Travel Tip: Use Wired Internet instead of WiFi

ethernet port

i'm currently traveling on the 2012 Adobe Nordic Design Tour. This means a different hotel each night or so. I spent the weekend in Sweden and my hotel (Radisson Blu) offered FREE WiFi throughout the hotel. All you need to do is confirm your room number, last name and accept the terms/conditions. Great! However, there was one major problem. The internet was almost unusable in the evenings because (and I'm guessing) that it was saturated with hotel guests. My connection dropped constantly and when I could get connected the speed reminded me of dial-up. Sadly, it wasn't until my last night at this particular hotel that I noticed an Ethernet port on the desk under the TV. Lately it has been my experience that when a hotel offers WiFi, that they pull the plug on the Ethernet ports in the guest rooms. However, i figured I had nothing to lose by plugging in and giving it a try. Not only was the port active, but it was about 10-20 times faster than the WiFi network!


Get the App I used above here from the iTunes


Yes, I still want wireless!

I carry an AirPort Express Base Station as part of my "always packed" travel gear. I plugged it in and in about 15 seconds I had my own private WiFi network that was way faster than the Radisson one and best of all I could put all my devices on it without having to do the terms and conditions setup, dropped connections, etc. on each one. 

You can get the AirPort Express Base Station Here. You might also want to carry a short ethernet cable as there wasn't one anywhere to be found in my room.


The Bottom Line

If you have the option of going wired vs. wireless, give it a shot. You'll probably get better performance not only because wired is faster, but because most people are going to connect to the public WiFi (overloading the routers) rather than the wired option. By having your own WiFi hotspot you still get the benefits of WiFi too! And yes, the wired connection in my room was also FREE.

The other benefit of a faster connection is faster VoIP calls, FaceTime, Skype, Netflix, Slingplayer, etc.  I was able to get so much more done with the faster connection, not the least of which was this blog post. 🙂

Do it yourself desktop stand for FaceTime calls

FaceTime Stand

I have really been enjoying using FaceTime to make FREE video calls back home while traveling abroad. Of course you need either an iPhone 4 or 4th generation iPod touch on either end and a Wi-Fi connection on both ends and you can talk and see as much as you want for FREE. It's been working extremely well! The one thing that I find to be a bit of a pain is actually holding the device. When just talking on the phone for long periods of time you can just lay it down and use speakerphone or a bluetooth headset as you roam around the room/multitask. However, with FaceTime you're going to not only want to hold the device, but you're also going to want to hold it up fairly high. Holding it down at a natural stomach level will probably yield some unflattering up the nose angles for your video. 

Then I got an idea

One evening while sitting and working at the desk in my hotel room I realized that not only was there a better way to do this, but I even had the necessary pieces with me to make it work. Ideally you want some sort of vertical stand for the iPhone 4 that lifts it up higher than the desk/table itself. I realized that I had both an iPhone 4 tripod holder AND a Gorillamobile in my computer bag. It took me all of 15 seconds to put the two together and I had an instant FaceTime stand that could be tilted and even attached to something higher if need be. It worked GREAT!


Here are the two pieces you need:

G-Design makes the iPhone 4 tripod holder. Unfortunately it's not designed for the iPod touch, but as long as you don't turn it upside down it should just hold it in place.

It fits the iPhone 4 very snuggly and you CAN turn it upside down or sideways if you need to.

The G-Design iPhone 4 Tripod holder is available here.


While the Tripod holder will go on just about any standard tripod, I find the Gorillamobile to be the smallest and most flexible in terms of standing it up or wrapping it around objects. It's so small in fact that I forgot that it was in my bag. So it's GREAT for travelers.

Get the Gorillamobile here.


Yes you can use FaceTime with a 4th Gen iPod touch too!

In case you missed it, you don't have to have an iPhone (and contract) to enjoy FaceTime. You can have this FREE video call goodness now with a 4th Generation iPod touch. It has the necessary front facing camera and can make the same FREE video calls over WiFi to other 4th gen iPod touch devices OR iPhone 4's. FaceTime on an iPod touch uses your registered email address to receive FaceTime calls as long as your on WiFi. You can make FaceTime calls to an iPhone 4 as long as you know their phone number or another 4th gen iPod touch as long as you have their "registered" email address.  Get the 32GB (don't waste your time with an 8GB model) iPod touch here.

MagicJack Review

Last week I did a review/update on my continued success using Vonage for my phone service. However, like most things I write about there were some that suggested other products. One of the suggestions was MagicJack. The funny thing about MagicJack is that my 60 year old aunt (who is very non-technical) told me about it a couple of months back. She came up for a visit from Georgia and I received a couple of calls from her from a number that I didn't recognize. When I asked her about the number, she replied "oh that's our MagicJack number. We use it to make all of our long distance calls." Honestly, I kinda blew it off at the time until one of my blog readers mentioned it again. So I decided to check it out.


Unlimited outgoing/incoming calls in the US or Canada for only $40/year!

That's what MagicJack allows you to do. If you have a computer connected to the internet (guess that's how you're reading this now), then you can plug the MagicJack dongle into your computer (Mac or PC) and make unlimited calls for only $40/year. 

Continue reading “MagicJack Review”

Vonage is still my choice


I’ve been a Vonage customer now for several years for my home office line and for VoIP on the go. Lately I’ve been getting a barrage of ads from Comcast trying to get me to go to their Digital Voice service on my home line. Even if I were going to switch this line over, I would probably go with Vonage instead. 


What is Vonage?

Vonage is a service provider for Voice over IP (VoIP). This means that you can get telephone service over your high speed internet connection instead of standard phone service from the phone company. The advantage is typically around price! Vonage offers unlimited calling for a flat rate of $24.99/month. This is unlimited local and long distance calling to anywhere in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico, plus unlimited calling to landlines in Italy, France, Spain, UK and Ireland. I also get the vast majority of calling features (25+) offered by the phone company (AT&T) including: Call Waiting, Caller ID with Name, 3-Way Calling, Call Forwarding, etc. 


How does it work?


Once I signed up for Vonage they handled the phone number switch as well as shipping the Vonage router/phone adapter I needed to connect up to my network to actually have something to plug my standard telephone into. The router can either be used as a router for your network or simply plug it into your existing router. On the back there are two RJ-11 jacks for (for two line compatibility). Plug any standard landline/cordless phone in you want to use. It’s amazing, when someone calls your number, your phone rings. When you want to make a call, you pick up the phone you’ve always used and dial the number. 🙂

  Continue reading “Vonage is still my choice”

iPhone app of the week – Skype


I gotta be honest! I never thought this app would see the light of day. However, I’m very excited to see Skype for the iPhone. I use Skype on occassion to do online interviews for podcasts and to talk with friends in different countries. It’s an amazing technology that’s virtually free to use (Skype to Skype). A couple of years back I traveled to Australia and I used the Skype video chat feature to phone home. It was a lot cheaper than doing international calls and better because of the webcam support. Although iChat is built-in to the Mac OS, I just have not had good luck connecting to various friends and family with it. However, I  always able to connect via Skype.

What does Skype on the iPhone mean?


Having Skype on the iPhone means that as long as you’re on a Wi-Fi connection, you can talk for FREE to other Skype users no matter where they are or no matter whether they are on their computers or other Skype compatible devices. Just the other night while testing the Skype iPhone app, I saw my sister online. So I just tapped her name and I heard the familiar Skype ring. She picked up and we were talking. I put the iPhone up to my ear and it was crystal clear. She was at home by the way on her MacBook.


The beauty of this of course is that the Skype calls don’t go against your cellphone minutes. So you could talk for hours day or night without impacting your phone bill.

You can make Skype calls to landlines and cellphones too. Of course not everyone is going to be on a computer/phone with Skype and sometimes you may want to just call a regular landline or cellphone. Skype for iPhone (just like Skype on your computer) does allow you to dial any phone number. When you use Skype to call a regular landline/cellphone it’s not free.


However, it is reasonable. International calls start at 2.1¢ a minute and you can do a pay as you go plan or subscription. If you are going to be making a lot of calls to landlines/cellphones then it probably makes sense to go with a monthly subscription. Otherwise do the pay as you go. I do pay as you go just to have the option of calling regular phones even though I don’t do it often.


Once again, you don’t need to pay anything to make calls from Skype to Skype.

Really good news for 2nd generation iPod touch users

If you’re an iPod touch user, this is even better news for you! Although the 2nd generation iPod touch doesn’t have a built-in microphone, it does have the ability to use a either the Apple Earphones/mic or a 3rd party mic:


The Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic go for $29.00. So with an iPod touch, a compatible mic, a Wi-Fi connection and the Skype app, suddenly your iPod touch becomes a phone that can make calls to anyone in the world!

How well does the Skype app work?


The Skype app worked fine for me as advertised, but there are some inherent gotchas that have less to do with the app and more to do with the current iPhone 2.x software. I launched the Skype app and logged in with my existing Skype username/password. It worked! I saw my user list of friends and online friends. Of course the first thing I wanted to do was try a call. So I tapped on one of my contacts and placed my first Skype call via the iPhone. Of course as luck would have it, I got no answer. He later emailed me to let me know that he couldn’t take the call right then and there. So the next thing I tried was the “Skype test” user and basically this allows you to test making call and recording your voice then playing it back to make sure your setup works. Since there were no other friends online at that moment, I tried the next best thing. I called a regular landline. It worked!

The only thing I didn’t try out was the text chatting. I didn’t try it because I just don’t use that feature of Skype.

Now for the gotchas. Although the Skype app works as advertised, there are some things to think about. The first thing is that since the iPhone doesn’t currently support background processing there’s no way to receive a Skype call unless the app is running. Once you quit the app you’re basically offline. So this would not be a good solution for people that want to receive Skype calls throughout the day. I’m sure this situation will improve in the upcoming iPhone 3.0 software update.

The next thing that I hadn’t really run into yet is what happens if you’re on a Skype call and your iPhone rings? Unfortunately, it’s not a smooth thing. Like most apps, when your iPhone rings they are put on hold. Same goes for Skype. So your Skype caller will just all of a sudden stop hearing you without warning. Worse, if you take the incoming call, your Skype caller will be disconnected. Again without warning. While this is not the end of the world, it’s not elegant. I read some of the other Skype reviews and some have complained about crashing. To date I’ve not had a single Skype crash.

When I dialed my own landline using Skype I noticed that there was no caller-ID info. Then I realized, why would there be? I’m not using their feature of having an incoming phone number. So I did the next best thing. Skype does allow you to configure the Caller-ID with your cellphone number. This way, if I make a Skype call to a landline or cellphone, it will look as if it’s coming from my cellphone. I’m happy with that solution.

A tip for traveling overseas! If you travel overseas with your iPhone and actually use it, you could be hit with substantial roaming charges. So as long as you have Skype for the iPhone and a Wi-Fi connection do this: Put your iPhone in Airplane Mode, which will disable the phone features, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Then simply go turn Wi-Fi back on. Now you can use your iPhone with Skype and make calls without the worry of roaming or being interupped by regular incoming cell phone calls.

The Bottom Line

A free VoIP solution for the iPhone is always welcome! The fact that it also works for 2nd generation iPod touch users is HUGE! Skype for the iPhone does have its limits, but nothing that’s a show stopper. Sure it would be nice to have it also work over a 3g or EDGE network too, but I’m sure AT&T and other carriers would never want to see that happen and probably blocked such apps somewhere on page 6936 of their contracts with Apple. You can download Skype for the iPhone and iPod touch here on the App Store. Setup your FREE Skype account here. Because Skype is cross platfom, it makes an excellent solution for doing video chats with your family and friends around the globe.

Landlines, Do we need ’em anymore?


OK, I’m thinking about cutting my last cord. My main home line is still with AT&T. Each month I look at the bill I ask “why?” I switched my business/home office line over to Vonage years ago and haven’t looked back. I get unlimited voice for $24.99 a month. It has worked out very well for me. My old bill back then was over $100/month for both voice and fax lines and that didn’t even include the separate Sprint long distance bill. Now it’s under $50 for both. Plus no long distance charges.

The one feature AT&T offers that I can’t seem to find via the VoIP/Digital companies is “Privacy Manager”. I pay for this service each month (in my package of services) to cut down on solicitors. Rather than just block their calls if they don’t display their number to my callerID, it plays a recording something to the effect of “your name or number was not recognized, please state your name after the beep and you call will be put through.” At this point a solicitor or automated caller will hang up. A legitimate caller will say their name and all is good. I have no idea of how many calls this blocks as the phone never rings if they don’t state their names. But I would hate to be inundated by a rash of solicitors if I switch over to Vonage or Comcast.


Vonage or Comcast

Vonage is certainly cheaper! Their unlimited service is $24.99/month. Comcast digital voice has introductory offers, but once that period has past, the rate jumps up to $39.99/month. However, Comcast seems to offer a lot more call blocking features, although none of them seem to be as good as Privacy Manager. It seems that you can either block blocked calls or not. There is no compromise. Even though I’m a Comcast TV and Internet customer, their combined packages don’t seem to bring the price down far enough to be in-line with Vonage. There is one thing about the Comcast service that I do like and that is they will send someone out to wire the new Cable/Voice modem to your existing telephone jacks. So once my phone number is ported over, it would be no physical difference to how I use the phone now. My February AT&T bill came in at $46.21 (January was $67.97 and then I called them to cut some stuff out and move to a different plan.) and that’s with no long distance as I try to do all my long distance calling either on my Vonage line or my cellphone. The other thing that bugs me is Zone Calls! There are usually anywhere from $2-$10 of Zone Calls on my bill each month because we may dial a number that is in the same area code, but just far enough away to be charged as a Zone Call and then by the minute.


Do I really even need a landline anymore?

My buddy Bruce sent out an email to all of his friends announcing that his home number was being disconnected and he gave out his and his wife’s cell numbers. His reason was that now that his daughter had gone off to college and it was just the two them, they couldn’t really think of any reason to keep the landline.

Everyone here at my house has a cellphone (yes iPhones). We all have our own numbers and our friends and family members know our numbers and call us. Other than the landline being used by the alarm system and a couple of older TiVos (that are slated to be replaced this year), do I really need one? Cell reception is 5 bars here in the house. I even get great reception in the basement. If I kill the landline, what am I giving up other than another bill? I will still have my office Vonage line if I need that to feel like I’m on a real phone.