Verizon Hub Phone Review

via Gizmodo by matt buchanan on 4/23/09

The Verizon Hub is unstuck in time. It’s a 2006 device that’s just getting here, now, in 2009, begging the question, “Is it better to be late than never?”

The Hub is a landline slayer launched in a wireless world, where the landline is almost dead. It’s a fertile garden behind a red-painted wall—red ’cause it’s Verizon, har har—found when most people are trying to break down those walls. It’s a Verizon Wireless VoIP phone coming about at a time when AT&T is killing their VoIP service entirely. It’s the phone we imagined before the iPhone, tethered to our home broadband connection for instant-pizza-ordering awesomeness. In other words, it’s a lot of interesting things, appearing in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

That’s not to say it’s bad. It’s just unfortunate. The Hub makes sense in a very specific context: If you’re a lock, stock and barrel Verizon customer, from wireless to TV to internet to, obviously, landline phone service. That’s where the “Hub” name comes in—it brings a bunch of different Verizon services together in one spot: You can monitor cellphone locations using Verizon’s Chaperone, send maps and directions from the Hub to phones running VZ Navigator, and manage a central calendar that your entire family’s phones sync to. Eventually, you’ll be able to do more, like manage your Verizon FiOS TV DVR. While a minor point, in a sense it’s a very sore point with the Hub, since you can already do that from many Verizon cellphones this very second. Why do I need a Hub again?

The garden walls reach their greatest heights when you try to text or picture message to a non-Verizon phone—you can’t. The calendar isn’t open, using a standard like CalDAV for easy export—it’s squarely in Verizonland. A surprising amount of managing the Hub actually takes place on Verizon’s website, like uploading contacts (via CSV files) and photos. Thankfully, the Hub’s pages are better designed than the rest of Verizon’s website—there’s legit eye candy in the photo gallery, for instance. And nearly anything you can do on the Hub itself, you can do from the website remotely, like manage voicemail or check your call history. But it’s odd you can’t do something very simple like upload photos via the Hub’s USB port.

It doesn’t really matter if there are walls around the garden if you’re never tempted to leave. Unfortunately, the Hub isn’t enough of an attraction. Pretty much anything you can do on it—buy movie tickets, send text messages, check traffic or watch videos, you can do faster or better on your computer or cellphone. The virtually useless selection of VCAST videos make the average YouTube video feel like HD in comparison, and the “traffic report” isn’t a map with live traffic info, but a canned audio briefing from Traffic.com that you have to sit through an ad to hear.

The Linux OS itself isn’t particularly a joy. God knows, Verizon’s committed some horrible user interface atrocities over the last few years, but at least the Hub’s is alright—usable, not mind-blowing. I wish it moved faster. The keyboard is annoying to type on, but it’ll get better in the next software update, which adjusts the spacing and adds pop-up letters. A persistent set of buttons on the left gives you constant, instant access to the two main menus: The phone and the uh, menu, where you get to your apps. In the top right corner is the home button, which takes you to the desktop, where your widgets, like for weather, time, voicemail, etc. hang out. Applications tend to have a two-pane layout that’s framed by buttons on three sides, which doesn’t sound like a problem, but it becomes one since the touchscreen is not so responsive around the edges. I’ve accidentally called two people at 3 in the morning while trying to press the menu button. Not cool.

Actually, that’s one of my more concrete frustrations with this phone: The hardware feels cheap and shitty. The handset, which costs $80 a pop, is a plastic piece of garbage with a shoddy build quality and terrible screen. (It doesn’t help that you can’t do much from the handset either, like send text messages.) The touchscreen isn’t as responsive as it should be, and it distorts with even the slightest bit of pressure, adding to the whole crappy feeling. A screen designed to be touched shouldn’t freak out when you touch it. The speakers really harsh, crappy and tinny too. I couldn’t stand using it for loudspeaker calls.

There are a few bright points. While the directory isn’t as precise as say, MenuPages, it is fairly painless to find a nearby pizza place and call them in a single stroke. The synergistic—I know, that word provokes a gag reflex—stuff works well. Directions quickly went to the Samsung Sway test phone I got with it, which promptly fired up VZ Navigator and pointed to wherever I pointed it. (Too bad VZ Navigator is slow and sucky, but that’s somewhat besides the point.) And the call quality itself is pretty good—or at least I sounded “loud and clear” to the people I called.

The brightest light may end up being the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel—the promise that developers will be able to create their own apps for this thing in the future. The included ones, for the most part, just aren’t that hot, and some of the newer ones in the pipeline are definitely more head-turning. But it’s hard to see how this product can sustain itself long enough to engender a solid third-party developer community. More likely, it’ll get slightly better, then go extinct.

It’s pretty ballsy to charge $200 for a landline phone with $35/month VoIP service right now, one that does the same thing you can do on an iPhone or G1, but is tied to your desk. Which is a lot of the reason I like it. But it’s just as ridiculous to ask that much for a phone that’s built with subpar hardware and doesn’t live up to its full potential in a world where it’s already horribly outmoded. Time was up two years ago.

[Verizon]

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Skype to launch unlimited international calling plan

via Download Squad by Brad Linder on 4/21/08
Skype unlimited plans

Have friends, relatives, or business contacts located in faraway lands? Internet telephony company Skype is launching its first plan that lets you make unlimited international PC to telephone calls, assuming you’re calling a landline in one of 34 countries covered by the plan.

Most of Europe is covered, as well as the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.The $9.95/month plan doesn’t cover calls to cellphones in all areas, but you can call mobile phones in the US, Canada, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Or you can just convince everybody you know to install Skype on their computers and mobile phones so you can make Skype to Skype calls for free.

[via AP]

$400 Ooma Gives You Free VOIP and Landline Calls for Life

ooma_purdy.jpg
Companies such as Vonage had better look to their laurels, as new kid on the block Ooma is looking to steal their thunder with a product that offers VOIP calls – but with a twist. From September, you will be able to get your hands on the Ooma, a hub that combines VOIP with regular landlines. But you have to shell out a lot of dosh first…

And that’s $400 – or $399, to be exact. This is what happens. You buy your Ooma Hub and connect it. It gives you free internet calls, but also works with your existing landline. If you have to dial 911 it does so on your landline (VOIP apparently can have problems connecting to the emergency number). International calls are automatically routed through the internet – which means they are gratis.

There are other benefits as well: Ooma gives you a virtual second line, meaning that if another call comes in while you are already on the phone, your butler/gimp/special friend/warthog can answer it from another extension. It comes with a built-in answering machine, and you can check your messages and call logs online. So, kind of like Skype, but not Skype.

WSJ’s Mossberg has just had a go on one and gave it the Walt thumbs-up, with just one niggle: he had a bit of trouble with incoming calls until he connected to another jack.

The Ooma comes out in September but until then they’re making it rather exclusive – rather like the launch of gmail. Over the summer, 1500 lucky people will be getting freebies, as well as three Ooma tokens to give out to their friends so that they can pick up a hub for free. Lucky them. [Wall Street Journal]

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Nokia Eseries devices are widely available in the U.S.

Nokia E61i

I purchased a Nokia E61 to replace my Treo 650 from a US importer last year and have since upgraded to a Nokia E61i, again via a US importer. Nokia posted a press release announcing that Nokia E-series, these are the enterprise focused devices like the E61i, are broadly available in the United States. The release is primarily an educational announcement to spread the word about various outlets where you can get a Nokia E61i, E65, or other Eseries model. There are more than 140 value-added resellers (VARs) in the Nokia for Business Channel Program, including Dell.com, Gateway, and Mobile Planet. I personally have purchased my Eseries devices from PhoneSource USA and have been extremely pleased with their services. IMHO, the E61i is a great deal at around US$400 for a SIM unlocked device that requires no contract extension or minimal service obligation.

The Eseries devices are S60 smartphones with pre-installed applications and features focused on the business user. Devices like the E61i and E90 have QWERTY keyboards and just about every wireless radio you can think of to allow for VoIP telephony and connectivity anywhere. There are several syncing and push email solutions as well as the ability to view email attachments. The Nokia Intellisync Mobile Suite also allows for high security managment of the devices, which is critical to the business user. All of this isn’t to say that these devices still can’t be used for fun and personal enjoyment since they have MP3 capability, some have cameras for quick snapshots, and they support a large number of 3rd party applications.

Thanks to my buddy Chris over at Mobility Site for the link to the press release.

Cisco sues Apple for the name “iPhone”

Cisco sues Apple for having the name iPhone, Cisco obtained the iPhone trademark in 2000 when it acquired Infogear, a small Redwood City, Calif., which originally registered the name. Cisco’s Linksys division has launched Internet phone called “iPhone” a VOIP. The product was officially launched last month.

Natalie Kerris (Apple spokeswoman) said:

“There are already several companies using the iPhone name for VoIP (voice over IP) products. We’re the first company ever to use iPhone for a cell phone. If Cisco wants to challenge us on it, we’re confident we’ll prevail.” Read more here.

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Rumor: Xbox IPTV may not be so grand

Doug, from the Peoples Republic Of, visited Microsoft’s IPTV booth at CES yesterday and got some more dirt on how the Xbox 360 IPTV will work. According to him, he found out that the IPTV service will be available over AT&T’s 35Mbps lightspeed service which would allow for 2HD and 2SD channels to run simultaneously. Though the big problem here is that you’d have to replace your current ISP and cable provider to AT&T. And if you don’t have access to the lightspeed service, then no IPTV for you! Secondly, you’ll need a separate set top box that would work by itself or connected to a 360. So, the 360 still needs a separate set top box to use IPTV. Finally, if you have a home router it will need to be replaced by a special QOS (quality of service) router. Feeling sad yet?

Again, this isn’t official information from Microsoft, but is information Doug received from Microsoft’s IPTV booth at CES. Hopefully things will change before the roll-out, because the whole Xbox 360 IPTV service isn’t sounding very good. A separate box? A specific cable and ISP provider? Do you meet the supposed requirements for the Xbox IPTV roll-out and would you be willing to make the necessary changes to get it?

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