Internet Phone (IP) service provider Vonage Inc. recently launched the F1000, a mobile Wi-Fi-enabled phone it developed with communications equipment maker UTStarcom Inc. of Almeda, Calif.
Configured with Vonage’s IP service, the F1000 allows users to make and receive calls from Wi-Fi enabled areas at home, at the office, at a “hotspot” or through a wireless-enabled area of the city.
So the immediate expectation is that you switch on the phone, it connects to a Wi-Fi network and you start to gab.
The Vonage Web site promotes the service as being particularly useful to overseas travelers who want to call home. “Traveling to your office in London?” the site says. “Use their wireless Internet connection and your Vonage WiFi phone to talk to your family and co-workers back home at no additional charge!”
One Vonage executive even suggests that the F1000 is the only phone you’ll need when you travel.
“With the added mobile capability provided by the F1000,” says Bruce Robertson, director of product marketing and programs for Vonage Canada, “consumers and road warriors only need one telephone while on the go, as they can access public wireless networks, like those in Fredericton, New Brunswick, those planned for Toronto, or one of the over 200 free Wi-Fi hotspots in Canada.”
But wait a minute. Did he say only 200 free hotspots in all of Canada? The Toronto public wireless network is not yet in? Perhaps you should hold onto your cell phone for a while.
If you’re looking for cutting edge design look elsewhere, the F1000 is liable to remind you of the 1990s. But being a guy who doesn’t care too much about aesthetics, the F 1000’s staid silver and black shell, and monochrome LCD screen did not bother me.
However I found the unit fit the hand better than today’s tiny phones and the slightly larger keys made it easier to punch in numbers. If you’re connecting to an encrypted access point (AP) you will need this advantage.
If you have the phone on Auto Scan mode, if will immediately scan for a maximum of 10 Wi-Fi networks in the area and connect to the nearest AP. You can also choose from the AP list appearing on the screen. The screen also indicates whether it’s locked or not.
To connect to an encrypted AP you have to enter the network’s WEP key or access code.
Once fired up, the phone immediately found our company’s security-enabled network. This is where things start to get interesting.
Even with the help of the user’s guide, I found the F 1000’s UI was not as intuitive or user friendly as I had hoped.
It isn’t unreasonable to flip through the menus several times to connect to an AP, but the F1000’s screen gives you two choices: Search and Menu. Which button should I go for?
After I found myself bounced back and forth the list of access points and the WEP Key screen several times, I finally managed to save our AP setting. It’s a good thing the phone allows you to save Wi-Fi profiles for a number of hotspots to ease connectivity!
The F1000 comes with standard Vonage call features including: voicemail, call waiting, three-way calling, call forwarding and caller ID based on the unit’s phone book entries. Features typical to cell phones like, hold, mute, repeat dialing, ring tone and vibrate options also come standard.
Once connected to our office network, I tried a downtown Toronto number.
“Tell them the phone doesn’t work well, you sound like you have a cold,” the very faint voice at the other end of the line said.
I tried keeping the conversation going, but the signal kept breaking up. At times it was like the voice at the other end was coming from a tunnel.
Next I called a New York number. The message on the answering machine came back choppy. Perhaps it was a bandwidth problem on our side.
When I had my co-worker call me from our office, however, she came in loud and clear. I took the phone out of the office and found it very quickly detected nearby Wi-Fi networks! I counted more than 10 APs in the vicinity of a nearby mall; all but three of them were open.
The F1000 comes with a 3.6 volt Li-ion battery that provides 50 – 100 hours of standby power, and approximately five hours of talking time, Vonage says. The battery can be recharged in two to three hours.
The F1000 did not steal away my heart but as a first-generation product the phone actually does well.
The voice quality was erratic, but once connected to a good AP, calls could be made and received and reception was reasonably good at times comparable to typical cell phone quality.
Vonage Canada, in its release suggested that this might be the only phone that “road warriors” would need. I don’t see that actually happening in the near future, unless public wireless networks become widespread.
It’s true that Vonage’s IP service might make it more attractive when compared to long distances charges you’ll incur using traditional phone service.
The company sells the unit for $159.99 with a rebate of $65.00, with the cost of a Vonage plan as extra. Presumably you could realize savings if you make a lot of long distance calls plus you get the convenience of a mobile phone.
But if you’re not in a Wi-Fi enabled hotel, office or building the phone is pretty much useless. In environments where APs are encrypted you will still have to go through the hassle of seeking permission and acquiring the codes.
At this point I think that the inconsistency of Wi-Fi connections make the F1000 a decent phone seeking a good infrastructure.