Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Skype + IPEVO Free-1 USB Skype Handset

I admit it. I'm a Skype geek.


Even though Skype is no longer free, it's still the best deal in town. For only about fifty bucks a year, you get unlimited inbound and outbound phone calls in the US and Canada. Skype still feels a bit “in beta” sometimes – there's no outbound caller ID, and sound quality suffers as your net connection suffers, but these are bugs that'll get worked out eventually. And, it couldn't be any more convenient. Plug a headset into your laptop, whether you're in Topeka or Tanzania, and calls to your local (home) phone number ring through to you.


Not to mention, if you work in technology, and/or have cool friends, you'll be able to convince other people to sign up for Skype, too. Then you can call each other completely outside of the telephone network, and talk completely for free, even if neither party is signed up for a Skype In or Skype Out phone plan.


It makes my laptop into the world's largest cell phone that works anywhere you've got wifi (or wireless broadband). I travel all the time, and it's great to be able to hop on at a Starbucks or in my hotel room and take care of all of my calling needs without using up cell phone minutes. And when I'm working from home, it's my business phone. Let's face it, in this modern age, who has a land line any more? I sure don't. And I'm not so good with keeping track of my cell usage. I seem to run over every couple of months. So, to get around that, I use Skype as often as possible.


But, for casual calling, a headset is annoying. It uses up your headset port and microphone port. Not a big deal with the microphone, but for the headset, it blocks your speakers, making it tough to listen to iTunes or soma fm while you're waiting for a phone call.


IPEVO FREE-1 USB Handset


That's where the IPEVO Free-1 USB Handset for Skype comes in. I've had this for a few months now, and it works really well. Load the driver, plug it into a USB port, and suddenly it's not Skype – it's just a phone. Pick it up, dial a number, hit go, and away you go. Hit the Skype menu button, and up pops a list of your contacts for you to scroll through. Hit dial and the call is connected.


When I first got it I was afraid it'd seem cheesy and too lightweight for every day use. I was wrong. The thing looks small, but it's big enough to be comfortably balanced in your hand. It sits face up or face down when not in use. The microphone is at the far bottom, just past a bit of open space. This is supposedly to help reduce echo when talking. I'm not sure if it actually has any affect, but the sound quality is great. People come through loud and clear, and people can hear me just fine.


The best feature about this is that you can configure Skype, and your Sounds control panel, so that Skype will always use the handset, and other apps will always use the computer's normal speaker and microphone ports. That way I can have my speakers connected to my desktop's line out connection, but still have Skype up and running, without any interference.


I've only got a couple of peeves with the handset. One, when the phone rings, the ringer isn't quite loud enough. If you're in the same room as the phone, it's fine. But, if you're three rooms away and have the stereo on, you're never going to hear it ring. Second, there's no headphone plug. Just about every cell phone and cordless phone has one of those little mini-plug ports to plug in a hands free headset. Why doesn't this device have one? Still, these are minor quibbles, and overall, I'm very satisfied with it.

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