Vonage
It's a VoIP phone built into a bright orange USB keychain drive.
By Columnist
msnbc.com
updated 11/7/2006 5:42:19 PM ET 2006-11-07T22:42:19

Just what the world needs — another device to make cheap phone calls over the Internet.

This one is from Vonage and it’s called the V-phone. It’s really a USB drive that comes pre-loaded with Vonage talk software and its own VoIP phone number.

The idea here is that this device is very, very portable. You can take your V- phone with you, plug it into any computer and use it anywhere on the planet.

I wasn’t sure why someone might need a V-phone. I mean, aside from cell phones, you can always Skype your way around the world without much of a problem – but that means you need to have a computer nearby that's configured with that special software for your account. Since the V-phone is portable and self-contained, it turns out to be a clever solution.

The V-phone itself is a USB flash memory drive with an additional input/output jack to plug in the included stereo headset/microphone. Inside, there’s 425 MB of memory – some for the Vonage software and about 250MB available for any kind of extra storage you can think of (documents, music files, digital photos, etc.)

The clever idea here is that there’s no software that you have to install on your computer.  Everything you need to make a Vonage calls installs automatically when you plug your V-phone into any Window PC’s (98SE/ME/2000/XP) open USB port. That computer must have a high-speed Internet connection for the V-phone to work.

The first time you plug in the V-phone it takes about 45 seconds to install. Subsequent uses take a little less time to boot up your phone. Once the short install finishes you’ll be greeted with the V-phone dialing screen which shows that you’re ready to make and receive calls. This dialing screen contains the dialing pad, your contact phone number list and phoning history.

Vonage
How to navigate V-phone's computer screen control panel.
The V-phone gets its own phone number when you first set up the account with Vonage. That means you have to pay a separate monthly service charge for your V-phone. Vonage currently charges $14.99 per month for the Basic plan (500 minutes) or $24.99 for unlimited calls to the U.S., Canada, P.R. and Europe. 

Either V-phone plan comes with all the accoutrements, including voicemail, caller ID, call waiting, call forwarding, three-way calling, call return, repeat dialing and more. You get the idea. Your V-phone account comes loaded with features.

As for the V-phone itself — it works exactly as described. I was able to get it to work on my PC at work (always a challenge) and three or four different laptops in various locations. Every time I plugged it in I was greeted with a usable VoIP phone without any problems. I made and received calls easily. I was told my voice sounded great and the same was true for everyone else’s. Overall it was a worthwhile experience.

Vonage is selling the V-phone for $39.99 on its Web site.  If you do a lot of travelling and know you’ll be near a computer (possibly not your own), then the V-phone seems like a good way to take a phone with you.

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