I can tell that the Bluetooth technology is catching on because of the increasing number of blue lights I see beaming from people's ears. Bluetooth is the short-range wireless technology that enables a wireless headset on your ear to connect with a cell phone in your pocket.
While Bluetooth is most popular in the mobile phone headset world, the technology can be used for other purposes like synching your PDA to your Bluetooth-enabled laptop, or connecting a wireless mouse or keyboard.
One of the most innovative products that I've found to use Bluetooth, however, is the Vo200 Internet "phone" from Kensington.
The company announced this product at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and I knew I had to try one out.
Don't Call Me, Skype Me
The popularity of consumer-scaled Voice-Over IP (VoIP) services like Skype, Google Talk, and Yahoo! Messenger is growing rapidly. Skype is probably the most popular of the bunch. It's a free download and allows you to use your computer to call other people who have downloaded and installed Skype on their own computer. That computer-to-computer "phone call" is absolutely free, as long as both sides are using Skype.
Skype also features their SkypeOut services which allows you to call traditional phone numbers – both landlines and cell phones – but you'll pay either a monthly charge or a per-minute rate.
You can use your laptop's built-in speakers and microphone with Skype, or you're welcome to plug in a wired headset for a bit more privacy. If you want to go wireless, the Kensington Vo200 is almost the perfect solution.
You can think of the Vo200 as a super-slim cell phone, but the reason that it measure 3.75" x 2.25" x 0.15" is because it fits perfectly in your laptop's PCMCIA card slot. Not only is this a nifty place to store the Vo200 when it's not in use, but the Vo200 also charges its batteries when it's "docked" inside. I just relish products whose form is functional.
Can Your Bluetooth Talk To My Bluetooth?
If you've "paired" a Bluetooth headset with your cell phone before, you won't have any trouble getting the Vo200 to connect with your laptop. When you power on the Vo200, the software you install automatically connects up and it's ready for a phone call.
The front of the Vo200 has three buttons for power, Bluetooth connectivity, and speakerphone. The left side has a volume "rocker" button. Two lights adorn the very bottom of the unit to indicate power and Bluetooth status
The bottom half of the Vo200 flips out similar to a clamshell mobile phone. The flipped out portion houses the microphone, and you can hold the Vo200 up to your head just like a cell phone. If you'd rather use the speakerphone mode, you can continue to flip around the bottom half so that it becomes a stand to prop the Vo200 up on your desk.
I was very impressed with the sound quality of the Vo200 when I made Skype-to-Skype calls between computers. I thought the Bluetooth connection was going to produce a little lag, but my conversations sounded fine.
I did not have the same luck with a SkypeOut call I made to several outside phone numbers. I'm not prepared to blame this completely on the Vo200 nor on the Skype service, but I just wouldn't use the Vo200 too much for SkypeOut. All of these VoIP services warn you that they are not true telephony services, and will not work for 911 calls – they are truly meant to be used on computer-to-computer calls.
The only other disappointment with the Vo200 is that it is not Mac-compatible, and only works with Windows XP. Now granted, the newer Apple laptops (the MacBooks and MacBook Pros) do not have PCMCIA card slots anymore (in favor or the faster, more efficient ExpressCard slots), so the point may be moot, but they all do have built-in Bluetooth so it would have been an easy connection.
As I've mentioned, the Vo200 is meant to be used with a laptop, although I successfully connected it to my desktop (via a Kensington Bluetooth adapter) and even my Palm 700w. If you're a frequent user of Skype or another similar VoIP service (the Vo200 will work with most all of them) on a laptop with built-in Bluetooth, then the Kensington Vo200 is a worthy investment for $89.99.
Do the Taskbar Shuffle
Some will consider me to be a bit obsessive-compulsive when they read this next review, but I'm anxious to talk about a free tiny download that has made me a happy Windows user.
The utility is called Taskbar Shuffle. It's a small, 624KB download from a worthy programmer that runs an excellently named site called Home of the Nerd Cave. His main project so far is Taskbar Shuffle which he generously gives away for free (donations accepted).
The sole purpose of this marvelous utility is to give you the ability to move around the programs/buttons on your Windows taskbar to suit your tastes.
Here's where the obsessive part comes in – I usually like to open up my daily applications in a particular order every day, so that they appear in the same place on my taskbar. I open Outlook first, then my Web browser, and Word. I always know that Outlook is the first button whenever I need to click back to it.
Alas with Windows, it becomes necessary to close out of non-responding applications from time to time. When I re-open them, my precious taskbar order is out of whack. That's where Taskbar Shuffle makes me happy.
Taskbar Shuffle runs in the background and simply gives you the ability to drag-and-drop the programs/buttons on your taskbar to the order that you want them. I've been using this utility for many months now, and I'm happy to report that I don't even know it's there. I have it load automatically with Windows, but I turned off the system tray icon. Whenever Windows is running, I know that I can move around my taskbar buttons at any time.
Again, I know some will view this review as a little indulgent, but I'm always thrilled to find a small, simple utility that does something very, very well. Oh, and did I mention that it makes me happy?