July 2005, Week 2 -- It's Not Your Father's Cell Phone
We spent a few days recently trying out a new mobile phone for Internet calls.
It looks like a cell phone, but it's designed to make calls over the Internet using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology. There are a number of services that provide this (Vonage, Skype and Lingo are among the best known). We used a ZyXEL Prestige 2000W phone purchased from Office Depot, which bundled it with a VoIP phone service from VoiceGlo. This required no additional setup.
The phone can be used to make calls when you are in range of a wireless "access point," meaning a wireless router that is connected to the Internet. Such access points are becoming increasingly common. Many coffee shops, restaurants and hotels now provide them as an attractive convenience for customers.
Once the ZyXEL phone recognizes it is in range of a wireless Internet access point, you can use it to make a call anywhere; not just anywhere locally, but anywhere in the world. At least that's the theory. The practice was slightly different.
We were able to make phone calls just driving around the city, apparently because we would often pass someone's wireless access point and wound up piggy-backing on their connection. That connection held if we stopped there, but quickly faded as our car moved away.
We tried making calls from a Starbucks coffee shop and one from a Panera bread shop, but couldn't connect. The phone indicated that a wireless Internet source was present at each place, but we could not make a call. When we walked into a Hilton hotel, however, the phone instantly became active and we were able to make calls both locally and cross country, sitting comfortably in the lobby. Sound quality was crystal clear.
The issue of whether it works or not turns out to have nothing to do with the phone, but with the VoIP service used and whether the particular "hot spot" you're at has a firewall blocking the port used by that service. The Hilton apparently welcomes all comers. When we asked a manager at Panera if she would please unblock the port we needed, she was apologetic and said she didn't know how to do this. We would guess that very few restaurant or coffee shop managers know how to do this.
The Prestige 2000W phone was $249 unbundled from Office Depot, which also sold the VoiceGlo service. VoiceGlo provides unlimited service in the United States and Canada for $50 a month; or $20 a month for 1,000 minutes. The price for international calls depends on the country called, but generally ranges 2 cents to 5 cents a minute.
There were unexpected side benefits to this phone and its service: The phone had its own number, and callers, whether on the Internet or not, could leave messages; we tried this and got some.
It can also be used as a walkie-talkie and an intercom, communicating with other Internet phone users and wireless computers. There is no charge for calls made this way and it has become a kind of "in" thing at some college campuses since users can all chat with each other for free. And they all seem to have so much to say, too.
We found these links at the SmartMoney.com Web site and thought some of them were worth passing along. The comments are our own.
· www.ama-assn.org: The official Web site of the American Medical Association. It has a list of physicians available for consultation online and lists of specialists in your area. You can also find out if your doctor is licensed and where he or she went to school. Which reminds me of a joke that was current back in college: "What do you call the guy who finished at the bottom of his class in medical school?" Answer: "Doctor."
· www.healthgrades.com: You have to pay $10 for this service, but it lists hospitals and their results for various types of care: cardiac, strokes, gastro-intestinal, orthopedics, etc. It also gives cost figures.
· www.leapfroggroup.org: Rates hospitals on safety measures and best results for certain medical procedures. All hospitals are listed, but not all have ratings. Some don't report because they claim such reporting would interfere with patient care. Sure.
· www.ratemds.com: Patient ratings for 8,128 doctors. These are entirely subjective and some are just plain silly. For example: Browsing the list we found doctors given poor ratings just because it was hard to get an appointment.
Guild Wars, the Collector's Edition, www.guildwars.com, $70 or less from discounters.
We have been reading "new and thoughtful appraisals" of the computer gaming world by writers who think there might be something in all this after all. This, as Yogi Berra used to say, "is like deja vu all over again." We wrote about this more than 20 years ago and it seems obvious: Games are educational. Whether they're meant to be or not, they are. You are learning something when you play, and it isn't just how to drill the bad guys before they get you. You learn planning, strategy and above all: thinking.
Guild Wars is an adventure game that gets four out of five stars and generally "awesome" ratings from players. You must have an Internet connection to play. The collector's edition comes with a noise-canceling headset (so you can chat with other players), three months free voice chat hosting, a hardcover art book, sound track CD, and a software module that lets up to seven players form a team and talk to each other as they plan their moves.
Just to show you who's got the favor of the gods here, all game characters created with this version have a glowing aura, which is visible to all other players as your character moves around. If that isn't pretty intimidating, we don't know what is.
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