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IOGEAR USB VoIP Skype Calling Kit

Holiday Buyer's Guide 2006, Part 5: The Mobile Stuff
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There's money to be saved by eliminating a standard Telco phone and replacing it with a device that uses the Internet to support calls to other phones. One of the easier ways to do this involves using the Skype Voice over IP (VoIP) calling service and IOGEAR's compact USB VoIP Skye Calling Kit, which even includes a 6 port USB hub and a speakerphone.

The base unit consists of a dialpad (shown in the photo) which plugs into any open USB 1.1 or 2.0 Type A port on a notebook or desktop PC, and comes with a plug-in over-the-ear headset with built-in speaker and microphone capabilities. The base unit also integrates audio for incoming voice traffic and headset feedback. Its users can decide if they want to use the base unit as a speakerphone or rely entirely on the headset for telephone audio. By using two jacks for the headset, IOGEAR cleverly allows users to manage incoming and outgoing audio on a device of their choosing, so they can do everything through the headset, or use the base unit for incoming audio and the headset microphone for outgoing voice traffic (which is how we found ourselves using it most regularly).

A small 5v 2.5 amp AC-to-DC converter is included with the base unit to power the dialpad, but you only need to use the power supply if the base unit serves other USB devices that need DC power. Otherwise, the base unit works just fine by drawing power from the notebook or PC to which it is attached.

The IOGEAR USB VoIP Skype Calling Kit is easy to install and use, but requires close attention to the readme file on the driver CD included with the unit. It's also necessary to install the most current version of Skype before installing device drivers, and also to install those drivers before plugging this unit into your computer. This all takes less than two minutes to complete, so it's fast and easy; but if you don't follow these steps as described you may run into installation issues. As it was, we followed the sequence and got everything up and running quickly.

Once installed, the unit is a pleasure to use, with sound quality on the headset on a par with a good-quality standalone unit like the Plantronics S11. The speakerphone lets you use your own external speakers for playback, so it's hard to complain about resulting sound quality. Outgoing sound was also rated "good" or better by those to whom we placed test calls. Those unfamiliar with Skype should know that although the unit lacks a + key to initiate a dial string, double zero (00) also works to start a call.

With its good sound quality, nice Skype integration, and added USB ports, the IOGEAR USB Sky Calling Kit makes a peachy, affordable stocking stuffer.

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