VOIP phone looks and sounds good

Kensington's credit-card-sized phone works quite well

Designed for use with Voice over IP (VOIP) services from brands such as Skype, MSN, Yahoo, and Google, Kensington's $US90 (list) Vo200 BT Internet Phone is way cool. The svelte design is the picture of minimalism, and the phone works quite well.

The flat, credit-card-sized phone fits in a Type I or II PC Card slot for storage and recharging. A clever two-way swivel flap doubles as the mouthpiece in one direction and as a speakerphone stand in the other.

The phone uses Bluetooth, so you can talk at distances of up to 30 feet away from your PC. Unfortunately, pairing the Vo200 with your Bluetooth-enabled PC is kludgy and a hassle; but in my experience, once Bluetooth pairing completed, the unit worked smoothly.

The phone has just three buttons -- one for power, one for Bluetooth connectivity, and one for toggling the speakerphone. A side switch controls volume. Operation is simple: PC speaker audio is muted as soon as you pick up the phone; to end a call, you simply flip the mouthpiece closed.

In my hands-on tests, I found incoming audio surprisingly clear. Sound quality was slightly tinny overall, but not bothersomely so. In speakerphone mode, audio had some in-a-fishbowl hollowness, but it was still acceptable.

Kensington rates the Vo200 at 30 hours of standby battery life and 3 hours of talk time. In my informal tests, the phone lived up to its billing: I got the 30 hours and at least 2.5 hours of talk time before recharges were necessary.

The phone's PC Card design, intended for use with a notebook PC, has a couple of drawbacks. First, since the Vo200 has no keypad, you can talk some distance away from your PC only after using the computer's number pad to place the call. Second, though a blinking light warns you when you have about 10 percent of full battery power left for talking, a nearly identical blinking light indicates that the phone is connected to Bluetooth -- and discerning between the two can be difficult.

The convenience of this Lilliputian phone cannot be denied, and its use of the PC Card slot for storage and recharging is pure genius. But its inability to support direct input of outbound calls imposes a significant limitation.

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Michael S. Lasky

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