Pros: Slim, affordable, easy to use, compatible with major Internet phone services.
Cons: Call quality is shaky.
Requirements: Windows XP with open PC Card slot, Bluetooth, Internet connection, Internet phone service software/provider.
If you’ve got Bluetooth in your laptop, and don’t like the idea of a Bluetooth headset sticking deep in your ear canal (or making you look like a doofus), you can still use a handheld phone to make calls. That’s what the Vo200 is all about. Just don’t expect crystal clarity.
Despite “advanced echo cancellation” and “noise suppression technology,” calls placed on the Kensington Vo200 Bluetooth Internet Phone are not markedly superior to those you might place with an old-fashioned walkie-talkie. In my tests, echoes and scratchy sub-par sound quality were prevalent. However, since call quality for any Internet telephony device is somewhat hit-or-miss depending on the connection, the service, and the device being used by the recipient of one’s call, I have to cut the Vo200 some slack.
The phone, which is small enough to slip inside a PC Card slot for convenient storage, demonstrated good call range. I was able to make calls via Google Talk over my WLAN while moving throughout a two-story building holding the phone as though it were a cell phone. Call quality was consistent even when floors and doors separated the Vo200 from my computer.Design and Features
The Vo200 is super-slim, lightweight, and easy to carry or store. Its black plastic base flips out to create a convenient hands-free standing speakerphone. Speakerphone, Bluetooth, Power, and Volume buttons are all clearly displayed on the no-frills face of the device. With three hours of continuous talk time or 30 hours of standby time, the Vo200 can go the distance for just about any work or business call, and it automatically recharges when docked in your laptop’s PC card slot. It works with Skype, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk and other services.
Setup and Software
The Vo200 comes with clear instructions for setup, including a Quick Start Guide and a more comprehensive instruction guide that helps with troubleshooting. If you don’t have Bluetooth built into your system, a Bluetooth adapter such as the Kensington Bluetooth USB Adapter 2.0 ($29.99) is necessary.
The Vo200 requires four hours of charging before the setup process can be completed, but once the phone is fully charged, setup is as simple as installing software from the CD and pairing the device with your computer. (If you have to pair the Vo200 and your computer manually, the PIN number is 4444. You can find this in the Quick Start Guide.)
Calls originate from whichever Internet phone service you choose to use. If the Vo200 is not on, pressing the Power button for three seconds will power it up. A beep will sound, and a clearly visible amber indicator light will blink continuously when power is on.
A connection dialog box is supposed to appear on the screen, although in tests, this was never the case. To place a call, simply open the application you plan to use and initiate a call as usual. In Google Talk, for instance, simply press the Call button.
In order for your messaging application to place the call via the Vo200, the audio settings (within the messaging application) must be set to “Bluetooth Audio” or “Bluetooth Hands-free Audio.” In Google Talk, for example, click on Settings, Audio, and then select Bluetooth Audio from the pull-down menu in both the Input and Output sections.
There are higher-end Internet phones on the market, such as the Philips VOIP841 ($150), which works without a PC; the SMC Wi-Fi Phone & FON router ($160), which lets you make Skype calls from any available Wi-Fi network; or the Linksys CIT300 ($130) for Skype — but the phones are all bulkier, often come with a router, and/or are tied to one particular service, and they all cost substantially more.
In the Vo200’s price range, competitors include the Yealink USB-W1DL ($90), which is not compatible with Google Talk and offers no speakerphone. Overall, I recommend the Kensington Vo200, with the one caveat being unimpressive call quality – though it’s not really much different from what you’d get with a Bluetooth headset paired with your laptop and a VoIP client. While it’s not a landline replacement, for the price, the Vo200 is an easy-to-use, no-frills, entry-level cordless Internet Phone.