6 April 2010
It’s rare that I obtain a consumer grade router that I am generally happy with “out of the box.” The only reason I ever buy a Linksys router is so I can lobotomize it and run DD-WRT on it. Otherwise, I find myself pulling out my hair due to instability issues and lack of functionality. This goes even double for travel-routers.
While this 3G travel router from Aluratek (sent to me for review) does not have everything I’d want to see in a router–I’ll get into the shortcomings later–it has enough features and is stable enough that I’m recommending it. It’s a cross between your typical travel router and a MiFi–actually more like a Cradlepoint device. You have to provide the 3G or 4G dongle. The good news is you can use it with any provider you can get a USB dongle for, assuming the modem is on the compatibility list. A large list of modems is supported, so it’s pretty likely yours is.
Like the MiFi, it’s battery powered. Unlike the MiFi and similar routers, it charges with a wall wort. I asked the PR firm that sent me this router for review about charging over USB, this is not supported. It does allow you to use the device plugged in, though, which is handy.
The router comes with a setup disk for Windows, which being a Mac user I ignored. Of course, the router works with a Mac just fine (it speaks IP, after all), there were no instructions provided in the box for how to configure the router for a Mac. I was able to figure it out pretty easily, being someone quite familiar with networking.
As I stated before, the router supports 3G/4G dongles from the major vendors. Unfortunately, unless you know the dial string and username/password from your 3G/4G provider, you will have a difficult time getting this working. Having done this numerous times on AT&T for various devices, I remembered the magic incantations needed (namely the APN to use, dial string, account and password). It would be nice if they provided the information for the most common providers or, better yet, let you choose from a menu in the firmware of known provider configurations.
The router itself can be used for making your 3G/4G dongle accessible from multiple computers (of course), but the device also has a LAN port. This LAN port can either be used to provide a wired host access to your 3G OR you can use it as a WAN port, allowing you to make a wired hotel connection wireless.
The router also has a removable battery, which means it can be used like a MiFi. The battery gets roughly 4 hours of battery life. I did not test that claim, but I did keep it in my bag for several weeks and didn’t bother to charge it. I used it periodically and did not run out of power during that time.
To field test this router, I took an AT&T 3G card I had, took out my SIM card from my iPhone and put it in. I used it in a few unusual places to test how well the device works. This includes: a Starbucks, a Virgin Mobile airplane (on the ground of course), a hotel room in the middle of Silicon Valley, and of course here at home. All of these places had their own WiFi that was suboptimal. (Starbucks usually has ok WiFi, but the day I tested this, it was particularly problematic)
I’m not sure if the router is to blame for this or not, but sometimes when I power on the router with the 3G dongle attached, it does not connect to the Internet properly. I find if I power cycle the router again and restart, the 3G connection comes up in roughly a minute. Once connected, I have relatively fast Internet through AT&T’s 3G network.
The router itself has fairly typical configuration options: DHCP Server (can set static DHCP reservations and/or disable), Port Forwarding (for allowing connections inbound on specific services to specific hosts), outbound packet, domain, and URL Filtering (manual), MAC-level filtering, Dynamic DNS support, routing (including support for RIPv1 and RIPv2), SNMP and even “scheduled rules” (rules enabled at specific times). The web interface is not terribly cluttered, provides context sensitive help, and is easy to use.
The router along with a short Ethernet cable is provided in a travel bag. It would be nice if the wall wort also fit into this bag. Either the wall wort needs to be a little smaller or the bag needs to be a little bigger. Bonus points if it can also fit a typical 3G dongle as well.
All in all, there’s a lot to like about this router. It provides an above-average set of functionality out-of-the-box. The documentation needs to be better for non-Windows users and they need to provide information on how to configure the router to work with different 3G networks. If you can get past those hurdles, it’s a good deal at ~$80 on amazon.com.
20 October 2009
Since I’ve joined Check Point Software, I’ve done a fair bit of traveling–moreso than I’ve done in quite some time. Since I am ending up more random places, and have had the joy of going through airport security in Tel Aviv on two occasions so far (which makes the TSA experience seem relatively painless by comparison), it has forced me to refine my travel toolbox–things that come with me on every trip I make. Lighter traveling makes for easier traveling, and the following items have earned a more or less permanent place in my travel bag.
The Apple iPhone: As much as I have liked the Nokia phones over the years, thanks to the breadth of applications on the iPhone, not to mention the iPhone’s multimedia capabilities, the iPhone has been a welcome travel companion. TripIt and iXpenseIt have become absolutely indispensable applications while traveling.
Portable iPhone Battery Charger: Written about this in the past, of course, but it bares mentioning again, especially when using the iPhone in airplane mode on a plane where they don’t provide a USB or power jack. It keeps my phone charged so that when I land, my iPhone and I are ready to go.
The Nokia E71: This comes in handy, particularly on those trips to Israel where I can’t use my iPhone as anything more than an iPod Touch thanks to AT&T’s roaming rates being so expensive. Prior to my purchasing an iPhone, the Nokia E71 was my primary phone and it is still quite capable in a pinch. It is also a failsafe in case I completely drain the battery in the iPhone
MaxRoam: One thing I have to admit missing from my days at Nokia was not having to worry about my mobile phone charges when traveling abroad. 500 – 1000 EUR phone bills were not all that uncommon for travelers abroad. Even though I was a responsible chap and asked how one might reduce that cost while abroad, I was often told “not to worry” by managers. Meanwhile, Check Point has a different opinion about these things, so I carry a MaxRoam SIM in that Nokia E71 to keep the roaming costs a bit more reasonable. That and I get a local SIM card if I’m going to be someplace more than a few days.
Skype: Assuming I have a good Internet connection, Skype is a lifesaver, especially for making reasonable calls to the US while I am abroad. Actually, the calls are included in the ~$30/year Skype North America plan, making it an excellent value.
Monster Outlets To Go: Given the relative lack of plugs I have found in hotel rooms, having a power strip with me has proven to be a wise investment. Abroad, it is even better because I can make more efficient use of the relatively scarce plug adapters. The Outlets To Go by Monster has been fantastic. It’s compact, the plug lights up when connected to power, and it’s relatively inexpensive. Can’t ask for much more than that.
iPass: As much as I’ve used (and loved) Boingo in the past, I have had numerous issues with their software on the iPhone and on the Mac. Also, I frequently find their “mobile” software doesn’t allow me to log into hotspots I use frequently. Enter iPass, who has been at this remote access game longer. They still provide dialup Internet access on the road, but also provide Internet access through a number of other mechanisms, including many of the same WiFi hotspots Boingo does. Their iPhone app works pretty well. More options is good, and when providing reliable remote access solutions, experience counts.
A Travel Router: Because one never knows exactly what kind of broadband connectivity one will find at a hotel, and I have multiple devices that might need to use that Internet access, a travel router has a place in my bag. I can plug it into the hotel Ethernet and make it WiFi so my laptop and my mobile phones can connect to it. I currently use a first-generation WTR54GS from Linksys, which I have flashed with the flexible DD-WRT firmware.
The EVERYMAN Headset: Yes, with Skype, one needs a quality headset for an optimal experience. The EVERYMAN delivers in terms of cost and compactness in my travel bag. Yes, they gave me a review unit a few months ago, but at $23 shipped to my door, I’d happily buy another one!
An Extra Change of Clothes: One thing I learned from a professional services guy I worked with early in my career is that you never know when you will get stuck someplace on the road. Flights get canceled or severely delayed. Any number of accidents can happen involving your clothing, as well. As a result, I always–even on short trips–bring an extra change of clothes with me. I have never had to use them, thankfully, but it’s nice to know they’re there if I need them.
An Extra Bag: Yes, I actually pack an extra bag in my carryon. It’s one of those nylon “recyclable” bags you might get at a grocery store. This particular one folds up nicely with a velcro flap to keep it a nice, tidy bundle. However, if I end up picking up a few extra things on my travels, having a way to carry that stuff home is important.
2 July 2009
I spent the afternoon in Starbucks going through my work inbox. It’s still got too many items in it, but it now has less than my personal Gmail. Now it’s time to turn my attention to my personal Gmail inbox and crank out another Inbox Liquidation post:
Psiloc Cuts Prices during the Summer: During the summer, you can 1 S60 3rd edition application from Psiloc and get a second one at half off. If you buy an app for an older Nokia-type phone or a UIQ device, buy your apps for 5.99 EUR (or just under 9 USD). Psiloc has a lot of great apps. I’ve personally purchased Psiloc Connect for the N95 8GB and been very happy with it.
David Blaine‘s Street Magic: See A Card app for iPhone: For $1.99, you too can amaze your friends and perform one of David Blaine’s famous card tricks using your iPhone, or so the press release goes. But let’s be honest: it’s more impressive with an actual deck of cards than it is with an iPhone app. I guess I’ll have to try it once my iPhone comes off backorder.
Your Streelights Bring You WiFi: Duratel has a very clever solution: hide those unsightly antennas for mobile phones and WiFi inside the light poles. Have to say I like this, if only to shut the NIMBYs up. Now if only AT&T would deploy a few of these in my neighborhood.
Spy On Your Employees/Spouses With FlexiSpy: It’s available for a lot of phones, including Nokia, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, and iPhone. I’ll just let you read the site and decide if you think it’s a good idea. Whether it is legal or not is another thing entirely.
Park Your Number With NumberGarage: If you’re moving out of an area and you don’t want to lose that number, a service like NumberGarage is helpful. You can essentially port the number to them. For a nominal fee, they will keep the number alive for you. The PARK service just parks the number, the FORWARD service will forward calls to your number to a different one. It’s a clever service, but their PARK service needs to announce a forwarding number, just like your phone company does when they move your service to a different location.
22 May 2009
It’s that time again:
FreeConferencing.com Launches: Until they do something to equalize inter-carrier compensation between most civilized parts of the United States and rural locations, services like FreeConferenceCall.com and now FreeConferencing.com will continue to exist and be profitable. By hosting these services in, say, rural Iowa, they actually make a small amount of money per minute on incoming calls. Anyway, FreeConferencing.com is a way to do a one-to-many call, complete with a web-based console to manage the call.
Vonage Trying To Act Like Mobile Phone Carriers: Vonage, the VoIP landline replacement service provider that refuses to die, is now offering a deal where you can sign up and not pay for equipment, shipping, or activation. The catch? You have to sign a two year agreement complete with early termination fees that are, according to my calculations, worse than a mobile phone contract.
iPopperz Fashion Earphones: Personally not my thing, but these are relatively inexpensive, in-ear haedphones with a number of styles, colors, and whatnot. I would consider buying the black, green, and black pair. One cool thing: they sell replacement earpads. Granted, there is a huge amount of markup there, but it’s the first time I’ve seen them available.
Bad Experience on DeFi Mobile: I briefly wrote about DeFi Mobile in October. Wasn’t sure how well the service was going to be when it went live, but someone forwarded me some correspondence to and from the company related to their experience. In short: it was bad voice quality and improper CallerID. Anyone have a good experience with DeFi Mobile?
Qwest Offering Free WiFi Nationwide: If you happen to live in an area where Qwest is your local exchange carrier and you get high speed Internet from them, now you can take it with you–sort of. Qwest has signed a deal with AT&T to provide Qwest customers free WiFi at 17,000 AT&T operated WiFi hotspots. Personally, I think it’s worth $9.95 a month for Boingo, which offers WiFi at AT&T locations and a whole bunch more!
5 December 2008
I would expect someone like Andy Abramson to be excited about his client, Truphone, getting an application on the Apple iPod Touch that makes it possible to make VoIP calls over WiFi. Eventually, according to MarketWatch, you’ll be able to receive calls as well, though I’m not sure how that will work given Apple doesn’t allow background apps on their iPhone and iPod Touch.
However, when I look at it in the bigger picture, I go “meh.” It’s not exciting to me. Turning something that isn’t a phone into a phone is old hat. That’s been a reality on the Nokia N800/N810 for a while thanks to Skype. I’m sure you can think of other examples of this as well.
I don’t see a lot of “average” people go through the trouble of downloading the Truphone app from Apple’s App Store, getting the necessary microphone adapter from Apple, and using this to make calls versus some other method. No doubt some people will do it–perhaps people aided by geeks like me, perhaps not.
Most of the people I know can barely use their mobile phone. Anything more complicated than making a call, receiving a call, and perhaps using the camera requires assistance from someone like me. I helped my wife’s aunt over Thanksgiving with her LG Dare, never having seen the phone before.
Now granted, not everyone has an iPhone, or an iPod Touch. Apple does make it dirt simple to get apps onto the handset. I’m sure the smart guys at Truphone guys have also done a brilliant job of making this application dirt simple to use, much like they’ve done on the Nokia handsets.
I am struggling to see the market for this. It might seem like there is with 300 Million applications downloaded from Apple’s App Store. However, what percentage of Apple’s iPhone/iPod Touch user base have actually downloaded an application and installed it? How many Apple iPhone and iPod Touch users are actively using third party apps on their devices? My gut says not nearly as many as people are thinking.
The other niggling question is: of the people that download Truphone’s iPod Touch application, how many will turn into paying users instead of just using the free features of the application?
I would love to be wrong and have this be a mainstream game changer. I’d love to see more people using VoIP, but I’m having trouble seeing how this vision will work. Can anyone help clarify it for me?
28 November 2008
Tuesday, I received my white Nokia E71. The phone’s been out a while, as I’m sure anyone who follows a Gadget blog or reads Wired can tell you. Since I work for Nokia, you should realize the following is my own opinion on the Nokia E71 NAM, i.e. E71-2, RM-357, or at least one other name I’m not allowed to use in public.
The first thing I noticed when I opened my package was how small the box is compared to even the N96 I received not too long ago. It’s about half the size. Inside the box, pretty much everything inside that wasn’t shrinkwrapped was cardboard instead of plastic, making the packaging a lot more recyclable. Very green, even if the inside of my box is mostly black
Inside the box, I got the phone, battery, 2.5mm stereo headphones–more on that in a minute–power adapter, micro USB cable, manual, CD. Pretty much everything I expect to come with the phone, though the matching wrist strap and carry case were nice bonuses.
I had seen and even handled some pre-release versions of this handset, but they are never as good as the production units. This one felt wonderful. Solid construction, not too big. The keys are crammed together, but it’s pretty easy to push the right ones.
17 November 2008
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A couple years ago, I found out they were putting WiFi on the ferries in Washington State. Being as I rarely take the ferries around here, it’s not something I’ve been tracking all that closely. However, I do appreciate how useful it would be to have–particularly on that hour-long Bremerton to Seattle run
The entire fleet of ferries and ferry terminals does not have WiFi yet, but it’s certainly expanded from when I heard about it a couple of years ago. 11 Washington State Ferries terminals and 15 Ferries offer WiFi service today.
And now, those floating WiFi hotspots are owned by the folks at Boingo. Boingo has announced they’re taking over WiFi on the ferries from Parsons Transportation Group. The most immediate thing that customers will notice, aside from the new splash page, is the price will go down to $21.95/mo from the $29.95/mo it originally was. In addition, customers will be able to use WiFi at all of Boingo’s locations throughout the U.S. and Canada for that price, not just the ferries. If you have a supported mobile phone, you can use Boingo Mobile for only $7.95/mo!
Seems like a win-win for everyone involved. Passengers get a better deal, more access, and their WiFi is now managed by people that actually know how to do it. What’s not to like?