3 New Must-Have Apps for iPhone (Zipcar, RedLaser, Dropbox)

Some very exciting developments in the iPhone apps world this week.  Check out these 3 must-have apps:

1.  DropBox

Create an account at GetDropBox.com, then effortlessly sync files between your home computer, work computer, and your iPhone.  You can even take pictures/videos from your iPhone and upload them directly to your computer. Cost: FREE.  This absolutely kills the $4.99 Air Sharing app’s revenue model.

dropbox1
Amazingly seamless syncing of files between your computer and iPhone.

2.  RedLaser

RedLaser uses the camera of your iPhone as a barcode scanner.  Scan anything from books, to candy and it will instantly search for the product on Amazon and Google.  Great for price matching when buying electronics.  Cost: $1.99.

laser1
Hold over any barcode (RedLaser)
Runs search on Amazon and Google for the product.
Runs search on Amazon and Google for the product.

3.  ZipCar

Much anticipated ZipCar app is finally out.  Find a nearby car using the built in GPS function, reserve it via the iPhone interface.  Once you initially unlock the car with your KeyCard, you can then unlock/lock/honk the horn from your iPhone.  Really impressive stuff, and will definitely up my Zipcar usage.  Cost: FREE (Zipcar membership required)

Locates Zipcar locations near you.
Locates Zipcar locations near you.

You can unlock, lock, and even honk the horn using your iPhone.
You can unlock, lock, and even honk the horn using your iPhone.

Ooma Update after 5 Months of Use

Update 8/29/09: Check out my new Post on how Ooma + iPhone = Amazing Voicemail

It’s been about 5 months since I started using Ooma.  I must say that overall the service has been spectacular.  While I still worry that they will be able to keep up their business model, I was reassured after talking to an Ooma tech who told me that a very large percentage of their customers opt-in for the paid monthly service.

Some important things to note:

Quality of Service, Bandwidth

Despite setting up Quality of Service in my router, I occasionaly notice that the Ooma service gets fuzzy if I am running any network intensive applications including my Network Security Camera.  I noticed that if I am watching the network camera while away from home, and if someone is using the Ooma phone while at home, the service can get a bit shoddy.  This is not a problem for only Ooma, but any VOIP phone service.

I still need to tinker with the QoS settings a little more to make sure that my router gives Ooma priority bandwidth.  Even when downloading large files, Ooma does not seem to be affected, but with large upload activity from things like Bittorrent, and upstreaming of video, you may get different results.

System-Wide Service Reliability

Ooma experienced a system-wide service interruption on April 13th, 2009.  This happened to be on a day that I was implementing an Ooma system in a retail environment, and it caused some major headaches.  The main problem was that Ooma did not make any kind of e-mail blast, or noticable announcement on the web site, so I only assumed that there was a problem locally with our network or Ooma hub.

Since the outage, Ooma has implemented a number of corrective actions that will hopefully help not only alert us if an outage occurs, but prevent any future system-wide outages from occurring again.  Especially nice is their new Ooma_Status Twitter account to keep you up to date on system issues.

Overall after 5 months:

Very happy I did not go with Vonage and waste ~$25+ per month.  No noticable quality difference between Ooma and a regular landline phone.  It really beats talking on a cell phone too in terms of clarity.

Neat little tip:

You can disable that weird Ooma chime that plays every time you pick up and place a call.  Sign into the Ooma Lounge.

Click on Preferences > System.

Then in the drop down box, select “(Disabled)” for Ooma connection tone.  After about 3 minutes, your phone should have a regular dial tone, and no longer have the weird Ooma tune.

Update 8/29/09: Check out my new Post on how Ooma + iPhone = Amazing Voicemail

Ooma Review [Free VOIP]


Ooma

[View Ooma Reviews on Amazon]

Update 10/27/09: Get a free iPod Shuffle with purchase of an Ooma! (Expires 10/31/09)
Update 5/06/09:
I have posted a 5-month update on my experience with Ooma.
Update 8/29/09:
Check out my new Post on how Ooma + iPhone = Amazing Voicemail

Overview:
With a lack of anytime minutes on the cell phone, and poor reception in our new apartment, I was forced to look at our VOIP options.  Long story short, I ended up purchasing an Ooma VOIP kit from Amazon, and so far, it’s amazing.  The difference between Ooma and other VOIP options?  No recurring fee.  Once you buy the Ooma device, the savings can theoretically continue growing forever.

Price:
When I decided we were going to get VOIP, my first thought was to get Vonage.  I felt that $24.99 per month for Vonage was a little steep, however.

With Vonage:
$25×12 + $80 VOIP kit = $380 for Year 1, $300 per year thereafter.

With Ooma:
$220 for VOIP kit, no required monthly fees ever again.

Ooma effectively would pay for itself over Vonage in 6 months.  It sounds too good to be true, and I was very skeptical at first.  After reading the glowing Amazon reviews, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a try.

Installation:
I had no experience with VOIP prior to this, and I found the set-up to be a breeze overall, no thanks to the included quick-start guide and manual, however.

The included manual tries to explain three different installation scenarios at the same time, making it difficult to understand.  I eventually just decided to plug in what makes sense, and it worked great.

If you have the following common network set-up, getting your Ooma working is abreeze:

  • Cable modem (DSL works too, but might require different set-up than below)
  • Wireless or Wired router

Get your Ooma working in less than 10 minutes, with these 4 easy steps:

  1. Activate your Ooma at www.ooma.com/activate
  2. Plug in the power to the Ooma hub (the larger of the two Ooma devices is the Hub, the smaller is the Scout).
  3. Plug one end of a network cord into a spare port on your router, usually labeled with a number between 1 and 4.  Plug the other end of the network cable into the port labeled “Modem” on your Ooma hub.
  4. Plug one end of a phone cord into the Ooma hub where it is labeled “phone,” and plug the other end into your regular landline phone (I use a cordless phone).

That’s it!  Assuming your internet is working, your new phone line should now be active.  The Ooma manual seemed rather daunting for me at first, but hopefully these 4 steps make it a little easier to follow.

Post any questions in the comments section, and check out the Ooma page on Amazon to get one for yourself.

Update 5/06/09: I have posted a 5-month update on my experience with Ooma.
Update 8/29/09:
Check out my new Post on how Ooma + iPhone = Amazing Voicemail
Update 10/27/09: Get a free iPod Shuffle with purchase of an Ooma! (Expires 10/31/09)

[View Ooma Reviews on Amazon]

Review of ATT 3G Wireless Card (Sierra 881)

Finally, broadband speed wherever you go.

In a nutshell:

  • Fast downloads (Downloads often at ~200KB/sec)
  • Great 3G coverage in most places
  • Expensive, but worth the price if you travel frequently

Cost:

Anywhere from free to $150 for the device itself, depending on what promotion you get.  Service is $69.99 per month for unlimited data.  AT&T forces you to get into 2-year contract to get this service, so if you do not envision  yourself having it for two years, be prepared to pay the $175 termination fee.

Coverage:

I have used the card in Chicago, DC, and NYC.  In addition, I have used it extensively on the bus from DC to NYC.  Overall I am very pleased with the service.  Even when traveling at 65mph on the highway the connection stays surprisingly steady.

Speed:

If you are within 3G coverage areas, the speed is very impressive for this device.  For regular web surfing, E-mail, Remote Desktop, and downloads under 30mb, the speed is absolutely sufficient.  YouTube videos load fast enough to have no lag time, and I was even able to watch instant Netflix videos.

Reliability:

The connection, while mostly reliable, can sometimes be buggy on Windows Vista.  At one point I received the dreaded Error 668 but was I eventually able to fix it.  The problems have been few and far between, and would not be a reason to not purchase the card.

Conclusion:

If you are like me:

  • Addicted to the internet
  • Frequently Travel
  • Impatient
  • The guy watching instant Netflix video on a bus or train

Then you probably will want this card.  I have gotten a tremendous amount of use out of it, and definitely am glad to have it.  In addition, it never hurts to have redundancy at home, in case the cable goes out.