Category: Wi-Fi

Introducing NeoRouter VPN: A Star Is Born

In our last article, we introduced PPTP VPNs for interconnecting remote users and branch offices to a central network hub. Known as a hub-and-spoke VPN, the advantage of this design is it lets remote users participate as peers in an existing home office LAN. It’s simple to set up and easy to maintain. The drawback is vulnerability to man-in-the-middle attacks.

Today, we want to turn our attention to the more traditional client-server VPN which still relies upon a central server but uses a star topology to connect remote nodes. The major difference is that only registered devices participate in the virtual private network so there is no direct access to other machines on the LANs of the registered devices. If you have servers scattered all over the countryside, this is an excellent way to manage and interconnect them. All data and communications between the nodes can then be routed through the encrypted VPN tunnel for rock-solid security.

With NeoRouter’s free software, you can set up your VPN server using a PC, a Mac, a Linux or FreeBSD machine, OpenWrt Backfire, and Tomato. VPN clients are available for PCs, Macs, Linux and FreeBSD PCs, OpenWrt, Tomato as well as Android phones and tablets. There’s even an HTML5 web application in addition to a Chrome browser plug-in. With the OpenWrt and Tomato devices or if you’re an extreme techie, you can broaden your NeoRouter star configuration to include bridging of remote LANs. See pp. 47-50 of the NeoRouter User’s Manual. And you can interconnect up to 256 devices at no cost. For $999, you can enlarge your VPN to support 1,000 devices. Screen sharing, remote desktop connections, HTTP, and SSH access all work transparently using private IP addresses of the VPN nodes which are automatically assigned to the 10.0.0.0 private network.

You may be wondering why we’ve moved on from Hamachi. Suffice it to say, LogMeIn has put the squeeze on the free version to the point that it’s now next to worthless. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any mention of a free version of Hamachi (other than a trial edition) on LogMeIn’s current web site. Here’s a feature comparison which says it better than we could:

Today we are introducing the first of two NeoRouter VPN solutions. First, we have a simple installation script that works with any PBX in a Flash 2™ server. See also our more recent column for the dedicated server edition of NeoRouter VPN known as VPN in a Flash. It’s suitable for use on a dedicated server or running as a virtual machine. For smaller VPNs, we prefer the add-on module for PBX in a Flash. For larger deployments, you probably should opt for the dedicated machine. It also isolates your VPN server from your PBX which generally is the better network strategy. Regardless of the installation scenario you choose, keep in mind that neither option requires exposure of your entire server to the Internet. Only a single TCP port needs to be opened in your hardware-based firewall and IPtables Linux firewall.

NeoRouter Setup with PIAF2™. We’re assuming you already have a PBX in a Flash 2 server set up behind a hardware-based firewall. If not, start there. Next, we’ll need to download and run the installer for your new NeoRouter Server. It also installs the client. Just log into your server as root and issue the following commands:

wget http://incrediblepbx.com/install-neorouter
chmod +x install-neorouter
./install-neorouter

The installer will walk you through these five installation steps, but we’ll repeat them here so you have a ready reference down the road.

First, on your hardware-based firewall, map TCP port 32976 to the private IP address of your PIAF2 server. This tells the router to send all NeoRouter VPN traffic to your PIAF2 server when it hits your firewall. If you forget this step, your NeoRouter VPN will never work!

Second, we’re going to use your server’s public IP address as the destination for incoming traffic to your NeoRouter VPN. If this is a dynamic IP address, you’ll need an FQDN that’s kept current by a service such as DynDNS.com.

Third, each administrator and user is going to need a username to access your NeoRouter VPN. You can use the same credentials to log in from multiple client machines, something you may or may not want to do. We’re going to set up credentials for one administrator as part of the install. You can add extra ones by adding entries with one of the following commands using the keyword admin or user. Don’t use any special characters in the username and password!

nrserver -adduser username password admin
nrserver -adduser username password user

Fourth, make up a very secure password to access your NeoRouter VPN. No special characters.

You’re done. Review your entries very carefully. If all is well, press Enter. If you blink, you may miss the completion of the install process. It’s that quick.

Fifth, after your NeoRouter VPN is installed, you can optionally go to the NeoRouter web site and register your new VPN by clicking Create Standalone Domain. Make up a name you can easily remember with no periods or spaces. You’ll be prompted for the IP address of your server in the second screen. FQDNs are NOT permitted.

When a VPN client attempts to login to your server, the server address is always checked against this NeoRouter database first before any attempt is made to resolve an IP address or FQDN using DNS. If no matching entry is found, it will register directly to your server using a DNS lookup of the FQDN. Whether to register your VPN is totally up to you. Logins obviously occur quicker using this registered VPN name, but logins won’t happen at all if your server’s dynamic IP address changes and you’ve hard-coded a different IP address into your registration at neorouter.com.

Setting Up a NeoRouter Client. As mentioned previously, there are NeoRouter clients available for almost every platform imaginable, except iPhones and iPads. Hopefully, they’re in the works. So Step #1 is to download whatever clients are appropriate to meet your requirements. Here’s the NeoRouter Download Link. Make sure you choose a client for the Free version of NeoRouter. And make sure it is a version 1.7 client! Obviously, the computing platform needs to match your client device. The clients can be installed in the traditional way with Windows machines, Macs, etc.

CentOS NeoRouter Client. As part of the installation above, we have automatically installed the NeoRouter client for your particular flavor of CentOS 6, 32-bit or 64-bit. In order to access resources on your NeoRouter server from other clients, you will need to activate the client on your server as well. This gets the server a private IP address in the 10.0.0.0 network.

To activate the client, type: nrclientcmd. You’ll be prompted for your Domain, Username, and Password. You can use the registered domain name from neorouter.com if you completed step #5. Or you can use the private IP address of your server. If your router supports hairpin NAT, you can use the public IP address or server’s FQDN, if you have one. After you complete the entries, you’ll get a display that looks something like this:

To exit from NeoRouter Explorer, type: quit. The NeoRouter client will continue to run so you can use the displayed private IP addresses to connect to any other online devices in your NeoRouter VPN. All traffic from connections to devices in the 10.0.0.0 network will flow through NeoRouter’s encrypted VPN tunnel. This includes inter-office SIP and IAX communications between Asterisk® endpoints.

Admin Tools for NeoRouter. Here are a few helpful commands for monitoring and managing your NeoRouter VPN.

Browser access to NeoRouter Configuration Explorer (requires user with Admin privileges)

Browser access to NeoRouter Network Explorer (user with Admin or User privileges)

To access your NeoRouter Linux client: nrclientcmd

To restart NeoRouter Linux client: /etc/rc.d/init.d/nrservice.sh restart

To restart NeoRouter Linux server: /etc/rc.d/init.d/nrserver.sh restart

To set domain: nrserver -setdomain YOUR-VPN-NAME domainpassword

For a list of client devices: nrserver -showcomputers

For a list of existing user accounts: nrserver -showusers

For the settings of your NeoRouter VPN: nrserver -showsettings

To add a user account: nrserver -adduser username password user

To add admin account: nrserver -adduser username password admin

Test VPN access: http://www.neorouter.com/checkport.php

For a complete list of commands: nrserver –help

To change client name from default pbx.local1:

  • Edit /etc/hosts
  • Edit /etc/sysconfig/network
  • Edit /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-eth0
  • Edit /etc/asterisk/vm_general.inc
  • reboot

For the latest NeoRouter happenings, follow the NeoRouter blog on WordPress.com.

GPL2 License. The install-neorouter application is open source software licensed under GPL2. The NeoRouter Server and Client software is freeware but not open source. This installer has been specifically tailored for use on PBX in a Flash 2 servers, but it can easily be adjusted to work with virtually any Linux-based Asterisk system. If you make additions or changes, we hope you’ll share them on our forums for the benefit of the entire VoIP community. Enjoy!

Originally published: Wednesday, April 18, 2012




Need help with Asterisk? Visit the NEW PBX in a Flash Forum.


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For PBX in a Flash users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage and any balance is fully refundable if you discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

  1. We’ve built a script to rename your PIAF2 server in all the right places. You can download it here. []

Introducing PPTP VPNs: The Travelin’ Man’s Best Friend

It’s been almost three years since we introduced VoIP Over VPN to securely interconnect Asterisk® servers. As LogMeIn® continues to squeeze the free Hamachi® VPN into oblivion, we’ll have a new, Really Free™ matrix VPN solution for you in coming weeks. This will let you interconnect up to 256 PBX in a Flash™ servers in minutes, not months, with no muss, no fuss, no fees, and no licensing worries. But today we want to begin VPN Month by turning our attention to those that need a virtual private network to connect back to a home office network or a home for that matter. This includes the traveling businessman or woman, the physician or lawyer with multiple remote offices, and any hub-and-spoke business such as a bank that has small branch offices that need to transparently link back to the mothership for network and communications services. The hidden beauty of PPTP VPNs is that all data (including phone calls) travels through an encrypted tunnel between the satellite office and home base. If you travel for a living and rely on other people’s WiFi networks for Internet access, a layer of network security will be a welcome addition.

Believe it or not, Microsoft introduced the Point-to-Point-Tunneling-Protocol (PPTP) with Windows 95. Back then we knew it as Dial-Up Networking. Suffice it to say that, in those days, PPTP was anything but secure. Unfortunately, the bad name kinda stuck. For the most part, the security issues have been addressed with the possible exception of man-in-the-middle attacks which are incredibly difficult to pull off unless you are a service provider or have access to the wiring closets of your employer. You can read the long history of PPTP VPNs on Wikipedia for more background. If you’re traveling to China or other democracy-challenged destinations, you probably shouldn’t rely upon PPTP for network security. If these security considerations aren’t applicable in your situation, keep reading because PPTP VPNs are incredibly useful and extremely easy to deploy for an extra layer of VoIP and network security in most countries that have severe wiretapping penalties in place.

PPTP VPNs also provide home-away-from-home transparency to home office network services. Simply stated, with a PPTP VPN, you get a private IP address on the home office LAN that lets you do almost anything you could have done sitting at a desk in the home office. There’s more good news. Fifteen years ago, we paid Cisco thousands of dollars for hardware boxes known as PPTP VPN Concentrators. You can still find some of them on eBay. For history buffs, a little company in California originally built these boxes. I think we paid about $3,000 for them. One year later Cisco bought the company and promptly doubled the price. Today, you can Do It For Free™ using your existing PIAF2 server platform. And, trust me, today’s 2-minute setup runs circles around the hoops we jumped through 15 years ago to install PPTP VPNs. Once deployed, they revolutionized mobile computing.

If you’re already running one or more PIAF2™ servers, then adding a PPTP VPN server to an existing system is a job for a Fifth Grader. Remember, you only need to do this on one server at your home base even if you have a dozen. The other good news is there are PPTP VPN clients for almost any platform you can name. Linux, Windows, Macs, Android, as well as iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch devices all have free PPTP VPN clients that can be activated in less than a minute giving you instant, secure home base access.

Getting Started. We’re assuming you already have a PBX in a Flash 2 server set up behind a hardware-based firewall. If not, start there. Next, we’ll need to download and run the installer for your PPTP VPN Server. Just log into your server as root and issue the following commands:

wget http://incrediblepbx.com/install-pptp
chmod +x install-pptp
./install-pptp

UPDATE: For those of you still running a PBX in a Flash 1.7.x server under CentOS 5, we have a separate install script for you thanks to the great work of scurry7:

wget http://incrediblepbx.com/install-pptp-centos5
chmod +x install-pptp-centos5
./install-pptp-centos5

The Server Install: Five Easy Pieces. The installer will walk you through these five installation steps, but we’ll repeat them here so you have a ready reference down the road.

First, on your hardware-based firewall, map TCP port 1723 to the private IP address of your PIAF2 server. This tells the router to send all PPTP VPN traffic to your PIAF2 server when it hits your firewall. If you forget this step, your PPTP VPN will never work!

Second, you’re going to need a dedicated IP address on your private LAN to assign to the PPTP VPN server. Make sure it’s not an IP address from your router’s DHCP pool of addresses, and make sure it’s not one of the addresses from Step #3 below.

Third, you’re going to need two or more sequential IP addresses on your private LAN to assign to PPTP VPN clients that connect to your server. Remember, the PPTP design makes every remote client a node on your local area network so each client needs a private IP address on your LAN. Figure out how many client devices will be simultaneously connecting to your server and add one to it. Make sure the addresses you choose are in sequential order and not part of your router’s DHCP pool of addresses. Don’t use the address reserved for your PPTP server in Step #2 above. The address range should look something like this entry: 192.168.0.41-49. If you get the syntax wrong, guess what happens? If you screw it up, you can edit your localip and remoteip entries in /etc/pptpd.conf.

Fourth, each user is going to need a username to access your PPTP server. We’re going to set up credentials for one user as part of the install. You can add extra ones by adding entries to /etc/ppp/chap-secrets. For an extra layer of security, make the username as obscure as a password. Just don’t use any special characters. Upper and lowercase letters sprinkled with numbers are perfect. We recommend a length of at least 8 alphanumeric characters.

Fifth, make up an equally secure password to access your PPTP server. Same rules apply as in Step #4.

You’re done. Review your entries very carefully. If all is well, press Enter. If you blink, you may miss the completion of the install process. It’s that quick.

Configuring PPTP Client Devices. As we mentioned, there are available PPTP clients for Linux and Windows machines and Macs as well as Android and Apple smartphones and tablets. We’ve documented the steps for the various client setups on the PBX in a Flash Forum. Come visit! You’ll also discover some great tips from our resident gurus. We also would encourage you to post any questions that arise in your use of PPTP VPNs in that thread. You’ll get a quick and courteous response.

Secure VoIP Calling. The collateral benefit of implementing a PPTP VPN on your PIAF server is that all calls between remote extensions and home base can now be transmitted through a secure VPN tunnel. The only adjustment necessary using a SIP client on either an Android or Apple device is to replace the public server IP address with the server’s LAN IP address, and all of the communications traffic will flow through the VPN tunnel. The way we set up our Android phone with the Bria SIP client is to allocate an extension from the home office PIAF server to the SIP client and then enter the private IP address of the PIAF server in the Bria configuration. Then, when you’re at home base with WiFi, the client just works. And, when you’re on the road, just turn on the PPTP VPN, and Bria will register through the VPN tunnel using the exact same settings. It’s that easy, and it works great with WiFi or 3G/4G.

Checking for Connected Clients. If you get curious about who is logged into your PPTP server, here’s the command that’ll let you know: last | grep ppp.

GPL2 License. The install-pptp application is open source software licensed under GPL2. It has been specifically tailored for use on PBX in a Flash 2 (and now PIAF 1.7.x) servers, but it can easily be adjusted to work with virtually any Linux-based Asterisk system. If you make additions or changes, we hope you’ll share them on our forums for the benefit of the entire VoIP community. Enjoy!

What’s Next? For a more traditional client-server VPN which still relies upon a central server but uses a star topology to connect remote nodes, see this new Nerd Vittles article on the NeoRouter VPN.

Originally published: Monday, April 9, 2012




Need help with Asterisk? Visit the NEW PBX in a Flash Forum.


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For PBX in a Flash users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage and any balance is fully refundable if you discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

Picking the Best (and worst) Cellphone and Provider for 2012

We’ve delayed chiming in on favorite cellphones for the past six months because, quite frankly, we were on the fence about which way to jump. We still are. But we do have some things for you to consider now that we’ve tested and used three of the world’s best available cellphones. Along the way, we’ve also encountered more than a few roadblocks that we also want to warn you about.

Like many of you, we were eagerly anticipating the arrival of the iPhone 5. We hadn’t used an iPhone since the original was released, and this seemed like a good time to make the switch. Unfortunately, that was not to be, and we shared the disappointment of many others when the iPhone 4S was released. But read on. Our situation may not be unlike many of you. We travel about once month. It’s typically by car on the interstates. And our destinations are big cities in the U.S. such as Atlanta and Washington, D.C. But just as often our final destination is our beach house at Pawleys Island, South Carolina or our cabin in Balsam Mountain Preserve in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.

We have been generally thrilled with the Virgin Mobile Android and Blackberry offerings which provide excellent value (originally $25 $35 for 300 minutes and an unlimited text and data plan with no contract) and rock-solid Sprint service when you’re in a populated area or traveling down the interstate. Unlike normal Sprint phones which roam on Verizon when you enter an area without Sprint coverage, neither Boost Mobile nor Virgin Mobile has this option. So, once you enter a little beach town or the Smoky Mountains, all bets are off. In fact, you might as well turn your cellphone off. It’s not going to work.

Our solution was to acquire an ObiHai device (a link to Amazon appears in the right column) which provides Google Voice service in your choice of area codes and free calling in the U.S. and Canada for an investment of $50. The monthly cost: $0. You can configure your Google Voice account to also ring your cellphone, your home phone and a vacation home or two simultaneously so that you never miss a call. The only thing it won’t do is ring an extension in a hotel. But that’s what cellphones are for. This worked extremely well for us, but we still missed having a functioning cellphone when we were driving. We decided to leave the family phones on these inexpensive, contract-free plans and acquire one or more of the newer cellphones for business use and testing. By the way, if you root the LG Optimus V phone, you also can add free WiFi tethering for those road trips. So long as you don’t abuse it, Sprint doesn’t seem to mind. So… what to buy?

There have been dozens of good reviews of the best new phones, and we pretty much narrowed down the field to the iPhone 4S, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket from AT&T. If you haven’t used Siri, suffice it to say that it catapults the iPhone into a league of its own. The same holds true for the camera comparison. And, with a simple patch of an unrooted iPhone 4S, the camera even supports Panoramic mode.

<rant> We’ve never actually used Verizon, and their service is especially good at our remote sites so we began our quest by ordering an iPhone 4S on release day with a phone call to Verizon. Stacy was extremely helpful in outlining the various plans and indicated that they had a special underway for new iPhone 4S activations. She indicated that the $35 activation fee would be waived. She also provided her personal number (813-410-4413) so that we could contact her for assistance once the phone arrived. We were in a bit of a crunch because we were headed out of town on the same day the phone was supposed to arrive. She assured us the phone would ship overnight and arrive via FedEx before 2 p.m. You can guess the rest of the story. Rather than FedEx, UPS actually attempted to deliver the phone at 6:30 p.m. that evening, well after we had left town. No special handling had been requested by Verizon which meant end-of-day delivery was good enough in the eyes of UPS. Four days later we picked the phone up at UPS which had refused to reschedule delivery for a specific date without payment of an additional special handling charge. By letting them attempt delivery while we were out of town for four days would have meant the phone would have been returned to Verizon.

Setup of the iPhone 4S was uneventful although a call to Verizon was necessary to activate the data service. Two days use around our home office where 3G service was nowhere to be found, and we decided to return the phone. We still were within our 14-day return window without any cancellation penalty. Let the nightmare begin. The phone was returned using a shipping label included in the box, and it arrived back at Verizon within a couple days. We had prepaid for the phone by credit card to the tune of $433.99 so the only charges due were for two days of usage on a $100 a month plan. The first bill arrived before the phone had actually been received. It showed a balance of $134.65 due within 25 days. It included an activation fee. Upon calling Verizon, we were told to disregard the bill and wait on the next one which would clear everything up and remove the activation fee. Four days later, we received the new bill for $464.81 and a notice that payment was now “Past Due” despite the previous bill which indicated that payment was due within 25 days. The entire previous balance was on the bill including the activation fee. In addition, there was a $350 early termination fee and over $39 in fees and taxes. So, yes, they got the phone back. Another call to Verizon, and this time, of course, they could find no record of previous discussions or agreed terms with their sales agent. An hour later a supervisor agreed to take my word for it and, you guessed it, another bill would fix everything. A month later, the third bill arrived with most of the charges removed including a credit for the $74 payment I had made to protect my credit. Another $38 of fees had been added. Call #5 to Verizon, and they agreed to waive the balance due. We’ll see. That was 25 days ago. Bottom line: 11 minutes of rounded up test phone calls and 5 minutes of data usage rounded up to one gigabyte. Cost: $74 so far. Verizon did refund the cost of the phone. Nice!

To suggest that the design of Verizon’s ordering and billing system borders on fraudulent is about the kindest adjective we can muster. Not only is there no paper record of your order to review, but Verizon internally knew the phone had been returned within the 14-day, no termination fee window. And yet their billing system generated a $350 early termination fee in addition to other bogus charges. It’s hard to believe that any of this was accidental given the volume of customers that Verizon handles. And what do folks without a law degree do? Our guess is that more than a few may just pay the charges fearing that their credit will be ruined if they balk. By the third bill, no mortal could decipher the charges and fees including Verizon’s own agents. And, at least to us, that appears to be by design. Our advice is simple. Steer clear of Verizon until they either clean up their act or the Federal Trade Commission does it for them. </rant>

Our next adventure was an iPhone 4S for AT&T which we ordered from our local Apple store. While AT&T has a well earned reputation that’s not far off the Verizon mark, this time around it’s been a pleasant surprise. Apple handled all of the phone setup in minutes. To obtain a credit authorization from AT&T, an agent requested much of the same information you used to provide in buying your first home. Where do you live? How long have you lived there? What was the cost of your home? Where did you live before that? For how long, etc.? We passed.

We already had an AT&T Microcell device which provides AT&T cell access through your local area network. A quick call to AT&T support, and the device was reactivated. AT&T has gotten a bit greedy since we last had service with them. Not only is the unlimited data plan a thing of the past, but, unlike Verizon, your only text messaging option is all-you-can-eat for $20 a month or pay-as-you-go for 20¢ text and 30¢ photo per message. You’re well advised to choose the $20 plan at least for the first month until you’re sure the former owner of your phone number didn’t spend all day and night texting with 100 friends. There’s now a fee to change your phone number, too.

We really can’t say enough good things about the iPhone 4S. I tell folks that it’s like comparing your favorite pair of old shoes to a shiny new pair of boots. It may not be the latest and greatest, but it’s comfortable to use and reliable. If you don’t mind holding your nose because of Apple’s Soup Nazi mentality, then the iPhone 4S is hard to beat. Antennagate appears to be a thing of the past, the screen is spectacular, the camera is awesome (click on the image above and judge for yourself), and Siri is in a league of its own. Just after acquiring the phone, my mother-in-law came to visit. And, of course, I wanted to impress her with Siri by showing how quickly I could figure out my wife’s birthday. So I held the phone up to my ear and said, “When is Mary’s birthday?” Siri promptly responded, “I found six entries for Mary. Which one did you want?” Not cool, Siri. Mental note: Be careful what you ask.

Our adventure continued with the recent release of the new Google phone, Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus. Using a Micro SIM Adapter, we were able to quickly get the Galaxy Nexus up and running on AT&T’s network. We let the phone charge overnight with a WiFi connection to get all of our Google data migrated. The following day, we unplugged the phone and began using it in much the same way as our iPhone 4S: checking emails periodically, reviewing our Twitter stream, and snapping an occasional photo which gets uploaded to Picasa automatically. To make a long story short, the phone blazed through half of its battery life in about 2-1/2 hours. You can read our complete review of the phone on Google+. Suffice it to say, we weren’t impressed. The 5 megapixel camera is 2-year-old technology, the battery cover is not what you’d expect in a $500+ phone, and the face unlocking feature qualifies as gee-whiz stuff, but we unlocked the phone by displaying our own photo from an iPhone 4S. The real dealbreaker for us was the 16GB internal storage limitation on AT&T-compatible phones coupled with the absence of a microSD expansion slot. In short, this new Google phone is anything but state-of-the-art despite the addition of the Ice Cream Sandwich OS which was not that different than existing Android builds.

We’re a big believer in the open source Android platform. So we didn’t give up. AT&T had also announced a new version of Samsung’s Galaxy S II known as Skyrocket. In the past, we’ve been hesitant to try AT&T branded phones because of our experience with the original Samsung Galaxy Tab which was crippled in about every way a provider could cripple an Android device. The most serious limitation was that AT&T locked the device so that apps could only be downloaded from the Android Market. This meant downloads from Amazon’s App Store were barred which in some cases meant higher prices for identical software.

Unlike the Galaxy Nexus, Samsung’s Galaxy S II Skyrocket includes an 8 megapixel camera which rivals the iPhone 4S. See the link above for a photo comparison. We’ve had excellent results with both the iPhone 4S and the Skyrocket. And unlike AT&T’s Galaxy Tab, the Skyrocket was not crippled except insofar as tethering without a 4GB data plan is concerned. For those that can’t live without a rooted phone, this was a 5-minute operation on the Skyrocket device. And, unlike the Galaxy Nexus, we haven’t seen the extreme battery depletion. We easily get a full day’s use out of the Skyrocket.

The only wrinkle with the Galaxy Skyrocket was that the iPhone 4S data plan didn’t work at all with the device. Unlike some other features, this isn’t one you can change yourself using AT&T’s web portal. But a quick call to AT&T will get you switched to the DataPro for Smartphone 4G LTE Plan which is similarly priced. Be sure to follow up by checking their changes on the web portal. In our case, we were switched to the Enterprise version which added an additional $20 a month to already exorbitant data plan charges. Once a Bell Sister, always a Bell Sister. But at least we expect it.

The correct plan is identical to the iPhone 4S offerings except you also get access to AT&T’s new 4G network. Even in the hybrid 4G network areas (aka HSPA+) which roughly doubles 3G performance, the speeds are quite remarkable. The other good news is that, once you’re on the 4G LTE data plan, you can swap back and forth between the Skyrocket phone and 3G service with the iPhone 4S without another phone call since the 4G LTE plan is downward compatible with the 3G network supported by the iPhone 4S. So we’re happy campers at the moment. Both phones work for calling, data, and texting. Switching from one to the other is as easy as swapping the SIM card between the devices. When we’re in a real 4G metropolitan area (which AT&T expanded to 11 new markets today), the Skyrocket device will be our phone of choice. Its speed, performance, huge screen, and gorgeous display are second to none. Coupled with the $5 Groove IP app, you’ll have a perfect Google Voice experience using WiFi with or without a SIM card. In the meantime, we’re still enjoying our old pair of shoes.

Originally published: Thursday, January 5, 2012




Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For PBX in a Flash users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

11/11/11: To Celebrate Nerd New Year’s, Please Welcome…

Nerd Vittles Daily Dump

Just click on the image above to visit the site. Content is updated at least twice daily. As always, we welcome your content suggestions. Enjoy!

Originally published: Friday, November 11, 2011


Great News! Google Plus is available to everyone. Sign up here and circle us. Click these links to view the Asterisk feed or PBX in a Flash feed on Google+.




Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For PBX in a Flash users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

Android 3 Deal of the Year: Acer Tab for Under $300

We’ve never done back-to-back reviews of similar devices, but this week’s Target ad changes all of that. As you might expect, Acer has covered all of the bases with their entry into the dual-core Android 3 tablet sweepstakes. You may recall that we weren’t huge fans of the Motorola Xoom which promised a lot and delivered a boatload of vaporware. The Acer Iconia Tab A500 is not the Xoom. You not only get a microSD slot and Flash that actually work, but Acer has thrown in an HDMI port that can output 1080p video as well as a USB port that lets you connect your favorite USB devices including external hard disks. It performs this magic with an 8-10 hour battery life. And this week (only at Target) you can pick up this WiFi-only device for half the cost of the Motorola Xoom. In fact, after the gift card, it’s only a dollar more than the single-core Vizio Tablet that we reviewed last week.

Update: See the comments for equivalent deals just announced at NewEgg and CompUSA.

It’s difficult to describe the feel of the Acer Tab. Suffice it to say, it’s dimensions coupled with its sleek and sculpted design put it in the league with the iPad2 unlike the Xoom which felt chunky and clunky despite being an ounce lighter than the Acer.

As we mentioned last week, we don’t dive too deeply into the technical weeds in our reviews. If you want the technical assessment, check out this PC World review. What we prefer to evaluate is real-world usage of these devices. The Acer Tab has stunning performance. In addition to reading email and browsing the web, here’s the suite of applications which we think matter to most folks. We want to watch videos from YouTube and NetFlix. We want to stream music from Google Music and Spotify and read our Kindle books. We like to use Skype. And, yes, we also like Flash video support which works perfectly on the Acer tablet.

In addition to running Android 3, the Acer Tab boasts impressive hardware specs running a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 250 dual-core processor with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of ROM. Add another 32GB easily with the microSD slot. The 10.1-inch tablet has a 1280-by-800 pixel display with a 16:10 aspect ratio that’s perfect for HD video content. We always prefer testing devices with real-world video content that we’ve shot so we can compare it to performance on other devices. Our Pawleys Island Parade video didn’t disappoint. It’s performance and color were as good or better on the Acer Tab than on Apple’s top-of-the-line 27″ iMac featuring a quad-core 2.93 GHz Core i7 processor with 8GB of RAM plus L2 and L3 cache. The same can be said with playback of complex Flash video. Netflix unfortunately is still a few weeks off although rooted Acer devices reportedly run it just fine.

On the music front, it doesn’t get much better than the Acer Tab. With Google Music or Spotify, the music world is your oyster. And the silver lining is that the Acer Tab is the one and only device that includes Dolby Mobile audio. Once you adjust the equalizer to match your taste in music, you’ll have sound quality to match that 20-pound boombox gathering dust in your basement.

In the communications department, Skype performed well although video calls are not yet supported. That’s unfortunate given the impressive specs on the Acer Tab’s two cameras. The Iconia Tab has a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera with flash in addition to a 2-megapixel front-facing camera for video conferencing. Finally, making and receiving free phone calls using either an Asterisk® server with CSipSimple or Google Voice using a $50 Obihai device and the free ObiON client for Android both worked great.

There’s only one word you’ll need to remember to take advantage of this Target deal: H-U-R-R-Y! This is a one-week only special, and Target offers no rainschecks. So call around until you find one. You won’t be sorry. And, as usual, Target offers a 90-day, no questions asked return policy which is second to none.

Google+ Invites Still Available. Need a Google+ invite? Drop us a note and include the word “Google+” and we’ll get one off to you. Come join the fun!

Our Favorite Android Apps. We’ve listed a few of our favorite apps below for those just getting started with Android. Enjoy!


Originally published: Tuesday, August 16, 2011




Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For PBX in a Flash users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

How Good Can a $298 Android Tablet Be?

Pretty damn good in the case of the new 8″ Vizio Tablet. While it’s not going to take any speed awards when compared with the new Galaxy Tab 10.1, it does have a 1GHz processor with 512MB of RAM which delivers respectable performance with incredible battery life that rivals any iPad. Storage capacity is limited to 2GB, but you can add a 32GB microSD and meet any computing demands you may have. Currently the device is WiFi only.

As you might expect, Vizio knows a thing or two about televisions, and there’s a silver lining with the Vizio Tablet. Not only is an IR blaster included in the hardware, but you also get a giant TV remote that controls any combination of TVs, cable and satellite boxes, DVD and BluRay devices, and about 95% of the other video and audio components you will find on the planet. And it works as well or better than any of the pricey, high-end touchscreen (with a little screen) TV remotes that would easily put you in the Poor House. Say goodnight, Logitech. There’s also a front-facing 640×480 camera which easily suffices for video conferencing. No current video conferencing apps work, by the way, but it’s only been on the street for a week. The best news of all, you can pick one up at Costco or WalMart if you want one today. Or order it from Amazon if you prefer tax-free.

We don’t dive too deeply into the technical weeds in our reviews. If you want the technical assessment, check out this SlashGear review. What we prefer to evaluate is real-world usage of these devices. The Vizio Tablet passes with flying colors. In addition to reading email and browsing the web, here’s the suite of applications which we think matter to most folks. We want to watch videos from YouTube and NetFlix. We want to stream music from Google Music and Spotify and read our Kindle books. We like to use Skype. Sorry, Apple, we also like Flash video support which works perfectly on the Vizio Tablet even though it’s currently running Gingerbread.1

Last, but not least, being a phone nerd, we obviously want to make and receive free phone calls using either an Asterisk® server with CSipSimple or Google Voice using a $50 Obihai device and the free ObiON client for Android. Both work great!

Of course, the usual Android favorites including Google+ with the exception of (the currently non-functioning) Huddle for video conferencing with up to 10 participants, Maps, Navigation, and Google Talk all work flawlessly. Gallery is perfectly synched with your Picasa photo collection which now can store unlimited photos at no cost through Google Plus. If you want to actually take professional photographs and make feature films, this isn’t the device for you. With the exception of Skype which is not yet available for this device (which was just released), everything else we’ve mentioned works great especially if you’re living on a budget. And, with the addition of Huddle in Google+, the absence of Skype support really doesn’t much matter any more. If you happen to need a Google+ invite, here’s a link compliments of Nerd Vittles. Finally, and pardon us for repeating, if you’re sick of wrestling with a half dozen remotes to watch television, this device is worth its weight in gold. You’ll be asking yourself why no one but Vizio was smart enough to think of it.

Vizio also had a better idea when it came to the Android user interface. As you can see in the photo above, there’s a top section where you can install your Favorite Apps. Immediately below that is your entire Applications collection. At the very bottom, there are five buttons which you can assign to your Must-Have Apps such as email, your web browser, the Google Market, Settings, and whatever else you happen to like.

Another nice touch that hasn’t been mentioned in many of the reviews is that Vizio has added a new keyboard option. If you remember the ergonomic keyboards that had the keys divided into two sections, Vizio has done much the same thing on the touchscreen which greatly improves typing for those that actually learned how. This keyboard, of course, can be toggled on and off depending upon your personal taste.

In conclusion, we think Vizio has hit a home run with this device. The price point, the feature set, the form factor, and the incredible battery life are just about perfect. We’ve listed a few of our favorite Android apps below to get you started. Enjoy!


Originally published: Wednesday, August 10, 2011




Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For PBX in a Flash users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

  1. Honeycomb has been promised for down the road. []

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