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December 28, 2005

Review: Flashphone F2K

Who says you can't take it with you? The $40 Flashphone F2K from Mplat Technology lets you plug into random PCs and make and recieve free Skype VoIP calls.

Personal Tech Pipeline

Skype and other Voice-Over-IP (VoIP) products make high-quality -- and free -- global calls over the Internet possible.

One downside, however, is that, unlike with a cell phone or a wireless handheld, you need to be tethered to the specific PC that contains your calling information, as well as the hardware and software than enables calls. Or do you?

A $40 product called Flashphone F2K from Mplat Technology, however, seeks to put that information, along with the software and hardware itself, into the palm of your hand.

The FlashPhone F2K is designed to be a self-contained Skype device. Mplat has combined a flash memory drive and a USB sound card into a device only slightly larger than a lipstick holder. Physically, the Flashphone consists of the device itself and a set of earbuds with a built in microphone. They plug into one side of the device and an USB connector is hidden under a cap on the other.

When I connected the FlashPhone to an available USB port, I was prompted to start Skype Mobile. After a surprisingly long load time, the application was up and ready for use. When Skype did load, the FlashPhone did exactly as promised. Initially, I made a couple of calls to Skype's Echo Test service, so I was not only able to hear another caller, but also get a recorded clip of my own voice played back to me. Audio quality through the device was actually pretty good through the included headset, both for sending and receiving.

I did run into an issue during testing where I kept losing my Skype settings and contact list after exiting the application. In looking through the files on the flash drive, I discovered that a required freeware application was missing. A text document in the directory where the file is supposed to be in gives a web link to download the file. It's a bit unclear if this is a simple mistake or some kind of licensing issue, but my settings issue cleared up when the app was in the right place.

After ensuring the Flashphone worked well on my primary machine, I walked over to another machine and plugged in. As before, the new machine detected and install both the flash drive and the audio controller. As Skype launched, all of my user settings and contact listing were carried over to the new machine. Everything worked exactly as expected, but I did have administrator authority on both test machines. In a locked down corporate environment or even an internet café, computer policies may prevent the hardware from being installed or the application from loading.

The Flashphone is based a on sound idea: Take all of the components needed to run Skype and build them into a small, simple device. While I would like to see better documentation, for the forty dollar list price, the F2K is a nice little package that lets you take your VoIP with you.

MPLAT Technology
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