to the internal network.

With Windows XP installed, I did not experience the same problem with wireless access which leads me to think that my earlier problem is not a hardware problem but a driver issue.

I find that this netbook is usable for a light user but for heavy users, I would not recommend it. It is slow enough (even with a memory upgrade from 512MB to 2GB) that most people would find it annoying.

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Aluratek's eSATA USB 2.0 2.5” / 3.5” SATA Hard Drive Docking Enclosure Hub - AHDDS100F Review

I purchased Aluratek's eSATA USB 2.0 2.5” / 3.5” SATA Hard Drive Docking Enclosure Hub when it went on sale since after using a similar type device but without a USB hub (from a different manufacturer) at work, I found such a device to be practical. It is plug and play as well as being hot swappable. The docking enclosure easily turns any bare standalone 2.5" or 3.5" SATA hard drive into an external hard drive.

Aluratek makes 2 models of SATA hard drive docking enclosures. They make one with a USB hub as well as one without a USB hub. The one that was on sale (and I purchased) had the USB hub (4 powered USB ports where 3 of the USB ports had connectivity to the attached computer and the remaining 1 USB port could be used only for charging a USB device). I find the added USB hub to be practical since my Acer Aspire One has 3 USB ports (where of the ports is generally being used for the cooling mat).

In order to use this device, you just push a SATA 2.5" or 3.5" hard drive into the slot on the top and turn on the device (there is an on/off switch). The hard drive docking enclosure must be connected either via USB cable to the computer or via an eSATA cable to the computer. After a few seconds, Windows will detect the hard drive and you should be able to access the data. I mention "should" because with the SATA drive that I stored some files on (using the SATA drive docking enclosure from work), the Aluratek docking enclosure was able to detect the drive but it could not mount the encrypted drive. This might of had something to do with the fact that the drive was encrypted with a different docking enclosure from a different manufacturer.

I tested a non-encrypted SATA hard drive from a different system and my netbook didn't have any issues reading it when I inserted it into the docking enclosure. I find the data transfer speed to be as fast as any other USB 2.0 hard drive enclosure. According to the company specifications, it is backward compatible with USB 1.1 specifications although I have not tried it on a USB 1.1 port.

The unit is not heavy-duty (seems to be of cheap construction) but it gets the job done. I have no problems people purchasing such a device when it is on sale.

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Aluratek's USB 2.0 External Slim Multi-Format 8X DVD Reader/Writer with Software Review

I purchased Aluratek's external slim multi-format DVD reader/writer a few months ago when it was on sale.

It is USB powered and requires 2 free USB ports (must be powered ports so if you plug it into a USB hub, the USB hub must be powered by something other than your computer's USB port) on your computer, netbook, or laptop in order to work. The device will not work properly/efficiently in non-powered USB hubs.

I purchased this device mainly to install some software and/or watch DVD movies on my Acer Aspire One. I have not tried this device with the ASUS Eee PC 701SD except to use it in order to install Windows XP Home on the Eee PC. My feeling about using it on the ASUS Eee PC 701 SD is that this netbook is very slow and I wouldn't trust it to burn DVDs since I expect that there will be a lot CD/DVD "coasters" as a result of using this netbook to burn CD/DVD.

According to the specifications, this external DVD reader/burner:
  • Supports DVD R / RW / RAM discs, and CD-R / RW discs
  • Fast and easy burning and copying of CDs and DVDs
  • Writing Speed: 8X DVD+R, 8X DVD+RW, 6X DVD+R DL (Dual Layer), 8X DVD-R, 6X DVD-RW, 6X DVD-R DL (Dual Layer), 5X DVD-RAM, 24X CD-R, and 24X CD-RW
  • Tray loading drive for easy access to media
  • USB 2.0 bus powered, No external power adapter needed
  • Plug-n-Play, No driver needed

I have not tried it with all the formats but for the DVD-R that I did burn, there wasn't any problems. It was also able to read the CD-R and DVD-R burnt from my home PC without any issues.

I only have 2 complaints about this drive. My first complaint about this drive is that (at least with the one that I purchased), it seems to be of cheap construction. In fact, on my unit, the screws were not securely screwed into the unit. I had to do this myself. My second complaint about this drive is that the tray will sometimes be "jammed" when you press the eject button. My feeling as to why this happens is because the tray is at a very slight angle. When the drive becomes "jammed", it requires moving the tray slightly with either a fingernail or a thin small object like a paper clip or small screwdriver. If you do this, the spring will eject the tray.

My personal feeling about this drive is that it is okay but I would only purchase it when/if it goes is on sale because of what I perceive as being "cheap" construction. Even with the "cheap" construction/workmanship, it does get the job done with the things that I used it for. I like the size of it and the fact that it is USB powered (even if it requires 2 USB POWERED ports on the computer/laptop/netbook/hub).

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Friday, November 6, 2009

APC Back-UPS ES 750 Review

I've been using the APC Back-UPS ES 750 for a few months now so I thought that I would write a review on it. UPS for those of you who are unaware is an acronym for uninterrupted power supply. It is basically a backup power supply in case there isn't any electricy.

The unit comes with 10 outlets (5 having surge protection and 5 having battery backup capabilities).  The output power capability is 450 Watts / 750 VA. The company's manufacturer's code is BE750G-CN (which is the Canadian version of the Back-UPS ES 750). Included with the UPS is the user replaceable battery, a USB cable, manual, and CD software.

When I got my UPS, the battery was inside it but the battery terminals weren't connected to the cables. I didn't notice this even though the instructions mentioned this fact (I'm not the type of person who generally reads the manual before using electronic equipment). Once I attached the battery terminals to the cables, everything was working properly.

After plugging the UPS into the AC outlet and plugging my computer and its accessories to the proper outlet on the UPS depending on whether I just wanted surge protection (printer, speakers, desk lamp, etc.) or whether I wanted battery backup (computer, monitor, router, cable modem, etc.).

Three of the surge protection outlets are controlled by one of the battery backup outlets. By this, I mean that if the UPS detects that the item connected to the battery backup outlet is drawing power, these 3 surge protection outlets will have power. I decided to connect my monitor to this special "master" battery backup outlet and connect my speakers and printer to two of the surge protection outlets which were being controlled by the master. This way, when I turned off my monitor (but left my computer running), my speakers would automatically power off (likewise with my printer). When my monitor went into power save mode, these items would also power off.

I connected the USB cable from the UPS to one of the USB ports on my computer and installed the PowerChute Personal Edition software. Even though the UPS came with the software on CD, I decided to download it from the company's website since the version on company's websites are usually more recent than the version shipped with the actual product.

The main purpose of the software is that in the event of a power failure, it allows your computer to automatically shut itself down. However, this isn't really accurate. The software actually doesn't shut down but it provides unattended hibernation. The difference between hibernation and shut down is that with hibernation, the computer is suppose to return to the same state when power is restored. This means that any programs that are running or any documents which are open will remain open and you won't lose your work. With shut down, the computer exits all programs and shuts down the computer so that the next time the computer is powered on, it has to go through the entire booting sequence again. In most cases, hibernation is preferable for UPS systems but personally because hibernation doesn't seem to work properly on my PC when I have a VMware session running, I prefer that the system shut down when there is a power failure. The APC Back-UPS ES 750 only allows for hibernation.

The software has a variety of settings and self tests. It will approximate the run-time of the equipment on battery power based on the battery charge. For example, currently the software estimates that because the UPS is supplying 157 Watts of power (it gets this information via the USB cable), in the event of a power failure, the battery will last approximately 10 minutes. The UPS also has an audible alarm that sounds if the UPS is on battery power. This is user configurable so that in the event of a power failure, if you (like me), don't want the alarm to beep between 22:00 and 9:00, you can configure the UPS via the software so that it doesn't beep during those times.

Even though the battery is replaceable, because of the cost of a new battery (compared with the cost of a new UPS) as well as trying to find a reliable Canadian retailer who sells the battery, I'm not sure if many people living outside the US would replace the battery in 3-5 years when the battery probably needs replacing.

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

CradlePoint CTR350 router (cellular data router) Review

I was shopping for a router that would accept my USB data modem and I came across a company called CradlePoint. I found a Canadian retailer that sold a few of the CradlePoint models and I opted to get the CTR350 model based solely on the price and the size.

I've been using the CradlePoint CTR350 for a few months now and I find that it works very well with my USB data modem (Novatel Wireless MC950D).

The CradlePoint CTR350 router has the standard configurations that most wireless routers have. It also has a few configurations specific to cellphone carriers as well as some configurations that aren't part of most router configurations that I've seen.  In addition, there is an ethernet port on the router that can either be used for fail-over (internet backup) purposes or it can be used as an internet connection for a device that doesn't have wifi capabilities. One of the features that it has which is not cellular specific is it has the ability to scan the wifi channels in the area and use the wifi channel that will offer the least amount of interference. For example, if a nearby router is broadcasting/transmitting using channel 6, the CradlePoint CTR350 router can be configured so that it automatically won't pick the same channel of nearby routers. Using software, I've tested this and it does do this.

In terms of the signal strength, I find it to be quite good and generally I'm within a few meters of the router when I'm accessing it. According to the specifications, the router's range is approximately 200 feet. The router has the standard security settings and supports 64/128-bit WEP, WPA/WPA2 and WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK Encryption Protocols.

I find the cellular router to be very good. It allows me to use my carrier's data network on my various wifi devices. I'm also not limited to using only 1 connection with my cellular carrier's data network (which was a limitation with the USB cellular data modem). I've tested it with my WiFi Skypephone as well as my PDA and I've connected a few items to it at the same time. According to the specifications for this model, this cellular data router is capable of connecting up to 16 devices to the internet at the same time.

The company also updates their firmware on a regular basis, fixing bugs, adding features, and adding support for more cellular data devices.

Some of the things that I like about this cellular data router:
1) It is small.
2) It is easy to configure (or as easy to configure as a regular wireless/wifi router).
3) It is able to change the wireless channel automatically when it powers on.
4) It can be configured to automatically enter your SIM or your device's security PIN.
5) Has some nice (non cellular carrier) features not available/found in regular consumer routers from D-Link, Linksys, etc.

The only thing that I find missing/lacking from this device is it should either be USB powered (which probably isn't doable since the unit requires more than the 5V that can be supplied via USB) or be battery powered (rechargeable). It requires AC power which limits its portability since if for example, I wanted to use it, I would have to make sure that I was able to plug it into an AC outlet which depending on the location is sometimes impossible/difficult. Actually, Cradlepoint does have a portable cellular data router that is battery powered (rechargeable but unfortunately I couldn't find it at any reliable Canadian online retailers which is one of the reasons why I opted to purchase this model.

One other thing about this router is that the range is limited compared to all the home routers that I have used. This router for example would probably not work between floors unless the person accessing it was directly above/below the router's physical location (and obviously depending on the material of the ceiling/floor). The limited range is probably to be expected given the small size and the lack of external WiFi antennas. I would say that the range is better than what you can get with turning on the "personal WiFi hotspot" on some more recent cellphones but by no means does it compare to what you can get with a regular home wireless router with antenna. You can probably extend the range by connecting an external router to the available ethernet port and then configuring that external router as an access point but I did not try this.

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section. 

Monday, November 2, 2009

Novatel Wireless MC950D 7.2 USB Modem – HSDPA/HSUPA/UMTS Networks Review

When I purchased my Acer 8.9" netbook, I wanted to also purchase a USB data modem that would enable my netbook to be truly portable and allow me to access the internet from almost anywhere regardless of whether there was a wifi hotspot available.

Since I had a very large data plan from my cellular service provider that with my phone was next to impossible to use over 2GB and my cellular service provider was offering a locked version of the Novatel Wireless MC950D, I opted to purchase it using my carrier's hardware upgrade system. Even though the device would be locked, I didn't have any immediate plans on using another carrier's SIM card in it.

Included in the box is an installation CD (which contains the Mac installation instructions, user guides, and quick start guide), the cellular carrier's welcome kit (which includes some information about the carrier as well as a new SIM card), a USB extension cable, and a hook holder for the device which is meant to hold the device onto a LCD monitor.

Since my netbook was running Windows XP, installation of the USB data modem was quick and easy. I slid my SIM card into the USB modem and inserted it into one of my netbook's USB ports. My netbook instantly recognized the USB data modem and the Windows installation software automatically launched from the USB stick.

After the installation finished, I rebooted the netbook. When I logged into my netbook, the Novatel Wireless connection software launched and I was prompted for the security PIN for my SIM card (since my SIM card had the security PIN enabled). After entering my SIM's security PIN, the USB data modem flashed for a few seconds before connecting to my carrier's data network. I went to speedtest.net to test the speed that I was getting with the device and I was getting more than 4 Mbits/second download and more than 750kbits/second upload. I was very satisfied with the speed that I was getting with the device (and I'm still very satisfied with the speed that I'm getting with the device).

Currently, the speed that I'm getting from this device on Rogers' wireless network according to speedtest.net is:

My current pingtest.net result is:

With the speed that I'm able to get most of the time, I don't experience any issues with watching YouTube videos or accessing my Slingbox. I've also tried to use VoIP using my carrier's data network and because of the high latency, conversations sometimes get annoying (imagine two people talking at the same time since there is a delay/pause and each person doesn't know the other person is speaking). My feeling is that this has more to do with my carrier's network and less to do with the Novatel Wireless MC950D USB modem but I thought that I would still mention it.

The only negative comment that I have about the Novatel Wireless MC950D is that it gets hot very fast. However, I've kept it plugged into my netbook's USB port for over 24 hours and never had any issues so there shouldn't be any problems. Since the device sticks out of the USB port, it can be damaged easily (or the USB port that it is connected to can get damaged). However, the device does come with a USB extension cord as well as a monitor clip holder for the device so it can easily be placed in a safer place.

One of the benefits of this device is that where-ever I go within my carrier's data coverage area, I have access to the internet on my netbook. When I was staying at a Canadian hotel and the hotel was charging me approximately $15/day for internet access, I plugged the MC950D into my netbook's USB port and I had internet access (and it didn't cost me anything extra). The internet speed in the other Canadian cities is largely dependent on the city but in the Canadian cities that I've visited, I found the internet speed to be acceptable. Often times even when the hotel is giving internet access for free, I find that I'm able to get faster speeds using Rogers' data network and this USB data modem.

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

DID (Direct Inward Dialing) Phone Number

Some people asked me about my telephone service/features and one of the pay services that I use in order to get a DID (direct inward dialing) phone number is from VoIP.ms.

VoIP.ms offers a lot of features and it would be too long for me to go into all the features so you can check out their website.

I only use their service in order to get a phone number to use as a forwarding number. I find their rates very reasonable for this. When I travel to the US with one of my US prepaid cellphones, I will purchase a local Montreal phone number from them so that my friends/family does not have to pay long distance in order to reach me. I set this Montreal number to forward all calls (or only certain calls) to my prepaid US cellphone. I also use them in order to obtain a Canadian (Montreal) number to forward to my Google Voice number.

I've also done this with a toll free number (purchasing a toll free number) from this website but I found that based on the call volume that I was receiving and the extra costs of a toll free number as well as the fact that when I travel to the US over 95% of the people whom I want to be able to reach me for free at located within the Montreal local calling area, in my case, it was not practical.

In order to use the VoIP.ms services, you will obviously have to register on their website. After registering, you will see all the features and prices. Prior to registering, you are only given a brief cost structure for most of their more popular services. Once you've registered, if you want to purchase a phone number or any pay service, you will have to have a positive balance on your account. The company accepts PayPal, credit cards from certain countries, wire transfer, etc. as a means of payment. The minimum payment is $25 via PayPal.

In terms of the price plans for DID phone numbers, there is an unlimited monthly plan and a pay per use monthly plan. Initially, I opted for the unlimited monthly plan but then later opted for the pay per use monthly plan.

Using VoIP.ms, you can also set up your unlocked VoIP router and get phone service similar to what you would get with the locked Vonage router. I haven't tried this myself but it does look like something that I might eventually try in the future. If I do, I will write a blog entry for it  ;-)

Something else that you can do with VoIP.ms is that you can use their service in order to install/configure your own Asterisk server. I haven't done this either but I know someone who has implemented this and it is definitely an interesting project that I might attempt as well.

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

ASUS Eee PC 701SD 7" Netbook running Linux (Xandros GNU) Review

This is my review/thoughts regarding the ASUS Eee PC 701SD which I've been testing for approximately 2 months. Besides the 2 different colours (black or white), there are apparently 2 versions version of the EeePC 701SD. One version comes with Windows XP Home installed and the other version comes with Linux. The netbook that I've been using had Linux installed on it. Based on the documentation, the version of Linux installed on the ASUS EeePC 701SD that I was using was a modified version of Xandros Linux (GNU).

The ASUS Eee PC 701SD has a 7" display screen and a 8GB SSD drive. It also has a 0.3 megapixel webcam, high definition audio, a built-in microphone, and built-in stereo speakers. The lithium ion battery is rated for roughly 3 hours but based on my usage, I got a little less than 2 hours out of it. It also comes with 512 MB of RAM (DDR2).

Some of the notable programs included with this netbook are: Pidgin (multi-protocol/client chat program), Mozilla Firefox, OpenOffice 2.0 (Microsoft Office compatible suite), and Skype. A lot of the other icons on the desktop are what I would consider to be internet favourites/bookmarks. For example, the "Web Mail" application launches a window with Gmail, Hotmail, etc. on it. However, when you click on Gmail, Mozilla Firefox launches and you are brought to the Gmail log-in screen so these aren't really programs. There is also a software/driver updater program somewhat similar to the Windows Update service.

With 512 MB of RAM, I found the netbook to be slow and unresponsive at times so I decided to upgrade the memory. After referring to various websites and contacting ASUS, I was informed that it could go up to 2GB of RAM (single module). I got a 2 GB DDR2 RAM module and it was easy to install. It was very easy to upgrade the memory since unlike the Acer Aspire One that I have which requires removing the keyboard in order to upgrade the memory,with the ASUS Eee PC 701SD, it only required removing 4 screws on the bottom of the laptop, removing the small memory cover/latch located on the bottom of the laptop, removing the 512 MB DDR2 memory module and inserting the 2 GB DDR2 memory module. After the memory upgrade, I noticed a slight speed improvement but I still felt that the netbook was sluggish.

With the upgrade of memory from 512 MB to 2 GB, I found that the ASUS Eee PC 701SD running Linux was a bit faster and a bit more responsive but it was nowhere near as fast or responsive as my Acer Aspire One with 1 GB running Windows XP.

Another problem that I noticed with the ASUS Eee PC 701SD was that the wireless connectivity seemed to be unreliable. The netbook would identify itself as being connected to my router but it could not access the internet after a few minutes (~30 minutes) of use. I went through the process of resetting the software installed on the netbook back to the factory defaults and I had the same problem. I also updated the wireless drivers and had the exact same problem. The fastest (temporary) solution to this problem was to disable and re-enable the wi-fi on the netbook.

I did a search on the internet to see if anyone else had reported a similar problem and I found one or two users who had a similar problem but there was no solution.

With the small 7" size, the keyboard is obviously smaller than the one on my Acer Aspire One 8.9" netbook. I actually find the keyboard almost unusable because it is so small. I find that the smaller keyboard reduces my typing speed by over 50% so I normally use an external USB keyboard with the ASUS netbook.

Something else that I wanted to mention was that the AC power plug's prongs fold. There is a benefit to this as well as a drawback. The benefit with foldable AC prongs is that it is less likely to damage anything (if for example, you put it into your bag). The negative aspect with foldable prongs is that sometimes you have to insert it properly into the outlet otherwise it will fold into the plug.

One of the things that I noticed on this netbook is that if it is plugged into the AC outlet, regardless of whether it is on or not, the USB ports are still being supplied power. This might seem insignificant but if you plug a USB Bluetooth dongle or USB powered speakers or another device that draws power from USB, these devices will still be "on." even when you do a shutdown of your laptop (unless you disconnect the AC power from it). My Acer Aspire One netbook doesn't do this. The only benefit that I see with this is if you are charging a USB device, you might want it to continue charging even if your netbook is powered off.

Since this netbook also comes with Windows XP pre-installed and most of the programs that I wanted to use ran under Windows XP, I decided to install Windows XP Home on this netbook. I had a valid Windows XP Home license that I wasn't using from my old desktop PC. The Windows XP device drivers were available from ASUS's website. The only thing that I was somewhat concerned about was the amount of SSD disk space (8 GB) as well as the CPU speed.

In a subsequent blog entry on the ASUS Eee PC 701SD (entitled "Installing Windows XP on the ASUS Eee PC 701SD"), I will detail my installation of Windows XP Home onto this netbook and the issues that I had and what you should look out for if you also decide to install Windows XP on this netbook.

The blog entry on my experience installing Windows XP on the ASUS Eee PC 701SD is located *HERE*.

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Points of Interest (POI) on a GPS

Whenever someone asks me about the various GPS units that I've used/tested, one of the questions that often comes up is "How many points of interest are included in the GPS?"

For me, the included points of interest aren't very important. I've been using various GPS units for about 5 years and I rarely use the included points of interest. What I find more important is the ability of the GPS to accept new points of interest (POI).

This leads me to the website that I use for my points of interest. The website that I use is POIfriend.com or POIfriend.ca. From this website, you can not only create your own points of interest but you can also download the points of interest that others have created onto your GPS. The website supports various GPS formats including Garmin and TomTom.

Generally speaking, you should download the POIs identified as being "Official." These official POIs are made by the company. For example, Tim Hortons has their official POI *HERE*. For a list of the "Official" POIs, you can click *HERE*.

As a test, I created a set of POIs for TD Canada Trust in the Montreal region. If you also deal with TD Canada Trust and live in the Montreal region, you can download my POI for TD Canada Trust *HERE*. If you bank at Royal Bank (RBC), you can find their official POI for Canada *HERE* (they have other official POIs on the site so depending on your needs, you might want to do a search for "RBC") or if you bank at CIBC, you can find their official POI *HERE*.

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Griffin Technology's radio SHARK 2 Review

I've been testing the radio SHARK 2 by Griffin Technology for a few weeks and a few of my friends have asked me when I would be writing my review of this product on my blog.

Griffin Technology has released 2 versions of the radio SHARK. The visible difference between the 2 versions is that the first release of the radio SHARK is white and the second release of the radio SHARK is black. My review is on the radio SHARK 2 which according to people who have tried/reviewed both versions being the later release of the product is also the better of the 2 products in terms of sound quality and radio reception.

The radio SHARK improves AM/FM radio in much the same way as a generic PVR improves television. It gets its name from the shape (it is shaped like a shark's fin).

The radio SHARK is an AM/FM radio that connects to a PC via USB and allows users to record programs as well as time-shift live radio. Using the radio SHARK, you are able to "pause" live radio with a user defined buffer of up to 99 minutes (with the included radio SHARK 2.1.0 Build 214 software). The radio SHARK is USB powered so you won't need a spare power outlet in order to use it.

In terms of the AM/FM reception, I find the audio from the radio SHARK 2 to be quite good. The radio SHARK 2.0 comes with an external antenna that can be used in the earphone jack. I find that even without the external antenna (or anything) plugged into the antenna/earphone jack, the sound quality is still quite good.

In addition to the external antenna and software CD, the radio SHARK 2 also comes with a USB extension cord. For best reception, I recommend placing the radio SHARK as far away as possible from the computer. I also recommend placing it away from any device that produces strong radio waves like a microwave, wireless router, etc.

When the radio SHARK is on, the lights on the side of it power up (can be user controlled via the included software).

I find that the software included with the product to be somewhat limited. It does what it was designed to do (pause live radio, instantly record the radio, automatically schedule recordings, manually tune to a radio station, change from AM band to FM band, add a particular radio station to your list of favourites, and jump a few seconds forward/backward during a radio broadcast). However, when listening to the radio, there is no time indication on the buffer. The visual buffer length is the same size regardless of how much time is buffered. The software records in 3 formats (WMA, WAV, or MP3) and the software also integrates the recordings into iTunes if necessary. I have not tested the iTunes integration since I didn't have an iPhone, iTouch, or iPod at the time of my testing.

I like the radio SHARK 2 but I found a bug with it. After running the program for a few hours (~5 or 6 hours), on my Vista PC, the audio quality would become incomprehensible for some reason. The sound quality after using the program for 5 or 6 hours becomes very distorted and it seemed as if it was overlapping 2 different radio stations into 1 so it was almost incomprehensible. I have tried various settings in order to fix this myself but haven't been able to. The only solution that I found was that in order to temporarily fix this, I would have to exit the program and restart it. This would of course reset the amount of audio that was already buffered to zero and the buffering would start from zero. I contacted technical support regarding this problem and other than having me uninstall/reinstall the software, they were of little help.

Since the product doesn't prominently appear on the company's homepage, I think that the product will be discontinued soon and they won't fix the problem. I have been able to.

If having the product run 24 hours is important to you, I can't really recommend the product based on my issue with it on my Vista PC. However, if you only plan on running the program for a few hours a day as well as being able to either schedule or manually record your radio programs/stations, it is a decent product. The only thing is that after the scheduled recording, the program will continue to run and after the 5 or 6 hours of running, the sound quality will become distorted again. If your next scheduled program occurs before you're able to reset the sound quality (be exiting the program), you will be recording something incomprehensible. I have created a script which exits the program after my scheduled recording finishes which helps solve this problem.

What I like about recording my radio programs/stations onto my computer's hard disk is that I can use the Aluratek's Internet Radio Alarm Clock with Built-in WiFi and connect to my PC (configured as a media server) so that I can listen to my radio programs when I want even when I'm not in front of my PC. I can also place these radio station recordings onto my MP3 player or onto an iPhone/iPod/iTouch and listen to them when I'm outside of my home network.

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Free Canadian Phone Number (with Free Calling capabilities)

Quite a few people ask me about all the phone numbers that I have as well as the costs associated with the phone numbers. I've already written about magicJack, Skype, some of my GSM service providers, etc. so I thought that I would mention freephoneline.ca.

Freephoneline.ca is a service that I've used to get a free phone number in Toronto. You can see all the free features offered by this service on their website. Using a softphone computer program which can be downloaded from the company's website, you are able to make/receive calls. When you are not logged into the softphone program, you can configure the software to forward to certain Canadian phone numbers free of charge. This is what I did with my Toronto number. I would set it to automatically forward to my Montreal number. This way, people in Toronto could call me in Montreal for free. Unfortunately because I didn't actively use the program, the company canceled my free Toronto phone number.

The company allows 1 free phone number per household. During the registration process, you are asked for the standard personal information (name, address, e-mail address, and contact phone number). You are not asked for any credit card information. Using the contact phone number and your e-mail address, the system calls you in order to complete the authentication process.

The company will continue to conduct their verification process and if the company detects any discrepancies with the registration information that you've provided, you will receive an e-mail informing you that your account has been deleted/canceled even though you've already authenticated yourself via e-mail and via your personal contact phone number.

Based on the information that I've read, the freephoneline.ca service also works with ATA SIP adapter. Unfortunately I've never verified this although I did download the ATA configuration instructions. Using the provided Canadian phone number in your ATA SIP adapter is free as long as you limit your calls to Canadian numbers. It is something that I am looking at trying, if I ever purchase an unlocked ATA VoIP adapter. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the company deleted/canceled my account because of non-use so I will have to get a new free Canadian phone number when I get a chance.

I've also never used the softphone feature. I would assume that the audio quality is similar to the audio quality obtained by other VoIP solutions like Skype, magicJack, etc.

The only thing that I've used the freephoneline.ca service was to forward the Toronto number that they provided me to one of my Montreal numbers. I found that this worked well although once or twice people have informed me that they've called me at the Toronto number and according to them the phone was ringing but my Montreal phone did not ring nor was the call forwarded to my Montreal voice mail box. I find the audio quality of a forwarded call to be good. There was the occasional problem but this might have been due to me forwarding my Toronto number to a Montreal cellphone that had poor coverage.

My actual suggestion for anyone who wants a free Canadian phone number is to install the softphone onto their PC and have it log into their server occasionally in order to keep your account active. I didn't do this since I was only using their service as a free Toronto forwarding phone number to one of my Montreal phone numbers.

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.