Hands On With Netgear Dual Mode Skype Phone

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I must preface this post by saying Netgear gifted me with their new $199 Dual Mode Skype Phone, part of my CES Blogger In Residence prize package (AKA ‘Dave got paid’). So, it’s entirely possible I’m not objective and therefore I won’t do a formal review. Having said that, quite a few products sit (unopened) on my floor for months waiting to be reviewed… whereas I immediately put this phone into production when I returned from CES.

Unlike Netgear’s previous WiFi Skype phone, this model has a base station which you wire to your home router. The base station will also accept a telephone connection from your “land line” — hence the “dual-mode” moniker: Skype + Land Line. Which brings me to the first point (of two) that I wanted to share…

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Hands On With Netflix Downloads

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I wasn’t one of the lucky 250,000 to receive Netflix’s new movie download service, but my buddy Matt got the hook up. Matt and I go way back and he’s always kept me current on the video game industry. As roomies in college he made sure we had 3DO and the Japanese Nintendo 64 months before US release… not to mention the Sega Saturn and the first Playstation, plus a huge Mitsubishi monitor to game on.

Anyhow, Matt’s Watch Now tab is active and he spent some time playing around with it:

It works fine — easy installation, no interruptions during the stream. Video quality is good. But the library of titles SUCKS right now (all old stuff). And uhhhhh, sitting at my desk to watch a movie… sucks too. Kinda cool overall, but I don’t see myself using this. I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it better!

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Hands On With HAVA

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First seen at CES last January, the HAVA place shifting device began shipping in August. Initially Monsoon Multimedia offered one box with WiFi to stream your home television feed, but they’ve since changed gears and are now offering two cosmetically redesigned boxes: one with WiFi @ $250, one without @ $200. Unlike competitors Slingbox and Sony’s LocationFree, Monsoon is also licensing their technology as an OEM to Pinnacle Systems.

For the last several months, I’ve spent some time with two loaner HAVA boxes. When reviewing any placeshifting technology, the obvious comparisons to market leader Sling Media must be made. With that in mind, here’s what I found given the comparable video quality:

HAVA Pros

  • Built-in WiFi and component connections.
  • Ability to record live stream.
  • Sleek software GUI with simple setup.

HAVA Cons

  • Limited software functionality.
  • Windows-only for the moment.
  • Could not receive feed over EVDO. (Tech support blamed Sprint’s upload speeds…)

So what’s the bottom line? If you’re a Windows-only user with a need for built-in wireless or unscheduled recording: HAVA’s worth looking at. Though… I’d probably suggest waiting a few months until Monsoon works out some of the software kinks and adds functionality to better compete with Sling Media’s more mature player.

Check out some pics after the break and hit me with questions in the comments.

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Squeezebox Review: On My X’mas List

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I admit to feeling some trepidation when my Slim Devices Squeezebox review unit arrived. Since buying a house a year and a half ago, my stereo from early high school has sat unused in our basement. (Note the cheesy, Space-Invaders-like display on the screen and the layers of dust.)

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I popped open one of the tape decks and look what I found:

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So imagine my nervousness at trying to combine the archaic technology of my high school years with something as beautiful as the Squeezebox.

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I’ve contemplated upgrading my music options for quite a while now, but frankly I’ve been pretty happy with my iPod and the kitchen radio for listening to NPR. Satellite radio has a monthly fee, which I’m not willing to pay, and my music collection isn’t stellar enough to warrant buying an iPod dock with speakers.

Looking at the Squeezebox, I wondered not only if I could make it work with my stereo, but if it would even be worthwhile given my decidedly low-key approach to music.

Here’s the answer: Yes, yes, unequivocally yes. Can I have it for Christmas, please? Pretty please with a cherry on top?

Every new thing I tried with the Squeezebox just made it better — Starting with streaming my own music, then accessing the SqueezeNetwork and finally going full out with Pandora. If you want to skip set-up and some of the more gory details, scroll to the end for a list of pros and (very few) cons.

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Altec Lansing AHP612 Wireless Headphones Review

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Altec Lansing is obviously looking to harness the power of the blogosphere… and I’m more than happy to help! A few weeks ago they sent me the XM3120, and Tuesday these sexy headphones were waiting at my door.

First off, I’m a sucker for good looks… and the AHP612 cans are pretty sleek other than the prominent “Altec Lansing” advertising on both ears. (I wonder if some nail polish remover could take care of that.) They also happen to feel pretty good — not too bulky, heavy, or constricting though my ears did get warm after prolonged use. Three included AAA NiMH rechargeables supposedly provide 8 hours of listening time, though I didn’t put that claim to the test. For charging, the headphones easily drop into their powered cradle. As you can see from the pics, each ear has a variety of buttons (and lights!), including the all-important volume up/down which work as advertised.

As far as performance goes, the clarity of the audio and the wireless range surprised me. Because the AHP612 headphones operate at 900Mhz, they shouldn’t interfere with WiFi gear or modern cordless phones. In testing I found the signal to be perfect in all areas of my 1100 sq. ft. apartment. To further test the range (listed at 150′), I visited the apartment two floors down and maintained excellent reception. Now the bad news… I’m no audio snob, yet even I can tell you the audio quality is just average. Perhaps that’s the trade we make for wireless freedom.

The AHP612 (couldn’t they have come up with a more memorable name?) retail for $150, though a quick search of Froogle shows several listings under a hundred. Overall, I think these are pretty slick if you have a need for wireless headphones. Since I don’t, I’m gifting them to Kevin over at jkOnTheRun — keep an eye out for his opinion in the coming weeks!

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Altec Lansing XM3120 and Roady XT Review

No sooner had I contemplated the usefulness of the XM3120 did Altec Lansing send me a review sample. The compact speaker dock includes two clear plastic cutouts for either the Delphi Roady XT or the Audiovox Xpress. I’ve enjoyed using it with the Roady XT at work the last few weeks. Not only does it look sharp and sound decent, but I’ve gotten rid of Roady2 home kit cable clutter and bulky computer speakers. The bundled external antenna wisely includes 20′ of cable for placements without window exposure. XM3120 retails for about $100, which compares with the butt-ugly Belkin F5X007. However, Belkin’s offering does come with a remote control — something I’d like to have seen Altec Lansing include.

Getting the XM3120 in the mail was all the encouragement I needed to upgrade from the Roady2 to the Roady XT. As you can see from the pics, the XT is smaller and sleeker. More importantly the FM transmitter is significantly improved, resulting in better reception and higher quality audio coming through my car radio. The display is also noticeably brighter. If you’re in the market for a small plug & play XM receiver, this model with included car kit runs only about $50 – $60 after rebate at places like Amazon and Best Buy or you can pick it up for $48.34 at Walmart without any rebate hassles (which is what I did).

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Logitech Harmony 520 In The Flesh

Harmony 520Logitech has begun shipping the new Harmony 520 to select Walmarts, which resulted in numerous phone calls and a distant quest to two stores. Why Walmart you ask? Logitech is aiming squarely down market with this $99 model – and I’ve concluded the cost corresponds directly to the number of buttons.

The main differences between the 520 and the 6xx line are obviously the the new physical design, dropping the hard coded activity buttons along with many others, and the introduction of new software – for under a hundred bucks.

As with other models, Harmony remotes are configured online using a web-based wizard with your custom settings being downloaded via USB into the remote. The 520 is the first in the Harmony line using updated configuration and connectivity software. Logitech promises this will eventually be available to all Harmony devices – in fact it is currently willing to configure my old 659, though I haven’t tried. Keeping with the Harmony way, you program your remote using activities. For example a Watch DVD activity might turn on your TV, switch the input source, turn on the DVD player, and dim your Lutron lights. Soft buttons listed in the LCD allow for an unlimited amount of function keys.

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