Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Belkin Laptop Cooling Hub Review

I purchased a Belkin laptop cooling unit for my Acer Aspire One netbook and I like it. The fan is powered either by AC or by USB. The same thing goes for the USB hub portion of the cooling mat. I plug my cooling mat using the AC adapter since I believe that this is better for the USB hub and probably the laptop as well if you plug a lot of things into the USB hub. I plug my USB keyboard and my USB mouse into the spare USB ports on this unit.It is relatively quiet although I did find that it made enough noise to keep me awake sometimes but unless I'm exhausted, I'm a light sleeper.My only real complaint about this product is that there isn't an on-off switch. I'm not sure if the other cooling mats have on-off switches but I think that an on-off switch would be good. When the unit is plugged into the AC outlet, the fan will always work. If it isn't plugged into an AC outlet but is plugged into the laptop's USB port while the laptop is on, the fan will continue to work although based on the noise, the fan is not spinning as fast when powered by USB.

The only thing that would make this product better in my opinion is having more than 1 fan and having an on/off switch. Since I generally use the included AC adapter to power the cooling fan as well as supply power to the USB hub (instead of using the power directly from my netbook's USB port to power the cooling fan and the USB hub), having an on/off switch on the unit and being able to turn off the fan is more convenient than having to unplug the AC adapter.

The good thing about the USB hub on this cooling mat is that it is "powered" when you are using the AC adapter. There are many USB devices that draw a lot of power from the USB port and if it is plugged into an unpowered USB hub, the computer will generally display an error message about there not being enough power on the USB port of the computer to power the devices.

The USB cable on the mat conveniently tucks underneath the unit when it is not being used to power the fan and/or being used as the connector for the USB hub functionality.

For anyone that has a personal laptop or personal netbook, I strongly recommend getting a cooling mat such as this especially if he/she uses his/her laptop/netbook in bed where a laptop/netbook does not have a lot of air circulation underneath the unit.

If you have any questions/comments regarding my review of the Belkin laptop cooling hub, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

T-Mobile Prepaid Cellphone Service Review

I have a few US phone numbers (two are cellphone numbers) so I thought that I would review T-Mobile USA's prepaid phone service.

The first thing to do before getting a prepaid local phone (in this case a US SIM) is to check the coverage map for the carrier. Regardless of the per minute rate, if the carrier does not offer coverage or has very weak coverage in the city that you will be visiting (or the city that you will be using the prepaid phone in), you should not get a prepaid phone from that carrier whether the carrier is CDMA or GSM.

I'm a fan of GSM because I can continue to use my existing unlocked GSM phone by simply using the GSM carrier's SIM card. Most GSM companies will allow customers to use phones that aren't sold by them. There are some exceptions like Net10 (in the US) so it pays to do your homework before purchasing a carrier's prepaid SIM card.

T-Mobile Prepaid is actually my secondary US SIM card. I actually bought T-Mobile prepaid because with my primary US SIM card. The reason that I purchased it was because my primary US SIM card was an AT&T MVNO and at the time, AT&T's native coverage did not include Vermont. I had gone to Burlington (VT) and my primary US SIM card didn't have any coverage.

The first thing to note about T-Mobile prepaid is that in order to activate a T-Mobile SIM card on prepaid, you must have an activation code. The activation code is included with prepaid kits but is not included in any postpaid option. The activation code also can't be purchased from T-Mobile without purchasing a T-Mobile prepaid activation kit or a T-Mobile prepaid phone with activation kit. If you purchase a brand new T-Mobile SIM card, you won't be able to activate it with T-Mobile prepaid. You can only use this SIM card as a replacement for your T-Mobile prepaid/postpaid account or you can use it to sign up for a postpaid plan. Postpaid plans aren't an option for people who don't live in the US and/or don't have a good credit rating in the US.

T-Mobile has two main prepaid plans (for all phones), one prepaid plan for SideKicks, and one what I term "hybrid" prepaid plan. The two main prepaid plans are the "Pay by the Day" plan and the "Pay As You Go" plan. Both plans don't offer data except for something extremely limited call T-Zones which is accessible on some phones.

In this blog entry, I will only write about the "Pay By the Day" plan and the "Pay As You Go" plan since I've tried both of these plans with my T-Mobile prepaid SIM card.

The "Pay By the Day" plan allows for unlimited nationwide calling from 7pm to 7am. It also allows unlimited calls to any T-Mobile number. All other nationwide calls outside of the 7pm to 7am time period are charged $0.10 per minute. There is a daily charge of $1 per day for every day that the phone is used. On days that the phone is not used, there is no charge.

The "Pay As You Go" plan offered staggered per minute rates for nationwide usage which range from approximately $0.33 per minute downto $0.10 per minute. The staggered per minute rate depends on the airtime top-up purchase. The lower the airtime top-up, the higher the per minute rate. The lowest airtime purchase available is $10 and the highest airtime purchase is $100. For any purchase under $100, the expiry date is 90 days. The expiry date is not cumulative. By this I mean that if the current expiry date is 7 days when you refill (top up) your account and you purchase airtime that offers a 90 day expiry, you will get 90 days and not 97 days. For a purchase of $100, you not only get the preferential per minute rate of $0.10 per minute for nationwide usage, you also get the benefit of a 365 day expiry and something called "Gold Rewards."

"Gold Rewards" is a benefit that allows any airtime purchase (top up) to have an expiry date of 365 days. It also allows for an extra 15% more minutes for all airtime purchases under $100. It can be obtained only on the "Pay As You Go" plan and not on the "Pay By the Day" plan. However, once it is obtained and you switch from "Pay As You Go" to "Pay By the Day", if you were ever to switch back to "Pay As You Go", you will benefit from "Gold Rewards" again. Customers obtain "Gold Rewards" after they've exceeded $100 in total airtime since the life of the account. They can either do this by purchasing low airtime top-up amounts until they reach $100 (subsequent purchase will qualify for Gold Reward benefits) or they can instantaneously purchase a $100 airtime top-up (immediate access to Gold Rewards).

T-Mobile prepaid charges long distance to call outside of the US. To call Canada, it is an extra $0.50 per minute added to the per minute rate which will give an effective rate of approximately $0.88 per minute downto $0.60 per minute. T-Mobile prepaid also offers roaming in both Canada and Mexico (but no other countries). The per minute rate to use the phone in Canada is $0.69 per minute while in Mexico, it is $1.49 per minute.

T-Mobile prepaid charges for incoming SMS and outgoing SMS. They don't offer any SMS packages nor do they allow for SMS to be disabled on the account. They also don't offer call forwarding and if the voice mail is disabled, the caller will go to the voice mail system without an option of leaving a message. If the caller is paying for the call, it will be interpreted as if the call was completed and he/she will be charged for the call (ex: calling from a payphone/cellphone). When in Canada, I've sometimes gotten charged $0.69 for calls to my T-Mobile number that I don't pick up and go to my non-existent voice mail box while other times, I don't get charged.

Unlike with Canadian prepaid, there is no 911 chargs and no other monthly charges for T-Mobile prepaid.

Some useful T-Mobile prepaid free short codes:
  • #NUM# or #686# - Displays phone number of current SIM
  • #999# - Prepaid balance.
  • *#06# - Display IMEI of phone
  • *ADD or *233 - Refill Account Airtime

A few of the things that I don't like about T-Mobile prepaid:
  • They don't offer any form of "true" data (even pay per use)
  • They  don't offer call forwarding
  • They don't allow for the disabling of SMS
  • They don't offer any online means to track/monitor your cellphone usage/charges
  • They charge an extra $0.50 per minute to call Canada.

A few things that I like about T-Mobile prepaid:
  • Gold Rewards expiry date policy
  • They allow roaming in Canada and Mexico

Since I've already achieved "Gold Reward" status, I currently keep my T-Mobile prepaid account active by topping up my account with a $10 airtime purchase every < 365 days. Because of my $10 top-ups, my per minute rate however is now not $0.10 per minute but it is less than $0.33 per minute (since I had airtime remaining from my initial $100 airtime purchase).

T-Mobile prepaid (Pay As You Go) makes a good choice for someone who visits the US occasionally and does not want a high cost to maintain/keep the account. After the first $100, as mentioned above, it will only take $10 per year to keep the prepaid account. The airtime balance will carry forward as long as the airtime top-up is done before the expiry date. Granted, the per minute rate after a few years will approach $0.33 per minute when this is done but for Canadians, $0.33 per minute to use a phone in the US is often times a lot cheaper than the roaming rates that some Canadian (or non-US) carriers will charge when using the phone in the US. For example, with Rogers prepaid, the charge to use the phone in the US is an incredible $2 per minute!

If you have any questions/comments regarding my review on T-Mobile prepaid, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

TomTom Go 930 Review

Here is my review and thoughts about  the TomTom Go 930 GPS.

My first GPS was the TomTom Navigator 5 for Palm which I used both on my Palm TX and my Palm Treo 650. I later tried a friend's Garmin GPS unit (entry level) on a trip and because my Palm-based GPS was 2 parts (a bluetooh GPS receiver/transmitter as well as my bluetooth-enabled Palm phone/PDA), I thought about getting a dedicated GPS unit.

Between my friend's Garmin GPS unit that I borrowed and my PalmOS TomTom Navigator, I personally preferred the TomTom. When the TomTom Go 930 GPS went on sale (probably because it was going to be discontinued for the TomTom Go 940 which was already available in Europe but not in Canada), I purchased it. I was looking for a full featured GPS and the TomTom Go 930 (at the time, it was the top of the line GPS unit by TomTom) offered almost everything that I was looking for. The TomTom Go 930T also interested me but after doing some research, I opted only to get the TomTom Go 930. The only difference between the "T" model and the "non-T" model is that the "T" model includes a traffic antenna to pick up the over the air traffic information. The traffic information obtained via the traffic antenna carries a monthly/yearly charge and is very limited in Canada (broadcasts only in certain cities and only during certain times). In Europe, receiving the traffic information is free with the traffic antenna.

When you purchase the TomTom GPS (or any GPS for that matter), make sure that if you turn it on, you update it on your computer. The reason for this is that the various manufacturers (TomTom, Garmin, etc.) give you a free update if the currently available map is later than the version on your device. It depends on the manufacturer but they generally will give you roughly 30 days from when the GPS is first turned on to get your free map update (if you don't already have the latest map on your device). After 30 days or so, if you didn't download the latest maps, you will be charged for the maps.

Included with the TomTom Go 930 GPS is the GPS unit itself (containing maps for Canada, the United States, Alaska, Hawaii, and parts of Europe), instructional booklets, the TomTom Home software for your PC on CD, the windshield glass mount, a piece to place the windshield glass mount on top of the dashboard (either by drilling into the dash or using some type of adhesive), a mini-USB car charger, a USB docking station (for charging as well as synchronizing/updating maps), and a bluetooth remote control with holder.

What I like about the TomTom Go 930 GPS is that it has a bluetooth remote control (requires 2 x AAA batteries). With the remote control, I can easily go through the menu options in order to pick my selection without having to reach for the touchscreen while driving.

The TomTom Go 930 GPS also has a built-in FM transmitter and as such the sound (driving instructions, MP3 files, or speakerphone) can be redirected to your car's FM radio. The user selects the FM frequency so all you have to do is select an FM frequency that isn't used in the area that you're in or visiting.

The TomTom Go 930 GPS is equipped with the bluetooth handsfree profile so when paired with a compatible bluetooth enabled cellphone, it can do things like read your SMS messages as they are received, display the incoming phone number on the display (when a call is received and if you have/subscribe to your carrier's CallerID service, act as a handsfree speakerphone, and access the carrier's data service from the phone (in order to get weather reports {free} or traffic conditions {paid service but not available in Canada}). With my SonyEricsson w300i, the TomTom Go 930 was able to do everything (read SMS, access carrier's data network, act as a handsfree speakerphone, etc.). However, with my Treo 650/680 phones, it was only able to act as a handsfree speakerphone. Testing it with a Nokia N95-4 8GB, I found that it wasn't 100% compatible with this phone and it would often not be able to connect sometimes even after it was paired. I also tested the bluetooth pairing with a SonyEricsson c510 and the TomTom Go 930 was able to do everything with this phone as well.

The GPS is also capable of text to speech and will pronounce the street names. In a French speaking province, some of the names sounded awkward but when I used the GPS in Ontario and in parts of the US, I found the street name pronunciation to be quite good. It can also use voice as a means to input certain instructions and addresses. I found the voice recognition to be extremely limited (not very accurate) as least with my voice except when my verbal instruction was just a "yes" or "no" answer. During my tests, the voice recognition was maybe 66% accurate (with my voice). I felt that it was accurate more than 50% of the time (but less than 75% of the time).

The TomTom GPS is also capable of playing MP3's from SD cards and via firmware update, it is also able to use SD-HC cards. The GPS can also view JPG files from the SD card.

The GPS allows users to make minor types of modifications with the maps such as changing the maximum speed on streets, changing the traffic flow of the street, modifying certain corners/intersections where only certain types of turns are allowed, and changing the name of the street. Once you make the changes, you can synchronize with your PC and other TomTom users' corrections/modifications. TomTom collects the map corrections and the TomTom Home software downloads them to your PC and synchronizes/uploads the changes to your GPS. You can specify if you want the other users' downloads or whether you want only the verified corrections to be uploaded to your device. The GPS also allows you to enter POIs (points of interest).

TomTom recommends synchronizing the GPS using the TomTom Home software at least once every 7 days. The reason for this is that the software uploads the GPS satellite locations for 7 days onto your GPS unit in order for the GPS unit to quickly lock onto the GPS satellites instead of trying to find the GPS signals which according to TomTom, each satellite transmits roughly every 30 seconds.

Besides some of the features that I've already mentioned, one of the things that I like about this GPS (unlike my Palm-based GPS and the Garmin entry level GPS) is that if I stray away from the planned route for whatever reason, the GPS will automatically adjust and recalculate the route based on my new location and direction. With my old Palm-based TomTom GPS, it would keep trying to get me onto the original route (and maybe the particular road was closed which was why I was making a detour).

There are a few problems that I noticed with the TomTom Go 930 (at least with my unit). None of these problems happened in the beginning so I believe that the problems were a result of a firmware/software upgrade that I applied to the unit. The first problem that I noticed is that occasionally, when I press the power button, the unit will not power on. To fix this problem, I have to reset it either by keeping my finger pressed on the button for about 10 seconds or using a small pin, I would have to push the reset button on the bottom of the unit. The second problem that I noticed is that occasionally, when manually resynchronizing the time with the GPS satellites (I like to do this approximately once a week), the synchronized time will be 30 minutes off. Normally, the unit should be accurate for the minutes and depending on the time zone, I would have to adjust the hours. This happens maybe about 5% of the time and I believe that it is dependent on the number of satellites that the GPS is currently locked onto (the more locked satellites, the better).

There is a feature on this GPS called Advanced Lane Guidance. Unfortunately this doesn't work in Canada. I did try it in the US (in Las Vegas) and it did work. Advanced lane guidance tells you which lane to be in using a graphical front-view of the street (generally highway). On a 4 lane expressway, instead of hearing the voice tell you to stay on the right lane, you will see a graphical front view picture showing you to stay on, for example, lane 3.

There is only 1 thing that I don't like about TomTom GPS units (since I live in the province of Quebec). I don't like one way that TomTom has implemented the street names. This happens on the TomTom Go 930 as well as on the 3 TomTom units/models that I've tested. This issue is evident in the province of Quebec because when entering the street name, you must know whether it is a street (rue) or avenue or boulevard or road since the street names are generally in French. In French, the description (street, avenue, boulevard, etc.) are at the beginning of the name. If you are looking for Decarie (in Montreal), you have to start typing "boul. Decarie." Typing only "Decarie" will not find the Decarie Boulevard (or boulevard Decarie).

There is also another feature called Enhanced Positioning Technology. This works relatively well but in no means is it perfect. Enhanced positioning technology allows the GPS to provide a "guesstmate" of your actual position when/if you drive into an area that suddenly loses GPS signal (maybe an overpass or driving in a city with many tall skyscrapers). It accomplishes this by sensing movement and speed. It then does a "guessimate" of your actual position. Once the GPS satellite signal is reacquired, the TomTom will show you your actual position.

If you have any questions/comments regarding my review on the TomTom Go 930, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Aluratek's Internet Radio Alarm Clock with Built-in WiFi Review

I've tried Aluratek's Internet Radio Alarm Clock with Built-in WiFi for a few weeks and here are my thoughts regarding this product.

Even though I've experienced a few bugs with this product, overall, I like it. However, I consider it to be somewhat expensive with a suggested retail price of $160+taxes+shipping (USD) when it isn't on sale and would probably not spend that much for what amounts to a fancy FM radio alarm clock with built in WiFi.

The internet radio stations are organized relatively well. They are organized by country or genre. My only negative comment is that sometimes the genre is not correct. For example, CJAD (a Montreal news talk AM station) is in the "news" genre and not the "news talk" genre. There are some other "mistakes" for example, I went through the "business" genre because I wanted to listen to some business news/stations and there were a few stations that sounded like regular news stations.

There are lots of internet radio stations listed in the menu. Some of them weren't playable. According the manual or the company's FAQ, this is probably because too many users are currently listening to that internet radio station.

The first thing that I did when I plugged in the internet radio was to update the firmware since it wasn't able to connect to my Linksys router for some reason. After updating the firmware for the internet radio, I was able to connect seamlessly.

The time can be manually set or it can be automatically set via NTP. I've noticed an occasional problem with the date and time. The problem is that sometimes it would randomly change to a totally random date/time. When I first started using the internet radio, this happened when I accessed the menu either via the remote control or by using the buttons on the radio itself. After contacting technical support and updating the firmware, the date/time didn't randomly change after I made a few menu selections using the remote control or the buttons on the top of the radio. However, I still have a problem with the day/time changing to a random date/time sometimes when the alarm goes on and I press the snooze. This problem doesn't happen all the time when I press the snooze or stop button but it does happen occasionally. Aluratek's technical support department has been helpful but my problem with the date/time randomly changing after pressing the stop/snooze button when my alarm goes on still happens occasionally. I haven't investigated whether this is because the time is set to synchronize with a NTP server and/or whether I'm using WiFi. Because of this bug/problem, I don't recommend using it as an alarm clock unless you're one of the people who never press the snooze button when the alarm goes on.

The unit does not have a battery backup but it will remember certain settings during a power failure. When the power is returned, if the clock is set to synchronize with the NTP server, the date/time will be correct.

One of the things that I like about this internet clock radio is that it has WiFi and it also has a LAN connection. Using the LAN connection, the internet clock radio can also double as a network access point for some of your other wireless devices. I haven't investigated this option since I am able to access the WiFi signal almost anywhere in my place so there is little need for me to use the internet clock radio as an access point.

The internet clock radio has a USB port which is used to update the firmware. The internet clock radio can also play MP3 files off a USB device (hard drive or USB memory stick) plugged into the USB port.

One of the features I like a lot about the Aluratek's internet radio alarm clock is that it can access a PC that is configured as a media server or a non-PC media server and play the MP3 files from a media server which is connected to the same internal network. I have a collection of MP3 audio files on my PC and I'm able to listen to the MP3 files on my internet radio clock in my bedroom.

The unit's display is somewhat bright and it cannot be dimmed. The display can only be turned on or off. There is also a preset so that it can always stay on or it can stay on for up to 30 minutes after the last command/button is pressed either on top of the radio or on the remote control.

If you have any questions/comments regarding my review on Aluratek's Internet Radio Alarm Clock with Built-in WiFi, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tivo Series 2 Dual Tuner PVR Review - Part 1

After purchasing a Tivo Series 2 Dual Tuner PVR about 2 years ago and using it, I thought that it was time for me to write a review of Tivo features as well as my outdated Tivo Series 2 Dual Tuner PVR.

Tivo was available in the US for awhile but was officially made available to some Canadian stores (with the exception of Quebec) on December 2007.

I actually purchased my Tivo a few months before the official launch news in Canada from a user on Ebay after having a conversation with a co-worker. I was under the mistaken impression that Tivos would not work in Canada or with Canadian programming. He informed me that Series 2 Tivos were compatible in Canada and the prior version could be hacked so that some of the features would work. He informed me that Tivos could also be hacked so that customers could use some of the features without paying a monthly fee. I talked with him about the subscription charges and he mentioned the price as well as there being a lifetime option available sometimes. I searched on Ebay for a Canadian seller who was selling a Series 2 Tivo with lifetime subscription and found one.  Even though I was using digital satellite television and not analogue cable, I opted for the dual tuner version (can only use 1 tuner if used with satellite) because it had a built-in ethernet port whereas the other Series 2 Tivos required the extra expense of purchasing a Wi-Fi USB network card.

After I received my Tivo, I called Tivo and transferred the account to my name. I then set it up for my television service provider using the menu. I could either connect the Tivo to a phone line or to my network. I opted for the network which would give it somewhat additional functionality. The television schedule guide was then downloaded to my Tivo.

In Part 2, I'll write about some of the things that the Tivo is capable of doing. Since Tivos have a lot of features, depending on how much I cover, there might be a part 3, part 4, etc.   ;-)

If you have any questions/comments regarding my "Part 1" on Tivo Series 2 Dual Tuner PVR, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fidelity Electronics' VPC (Very Personal Computer) Review

This is my review of Fidelity Electronics' VPC which stands for "very personal computer."

The first week that it was released, I saw the description on Canadian Tire's flyer along with the special price. Based on the description and special price, I decided to get it as a secondary netbook. I already had a 8.9" Windows XP based netbook) but because I wanted something smaller to view internet streaming videos in my bedroom and I often left my Windows XP netbook elsewhere, since I had a lot of Canadian Tire money and there wasn't anything at Canadian Tire that I really wanted to get with my Canadian Tire money, I thought that I would get the VPC.

The VPC's description on Canadian Tire flyer read:
7" Fidelity VPC - Very Personal Computer. The perfect solution for students or parents on the go! Built-in Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity. Edit and save in multiple formats: MS Word(TM) & Excel(TM), PDF viewer, calculator, file manager, e-dictionary, e-reader, and e-calendar. Stream video straight from YouTube(TM). 4GB internal memory and 128 MB RAM. 1 SD card slot & 2 USB ports. While quantities last.

I purchased this product on August 22 and after trying this product for only a few hours, I realized why Canadian Tire had a no refund policy on this product. When I purchased the product there was no mention that the product could only be exchanged for the exact same product in case of problems within 30 days and that refunds weren't allowed.

I can't really recommend this product for the typical user unless he/she plans on using the built-in non-internet programs. The interface and programs installed on it are extremely limited and it runs a very limited version of Linux. Lots of websites (more advanced websites) don't work properly like GoogleMaps, Flash enabled websites, etc.

When I purchased the product, I wasn't able to connect to my wireless router right away. Updating to the latest firmware via the company's website (v1.1) allowed me to connect to my wireless router (WPA encryption). YouTube was advertised to work on the Fidelity VPC via special instructions (which are indicated in the manual) but after the firmware upgrade, YouTube viewing was still not possible (following the special instructions found in the VPC instruction manual).

The system out of the box didn't seem to accept my router's encryption scheme (WPA). I updated the firmware by downloading the new firmware to an SD card and rebooting the VPC. I noticed that the SD card slot on the VPC seemed to be reversed or upside down on (or at least mine doesn't go into the machine in the standard fashion like all other PCs).

The VPC includes a limited browser, an e-mail program, chat program, a word processor, a spreadsheet program, adobe acrobat reader, a dictionary, a calculator, a file manager, a music player, a media player, an image viewer, 2 games, a recorder, a paint program, and an e-book reader.

For very basic functions, it is okay/good (word processing, spreadsheet handling, games, picture viewing, etc.). A pre-teenager would probably be able to use this.

I contacted Fidelity Electronics' technical support department regarding the problem with YouTube videos and within 1 day, they updated their firmware (to v1.2). After updating the firmware to v1.2, the VPC was now capable of steaming the YouTube videos. However, after a few seconds of streaming, it was apparent that the audio and video was becoming out of sync as the video continued to play. I contacted Fidelity Electronics' technical support department and about 1 week later, they came out with an improved v1.2 which was able to properly stream the YouTube videos.

A few things I noticed about the VPC are:
1) It does not handle hidden SSIDs so if your wireless router is set to not broadcast the SSID, the VPC won't be able to connect to it.
2) When you enter the encryption password, it is in plain text and if you want to connect to it again, the VPC will display the encryption password. If someone is behind you at the time that you connect, they will see the encryption password. There is no "auto-connect" feature.
3) The browser is extremely limited in what it can do and what webpages it can access.
4) The VPC is slow in terms of responsiveness regardless of whether you are using one of the internet applications or one of the non-internet applications.
5) The battery is not removable (I'm the type of person who prefers using the AC power without the battery in the laptop/netbook unless I'm charging the battery/laptop).
6) The SD card will only read SD cards (<= 2GB). It will not read SD-HC cards (> 2GB).

As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn't really call the VPC a true "netbook" like the low cost ones produced by Acer, Asus, etc.. The VPC might be adequate for a pre-teen but I can't really recommend it for anyone else.

A shorter version of this review appears on the Canadian Tire website.

If you have any questions/comments regarding my review on Fidelity Electronic's VPC, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Vonage Talk Alpha Abandoned/Decommissioned

Vonage Talk for people unfamiliar with it was a free softphone application for Vonage customers similar to Skype, Gizmo5, etc. where customers could make phone calls to Canada/US numbers and have their Vonage numbers display on the call display of the recipient's phone. Another feature of Vonage Talk was that anyone calling you could answer calls with the Vonage Talk software whenever someone called your Vonage number. The Vonage system accomplished this by creating a SimulRing to an additional number which represented your VonageTalk software client login. The Vonage Talk software also allowed you to enter and use certain instant messaging protocols like MSN, Yahoo, and GoogleTalk somewhat similar to Pidgin and Trillian. Vonage Talk Alpha was abandoned/cancelled earlier this month. I received a voice mail from them informing me that it was cancelled. A transcript of the voice mail message is here:
"Hello from Vonage. We want to thank you for helping us try out our Vonage Talk Alpha feature. Since the Alpha test of this product is now finalized, Vonage Talk Alpha has been decommissioned. If you like Vonage Talk, give our updated product Vonage Companion a try. It's available as part of our Vonage Pro plan. You can sign up for Vonage Pro online at Thanks again for your participation."
Since I had a hardware USB Vonage solution with limited minutes (my plan no longer exists on the Canadian Vonage website.), I was able to use Vonage Talk for free. Since I almost always had access to a phone whether it was a cellphone or a landline, I was only an occasionally user of Vonage Talk. I used it whenever I travelled and had internet access and my laptop. The quality was not the best but for short calls, I found it okay and since it deducted from Vonage minutes which I rarely used, I didn't have to pay extra to call anyone in Canada/US. Even if I was interested in paying extra and signing up for Vonage Compagnion as outlined in the voice mail message (which I'm probably not because my current Vonage price plan suits me), it isn't available in Canada (to Canadian Vonage subscribers). It is only available to US Vonage customers. Vonage Talk was one of the things that I liked about Vonage because without the USB Vonage adapter, I could appear as if I'm making the call from "home" regardless of my physical location. I could also accept the call on my laptop regardless of whether I had the USB Vonage adapter with me or not. Even though I wasn't a frequent user of Vonage Talk, I'm sorry to see it go. Without Vonage Talk, since I don't use my Vonage USB account a lot, I might give it up as I'm currently investigating some other Canadian VoIP companies. The only thing is that is giving me some hesitation is that my Vonage price plan no longer exists and once I cancel it (and port the USB number to another provider), I won't be able to get it back. Even though I don't have an iPhone (yet), one of the reasons I still haven't cancelled my Vonage account yet is because of the Vonage iPhone application. The Vonage iPhone application has apparently has been approved but is currently being tested before being released. If the Vonage iPhone application has the features that interests me and doesn't require a new Vonage subscription/account (similar to what Vonage Talk Alpha offered), it might make me stay with Vonage as well as make me purchase an iPhone 3G/3GS.

If you have any questions/comments regarding my post on Vonage Talk Alpha, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

First Blog Entry

A few of my friends suggested to me that I create a review blog with some of the electronic items that I've purchased or tested over the years. I've always wanted to do this so I've decided to give it a try. I'll be reviewing some of the electronic gadgets that I have as well as some of the software that I've tried. I might also review other things like restaurants, hotels, websites, books, etc. as well as talking about interesting things that come up in my day to day life but most of the time I'll probably be reviewing gadgets.