Let’s face it: free calls are attractive.
Free long distance and international calls are very attractive.
And free and easy communications is the ultimate.
That’s where MPLAT’s FlashPhone shines: it’s a USB device that’s uses programs like Skype or Google Talk to make calls over the Internet. Even if you’re not on your own computer.
How easy is the FlashPhone to use and how clear are the conversations?
Let’s explore a Telco’s worst nightmare: free calls for everyone…
Some basics first
Most folk are familiar with the fact that you can make free calls over the Internet, using VoIP software like Skype. Have a look at the Skype home page to get more background information.
Normally, you’d need a “softphone” program like Google Talk, Skype, MSN, Xten, SJLabs, Firefly or SIP Phone on both ends of the conversation to make it work. That’s not difficult as these programs are free but not all of your friends might have the same program on their computer. How about when you’re travelling and can use someone else’s computer but don’t want to download Skype on that computer for the occasion? Of if you want to call someone on their mobile or a business contact on their landline?
This is where a device like the FlashPhone F2K from MPLAT has found a niche: It comes pre-loaded with Skype (or you can install your own favourite program on the F2K.)
The FlashPhone F2K is one of a range of VoIP products by MPLAT so you can choose which model best suits you.
The F2K has 128MB internal memory but can also be had in the 256 or 512MB variety.
Not only can you use the storage for saving your chat history but you can also play MP3s if you like whilst plugged in to the host computer (there are no internal batteries) or use it like a standard USB stick.
From the photos you can see that the letter M is surrounded by a circle of Forward/Back/Plus and Minus directional keys. That’s for navigating around your files and Volume up or down. Officially, these keys are for the MPLAT Voice Machine, which is the beta version of their answering machine and recorder.
The unit comes equipped with iPod-like ear bud headset and a brief User Guide.
I decided to divert from my usual routine and read the “manual” first.
The dozen pages in the small, photocopied booklet seem to have gone through the Babelfish washing machine: confusing English, unclear instructions.
For instance, it tells you to download your favourite software, like Skype, before being able to use the device.
You can but when you check the contents of the drive you’ll see that Skype is already pre-installed!
That’s great because it’s now just a matter of plugging the F2K in and away you talk!
Clarity is good but there can be a difference in voice quality in talking to another computer user or whether directly calling a landline of mobile phone. And, there’s a difference in cost…
What do you mean? I thought it was free??
Yes and no.
Remember the “free lunches”? They don’t exist. Somehow or other companies like Skype need to have an income too. So whilst the basic computer-to-computer calls are free, it’s a different story if you call someone who doesn’t have VoIP installed. But there is a cheap solution: SkypeOut.
This will enable you to call a cell phone or landline directly and anywhere in the world at rates that are generally a lot cheaper than the telcos charge.
You need to buy some Skype Credit first: 10 Euros will get you around 10 hours call time to the 20 most popular destinations.
You don’t want to call places like East Timor or Cuba that cost well over a dollar per minute but at 0.017 Euro per minute you can happily chat away to landlines in North America (except Alaska and Hawaii), Australia, Europe and an assortment of other countries. It’s important to check the rates for the country you’re calling to as sometimes calls to mobiles are also included but in most cases you pay a rates that’s 10 times higher than the Global rate!
I found that out the hard way as I jabbered away to my son’s mobile here in Australia which cost me ten times the amount for ringing my brother-in-law’s landline in Holland….
But it’s great to have the convenience to bypass the conventional system, particularly from hotel rooms.
If you really need to know I’ll give you a short list of some of the more interesting specifications.
The FlashPhone is compliant with USB 1.1 and 2.0
It has echo cancellation and loss noise reduction.
Full duplex communication.
Embedded 5V to 3.3V regulator for single external 5V operation.
48 K/44.1KHz sampling rate for both playback and recording.
32-bit DSP to modify and enhance the audio signal.
Dimensions:10.0 (W) x 3.0 (H) x 1.2 (D) cm and it weighs just 90 g
We are giving this product four out of five stars for its ease of use and the fact that it can save you heaps of money.
If they will redo the manual (it needs an editor’s deft hand) it has the potential to be a five out of five star product, particularly now that they have a special on for the F2K until the New Year.
The price will be just under 25 bucks from the normal US$40 price and that includes a USB extension cable.
So now you can drop by at any Internet cafe, plug-in your FlashPhone, chat away and leave no trace.