FlashPhone Cuts VoIP-PC Tie - InformationWeek

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1/6/2006
03:15 PM
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FlashPhone Cuts VoIP-PC Tie

Mplat's new device lets people make and receive Skype calls at Skype prices but on more than one machine.

Skype Technologies S.A. and voice-over-IP offerings from other companies make it possible to have high-quality--and free--global calls over the Internet.

One advantage of using cell phones and wireless mobile devices over VoIP is that despite the phone charges, you've got much more flexibility. With VoIP, you have to be tethered to the PC that contains your calling information, plus the hardware and software that enables calls. Or do you?

A $40 product called FlashPhone F2K from Mplat Technology Ltd. puts all that information, along with the software and hardware, into the palm of your hand. The FlashPhone F2K is designed to be a self-contained device for making and receiving Skype calls. Mplat has combined a flash memory drive and a USB sound card into a device only slightly larger than a lipstick holder. Earbuds with a built-in microphone plug into one side of the device, and a USB connector is hidden under a cap on the other side.

Worked As Expected
When I connected the FlashPhone to an available USB port, I was prompted to start Skype Mobile. After a surprisingly long load time, the application was up and ready for use. When Skype did finally load, the FlashPhone did exactly as promised.

Initially, I made a couple of calls to Skype's Echo Test service, allowing me to hear another caller and also get a recorded clip of my voice played back to me. Audio quality was pretty good through the included headset, both for sending and receiving.


FlashPhone F2K

The tiny FlashPhone F2K combines a flash memory card and a USB sound card.
I ran into an issue during testing: I kept losing my Skype settings and contact list after exiting the application. In looking through the files on the flash drive, I discovered that a required freeware application was missing. A text document in the director where the file is supposed to be gives a Web link to download the file. It's a bit unclear if this is a simple mistake or some kind of licensing issue, but my problems with settings cleared up when the application was downloaded and in the right place.

After ensuring that the FlashPhone worked well on my primary machine, I walked over to a different machine and plugged in. Just like the first time, the new machine detected and installed both the flash drive and the audio controller. As Skype launched, all of my user settings and contact lists were carried over to the other machine. Everything worked exactly as expected, but I did have administrator authority on both test machines. In a locked-down business environment, or even at an Internet cafe, computer policies may prevent the hardware from being installed or the application from loading.

The FlashPhone is based on a sound idea: Take all of the components needed to run Skype and build them into a small, simple device. I'd like to see better documentation, but for the price, the F2K is a nice little package that lets you take your VoIP with you.

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