Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Thumb Thing Else: The Vonage V-Phone

So you want to check your voice mail but you're seated at a public library computer right between the head librarian and the big "No Cell Phones" sign. What do you do?

Easy. You plug your thumb-size Internet phone into the computer, put on an innocent-looking headset and dial away. That's the concept behind the V-Phone from Vonage, a flash drive enhanced with just enough extra hardware and software to turn it into an Internet phone that works with Vonage's broadband phone plans.

To use the phone, you just plug it into the USB port of a Windows computer with a high-speed Internet connection and plug the included headset with a microphone into a small jack on the unit. Once the software starts up you can make and receive calls, check voice mail, manage your speed-dial list, check Caller ID records and perform other tasks. The V-Phone also serves as a standard flash memory drive and comes with 250 megabytes of available storage. The Vonage software is automatically updated as needed. The phone works fine when your computer is connected to the Internet wirelessly via a Wi-Fi hot spot.

Your telephone number travels with you as you use the V-Phone in different locations. In other words, you'll still have your local area code and number even if you use the V-Phone in a distant city. You can have calls forwarded to another number if they come in when you're not connected. Note that since the unit is meant for mobile use it is not compatible with enhanced 911 emergency services. All 911 calls will go to a Vonage emergency center, which will contact local authorities.
The V-Phone was introduced at a June 28 press event at the observation deck atop the 30 Rockefeller Center building in New York.

The V-Phone will sell for $39.99 plus a $9 activation fee but will often be discounted with rebates, said a Vonage representative. Vonage's domestic plans include the US, Canada and Puerto Rico. The $14.99 residential plan includes 500 monthly minutes, the $24.99 residential plan offers unlimited calling, the $34.99 business plan comes with 1500 minutes and a fax line and the $49.99 business plan offers unlimited calling and a fax line.

So... Would you actually use this thing? Let me know.

Top photo courtesy of Vonage
Bottom photo
© Copyright 2006 Stadium Circle Features

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Tivoli Audio: HD Radio? Now It's "Maybe"

Last year it was almost a firm "no." This year it's a definite "maybe." Will Tivoli Audio, maker of classy-looking, high-tech table and portable radios, support HD Radio technology? Company founder and CEO Tom DeVesto took a wait-and-see attitude June 21 even as he showed off an HD Radio prototype that could be in production by the end of the year.

"I've been maybe more skeptical than most people in the business have been about it," said DeVesto during a press conference at New York's St. Regis Hotel. "The consumer benefits of it are still somewhat questionable."

HD Radio is a digital radio technology which allows existing radio stations to broadcast high-quality digital radio content by using unused portions of their existing bandwidth. According to iBiquity Digital Corp., which developed and licenses HD Radio technology, HD Radio improves AM reception to the quality of today's conventional FM broadcasts while an HD Radio's FM clarity would be at CD quality.

DeVesto said HD Radio technology "had some maturing to do" before he would be sold on it. He said he wanted to see more content, better internal hardware choices and better audio quality. However, her said if all of these pieces were to fall in place, Tivoli Audio had already done its homework and could have an HD Radio-compatible unit ready by the holiday season. A prototype (pictured above) was shown off at the press conference.

During his presentation DeVesto introduced a unit whose whimsical code name ended up being its real name: the Tivoli Audio iYiYi. The $299.99 unit (pictured at right), which comes in black or white, is a docking station for Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod digital music players but also contains an AM/FM radio as well as inputs for other devices such as CD players or game consoles. The iYiYi comes with seven docking adapters, making it compatible with a wide range of iPods, including the full size, video-capable iPod and the extra-slim iPod nano.

"I hope the public doesn't think that having fun while we do what we do is a bad thing," said DeVesto, who said the iYiYi would be available this fall.

The $599.99 Tivoli Audio Music System (left), announced in previous years, will finally make it to market this fall, he said. Aside from twin-front mounted 3-inch speakers and a bottom-facing 5-inch subwoofer, the unit has a slot-loading CD player, a digital display which includes an alarm clock function. The 14.125-inch wide and 5.375-inch tall table radio is designed to deliver concert-quality audio, according to Tivoli Audio. The unit is available in three high-gloss color combinations: black/silver, white/silver and dark walnut/beige.

Finally, Tivloli Audio's $159.99 SongBook portable radio will be available in two "fashion colors" this fall. These include light green and pink. The radios include a digital readout with five station preset buttons, an alarm clock function and an input jack for other audio devices. The unit uses six rechargeable AA batteries which can be recharged while they are still inside with the included AC adapter.

Top photo: © Copyright 2006 Stadium Circle Features
Other photos courtesy Tivoli Audio

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Crumpler: Beer for Bags? Grab a (Back)Pack!

If you were walking through New York City's fashionable Meatpacking District and spotted a steady stream of people staggering toward an Eighth Ave. storefront laden with beer, don't worry. You're weren't missing out on a heck of party. At least not yet. You had just witnessed a unique bit of product promotion.

From June 3 to 11, Crumpler, an Australian manufacturer of stylish backpacks, computer and gadget bags and related accessories, is allowing customers to trade booze for bags. The beer-to-bag exchange rate is sorted out with the help of a cardboard wheel.

For example, the Moderate Embarrassment case (yep, that's the name of the model pictured above), which can hold a 12-inch notebook, including Apple Computer Inc.'s 12-inch iBook, sells on the Crumpler Web site for $80. However, during the 2006 Beer for Bags promotion you could walk into one of its two New York stores with a case of Sapporo beer and a bottle of soy sauce and walk out with this bag.

On the lower end of the scale, you could get a Winkler L, a $14 bag sized for one of the larger Apple iPod digital music players, for just four cans of Boddington's beer, which often sells for less than $10. What happens to the beer? It is consumed at special events sponsored by the company. During a June 5 press event at the 49 Eighth Ave. store in Manhattan (see below), some of the brew ended up in the hands of thirsty journalists. The store featured an on-site factory where special orders could be designed on a computer and delivered within days.

The company, founded in 1995 by three bicycle messengers, clearly marches to the beat of a different drummer. Its clever but edgy Web site seems almost drug induced. At the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Crumpler showed up with a low-tech but distinctive booth consisting mainly of oil drums and chalkboards.

While the bags are colorful and seem to exude attitude, inside they offer the same type of padding, pockets and pouches one would expect to find in a computer or gadget bag.

So, would you trade in your beer to put a Crump in your style?

Top photo courtesy of Crumpler
Other photos © 2006 Stadium Circle Features