Posts tagged: Streaming Devices

Mobile Internet: The 2016 Road Warrior’s Guide to Choosing New Wheels


OK. We’re not going to bring Mobile Computing down to the teepee level, but we have decided to dedicate a column regularly to Mobile Internet developments in the marketplace. Of course, our major focus will remain the impact on unified communications and especially Asterisk®, FreeSWITCH™, PBX in a Flash™, and Incredible PBX™. The idea here is to document a design that lets road warriors travel with the same communications dexterity that they have at home or in the home office. In other words, our vision is a mobile computing environment that makes travel status transparent. Things that worked a certain way in the office should work similarly on the road or in the comfort of your Motel 6 suite. :-)

To get 2016 started on the right foot, we want to lay out some of the technology that’s available to the road warrior who spends a significant amount of time in an automobile. Our objective today is to help you choose that next set of wheels, the proverbial perfect vehicle. We began documenting some of what we’re looking for in our December Mobile Internet column. Today we’ll follow up with more details and some real-world feedback. What we’ll be covering in coming months applies equally to those that travel for pleasure as well as those that do it for a living. Unless you prefer hiding in your Man Cave, we hope you’ll find something useful that makes travel away from your home office amenities easier and less intimidating.

Let’s begin by documenting some of our inexpensive must-haves. These can round out your vehicle shopping list without much impact on the cost of a vehicle: cup holders (lots of them), cigarette lighter connections (lots of them), USB ports (lots of them), and compartments especially those with access to power or USB ports. Another must have for us was a fold down table for the back seat. These come standard in Mercedes S Class sedans as well as the Jaguar XJ. For other vehicles, you’ll need to consider aftermarket options which is a little surprising when you consider that every airline seat has had fold down tables FOREVER. In their haste to roll out the latest gee whiz features, many car manufacturers have forgotten the basic essentials that make all of this technology useful. But there’s hope. General Motors is among those that have finally awakened to the 21st century. Our best advice is this. Before you get swept away by the self-parking car, take a quick look inside the cabin and consider whether the vehicle has the road warrior essentials.

Now for the fun stuff. Take a quick look at this AutoBytel article which ticks off some of the more interesting high tech features that are available in the marketplace today: GPS-linked temperature control, a sensor that provides a text alert if someone is hiding in your car, a collection of audio and visual alerts if the car senses that you are distracted or falling asleep at the wheel, self-parking vehicles, night vision with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control that adjusts your speed based upon the speed of the vehicle in front of you, blind spot detection that provides visual warnings on your side view mirrors when a vehicle is cruising along beside you at 70+ mph, lane departure warnings which include console alerts, buzzing your seat, or adjusting your steering wheel to guide you back into your lane. And, last but not least, the latest Tesla which can drive itself under certain highway conditions. In case you haven’t guessed, none of this technology comes cheap. Typically, the features first appear in the high end cars and require the purchase of even higher priced, factory-installed options. Then they trickle down to less costly vehicles as the price of the technology drops.

Here’s our two cents worth of advice on some of these features. We happen to live in the southeastern United States so we really don’t need a GPS to tell us to turn on the air conditioner. Almost any road warrior’s dream machine will have automatic temperature control. That’s as much technology as you need to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

A sensor to tell us someone is hiding inside our car is another clever idea, but we much prefer a vehicle that can lock itself when you leave the vehicle or when you place the vehicle in motion. Newer GM vehicles can also sound an alarm if someone sticks a hand into your window while you’re stopped at a traffic light. Works great unless people are passing you things while parked in a carpool line.

If you’re a road warrior that does a lot of night driving, all of the high tech features you can find that help you drive and stay awake at the wheel are terrific additions. Not mentioned in the AutoBytel article is one of our favorites that’s actually been around for decades. The head-up display (HUD) appears on the lower part of the driver’s windshield. It shows information such as your speed and the speed limit without taking your eyes off the road. For the science behind it, see this article.

If you’re a road warrior that spends considerable time commuting in heavy traffic or driving on interstates, adaptive cruise control is the best invention since sliced bread. It doesn’t completely drive the car for you, but it reduces your need to stay 99.9% focused on what’s in front of you every second of the trip. You simply set the separation distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you, and radar in your vehicle does the rest, adjusting your speed to keep you at or below the cruise control speed you set for your vehicle while preserving the spacing you predefined. Newer versions of adaptive cruise control include support for bringing your vehicle to a complete stop at traffic signals. The best testimonial we can provide is this. Once you have a vehicle with adaptive cruise control, you’ll never buy another vehicle without it. It’s that good!

Blind spot detection is another radar-based feature. Visual side view mirror alerts are provided whenever something is hiding in your vehicle’s blind spot. Of course, you can accomplish much the same thing by adding supplemental wide-view (blindspot) mirrors to your existing side view mirrors at considerably less cost. However, the radar-enhanced version typically is bundled with features such as adaptive cruise control and lane departure alerts so there is no additional cost for the convenience. Just be sure to test them for accuracy before dispensing with turning your head to check for vehicles. We’ve actually had a vehicle in which the sensors were incorrectly positioned. Merging into traffic without any visual warning of what’s beside you is a quick ticket to the body shop, both for the car and for you.

Lane departure alerts and autocorrection are equally important for those that spend endless hours on long stretches of boring highway. The other essential ingredient for every road warrior is the smartphone app, Waze. Between hazard alerts, speed trap notifications, and directions, it’s the single-most important traveling enhancement that’s come along in a very long time. Think of it as you free copilot. It can watch for things up ahead and alert you to problems before you actually encounter them. Because its data is based upon real-time data and feedback from thousands of road warriors, it has no equal in terms of accuracy. See our first article in this series for more details.

Wireless charging is another feature that has been touted by many of the Android device manufacturers. In the case of Samsung, the technology was available in the Galaxy Note 4 except for the back cover which can be replaced easily. Surprisingly, Apple has completely ignored it thus far. There are, of course, aftermarket cases that will bring wireless charging to any smartphone including the iPhones. Beginning with some 2014 models, General Motors, Chrysler, and Toyota began integrating wireless charging stations into the center consoles of some of their vehicles. By 2017, most car manufacturers probably will support it either as an included or add-on accessory.

No review of automotive technology would be complete without mention of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the two smartphone integration systems from America’s finest software development companies. One can only hope that the car manufacturers see the light and drop their insistence upon their own proprietary consoles. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto provide navigation, messaging, and numerous music platforms including Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music, and Apple Music. Many newer vehicles offer one or the other, and some offer both. The systems also are available as aftermarket add-ons. For an excellent review of the two competing systems, take a look at this CNET review. Our only complaint with Apple CarPlay at the moment is the inability to add applications other than those that Apple has chosen for you. That means no Google Maps and no Waze, at least for now. For an excellent interview with the man behind both technologies at General Motors, see this article from The Verge.

So which vehicle did we choose for our Mobile Internet Lab? Well, come back next month and we’ll take you for a ride as we review the best WiFi Hotspots to complement that new set of wheels. We’ll consider offerings from Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T so there will be something for almost everybody with a smartphone.

Originally published: Monday, January 18, 2016





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


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. 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. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts 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 our 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 and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up 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. Any balance is refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

Mobile Internet: A 2015 Update on Caribbean Cruising and WiFi-Enabled Travel

We decided to spend Christmas a little differently this year and joined 10,000 of our closest friends on cruises to the Western Caribbean taking in Cozumel and Grand Cayman with a few extra days at sea. If you haven’t tried it, put it on your bucket list. Christmas week is a bargain and about 50% cheaper than the same cruise to ring in the new year. Rates start at about $300 per person for the 5-day cruise. You’d be hard-pressed to dine out for a week in your home town at those prices. Today we want to provide an update on the dramatic changes in Internet connectivity not only aboard ship but also in navigating 1,000 miles of highway to get there. Let’s start with the glamorous part.

Surfing the Internet Aboard Ship

What a difference a couple years has made. On previous cruises to Alaska and the Eastern Caribbean, Internet service was spotty at best and cost prohibitive on sea days. Typical connection rates were $25 or more per hour. You found yourself scrambling to find a bar with cheap Internet service every time you hit a port. But that was then. Here’s our 2015 update.

Carnival which owns the majority of the cruise ship companies (9 different brands) prides itself on making cruising affordable for almost any traveler. So we qualified. They’ve also revolutionized Internet service with rates on some ships (including ours) as low as $5 a day for unlimited (but basic) Internet connectivity. Here’s a typical pricing plan, but ours was even less expensive. $70 got us unlimited premium Internet service including Skype (one user at a time) for the entire 5-day cruise, and performance was surprisingly good, roughly triple the speed of the $5 a day plan and equivalent to or better than cellular 3G service regardless of the time of day. During early mornings, dinner hours, and when docked at a port, the speed difference from DSL was barely noticeable. Part of this is due to Carnival’s new hybrid Internet technology which blends satellite service with strategically placed Internet towers along your itinerary. The way it works is simple. You login with your account number and birthday, and you can stay logged in as long as you like. If another member of your family wishes to use the service, they simply login on a different device with the same account number and birthday. They’ll be prompted whether to bump you off. Clicking YES transfers the Internet connection to their device and terminates your connection. With three people, it worked amazingly well and was a wonderful testament to what it means to share. Complete details of the WiFi@Sea Internet program are available here. The rollout will be complete by the end of the first quarter in 2016.

We made roughly a dozen Skype calls to test the quality of the calls. With a couple of exceptions, the calls were roughly equivalent to what you would expect using a cable modem connection. With the two bad calls, it was obvious within a couple seconds, and the simple solution was to hang up and try again.

If you’re an Asterisk user, connectivity to an office or home server was easy by making a free call with Skype Connect which we documented just last week. Once connected to an AutoAttendant on the home server, using DISA to make secondary calls to other destinations at minimal cost was a no-brainer. The setup is simple, and we showed how to do it over 10 years ago. Today, it’s built into the GUI. We routed the incoming Skype calls to a Stealth AutoAttendant on the Asterisk server. By pressing an unannounced key during the welcome message, we were prompted for our DISA password. After entering it successfully, we were prompted for a number to dial. In our setup, this includes any number supported by our dialplan: local extensions, 10-digit NANPA numbers throughout the U.S., Canada, and 18 other north American countries as well as special dial codes to retrieve voicemails and other Asterisk functions.

Bottom Line: Do your homework before you book a cruise. Decide what your must-have’s for the cruise are and then compare prices.

Surfing the Internet from Your Car or Motorhome

The other eye-opener was the advances in cellular service along America’s interstates. 4G service now is available almost everywhere. Average download speeds were in the 20-40 Mb range. We used 7.18GB of data during 16 hours of travel. That works out to roughly a half gig per hour of travel with three users. YMMV! Funny how quickly 4G service rolled out once the (not so) Baby Bells got their monopoly back and could charge by the megabyte. We were one of the lucky ones to snag one of the few remaining Verizon unlimited data plans on eBay. Verizon now has tightened the screws and doesn’t allow transfer of the plans to others. But, if you’re one of the lucky ones that still pays over $100 a month for an unlimited data plan (Verizon just quietly raised the monthly charge by $20), then here’s some information for you. First, as part of the FCC’s 4G spectrum auction, bidders (Verizon in this case) were required to agree to the following condition as laid out in 47 C.F.R. 27.16:

(b) Use of devices and applications. Licensees offering service on spectrum subject to this section shall not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice on the licensee’s C Block network, except:
(1) Insofar as such use would not be compliant with published technical standards reasonably necessary for the management or protection of the licensee’s network, or
(2) As required to comply with statute or applicable government regulation.

When Verizon won the auction, they reluctantly acknowledged a customer’s ability to move a SIM card from one device to another so long as the new device was on Verizon’s approved devices list. It doesn’t mean Verizon hasn’t dragged its feet on adding new approved devices, however. The important takeaway from this is that moving between approved devices appears to be safe even though there have been some reported problems. You’ll know whether you’re using a Verizon-approved device by examining your Verizon account to see if a picture of the new device shows up once you insert your SIM card.

So what does all of this have to do with surfing the Internet from your vehicle? Well, you have two choices. You can use your existing smartphone, enable tethering, and have multiple passengers surfing the Internet at 4G speeds with unlimited bandwidth. Or you can purchase a Verizon-approved Novatel T1114 4G Router on eBay and move your SIM card there for trips. Just be sure you buy one with the required 3.5W power adapter. Then add a $20 150W Power Inverter, and you’ve got a Mobile WiFi powerhouse plus a POTS phone connection… in your car.

If you’re one of the unlucky ones that doesn’t have an unlimited data plan with Verizon Wireless, there’s now another option if you live in an area with Sprint service. HINT: Sprint works great along most interstate highways in the United States. For $50 or less per month, you can set up a WiFi HotSpot in your vehicle with unlimited data using Karma Go. If you use our signup link, you get $10 off, and we get a $10 referral credit. There’s a 45-day money-back guarantee. For a great review of Karma Go, go here. And 2016 promises more choices with most new GM vehicles sporting an integrated WiFi HotSpot.


UPDATE: Karma Go this week began backing off from its unlimited Internet pledge. Seems these companies never learn the bait-and-switch lessons from those that preceded them… or they don’t want to. You can read all about it here.

1/18 UPDATE: Karma Go today announced that they were restoring the original 5 Gbit performance of the product but would cap usage at 15GB/month after which performance would be throttled to “speeds good enough for emailing and messaging.”

NEWS FLASH: Beginning January 12, 2016, unlimited Internet plans return to AT&T Wireless for those that also subscribe to DirecTV or U-Verse. Details available here.

There’s more good news from our 1,000 mile travel adventure. We were late to this party, but what an awesome addition for those that travel for a living or just for vacations. If you’ve never tried Waze, add it to your smartphone right now! Not only do you get turn-by-turn directions to any destinations, but you also get road hazard alerts, automatic traffic rerouting to avoid bottlenecks, cheap gas price alerts, and… did we mention that in 1,000 miles it didn’t miss alerting us to every single speed trap. Police departments are government bureaucracies that have grown just like the rest of federal, state, and local government agencies. We counted nearly 100 police vehicles doing nothing but traffic enforcement. On 70 mile per hour Interstate highways, our unscientific survey showed that speeds increased to 75 miles per hour with no police presence compared to 69 miles per hour when a speed trap had been identified. It was readily apparent that truckers and frequent travelers have been using Waze long before us. What we kept asking ourselves was whether the cost of 100 police officers + 100 police cars + an enormous fuel bill was really worth it to slow folks down (momentarily) by 6 miles per hour. We hear a lot about government waste, but the police seem to get a pass on frugality by claiming they’re saving lives. We just didn’t see much of a correlation. It looked more like a game of cat and mouse. Happy New Year everybody. Don’t Drink and Drive!

Originally published: Monday, December 28, 2015





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


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. 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. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts 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 our 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 and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up 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. Any balance is refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

Santa’s Technology Roundup: The Best Products of 2014 with Some Surprises

Once a year we like to pause and take a look back at 10 technology products that really grabbed our attention. 2014 will be remembered as a spectacular year. So here’s what made the Nerd Vittles short list for 2014…

Smartphone of the Year: It’s a 5-Way Tie

And the winners in no particular order… Galaxy Note 4, iPhone 6+, LG G3, HTC One M8, and Moto X.1 So which should you choose if you can only have one? Visit AndroidHeadlines.com for a detailed feature comparison. You can’t go wrong with any of them. In our family, there’s one of almost all of them.

Desktop Computer of the Year: Apple’s 27‑inch iMac with Retina 5K display

If you work with a computer for a living, there is no competition. It scales to any feature set you may need. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest Apple Store and get in line. We waited two months for ours!

Portable Computer of the Year: Apple’s MacBook Air with Retina Display

Hah. Just kidding. It would have been the hands-down favorite in 2014 except for one minor detail. It hasn’t been released… yet. If you absolutely have to have a retina display-quality notebook, then you’ll have to settle for the slightly thicker Macbook Pro this Christmas. For us, we’re waiting for 2015 and what will surely be the MacBook Air with Retina Display.

Tablet of the Year: iPad Air 2

If you’re starting to think we’re charter members of the Apple FanBoy Club, then you haven’t been following Nerd Vittles for very long. We can be one of their harshest critics. But the bottom line is that Apple products are compelling because of their tight integration to Apple’s closed society. If you’re a member of that club, then you’ll want the iPad Air 2 to add to your collection. It’s a terrific tablet at a compelling price.

Multimedia Device of the Year: Roku 3

If you’re into Netflix and Amazon Prime and movies, nobody needs to tell you that the streaming device hardware market is a crowded place. The Roku 3 isn’t the cheapest device in the market, but it’s still the one we always drop into our suitcase when we hit the road. It’s simple to configure and supports WiFi almost anywhere. It just works!

VoIP Product of the Year: Vitelity’s vMobile

It’s taken a few starts and stops to get the kinks out, but Vitelity’s vMobile smartphone is a truly revolutionary offering. It provides seamless integration of the smartphone into your PBX infrastructure. The phone becomes “just another extension” on your PBX except the device is 100% mobile which means it works with WiFi or it works anywhere Sprint has a tower. For any organization with staff that travels, this is a must-have device. Anything you can do with a traditional PBX extension, you can do with your smartphone using the vMobile technology. It’s the hands-down winner as VoIP Product of the Year. Use our special signup link and help support the Nerd Vittles, PBX in a Flash, and Incredible PBX projects.

VoIP SOHO Hardware of the Year: CuBox-i

We’ve tested lots of small footprint hardware in search of the perfect VOIP platform for the home or SOHO office. The search is over. The hands-down winner is the CuBox-i. It’s tiny, powerful, quiet, and has every feature you could possibly want in a VoIP server. Read our full review here. They’re 25% at NewEgg if you hurry.

VoIP Deal of the Year: $15 Pogoplug with Incredible PBX

If there’s one thing all of us have in common, it’s a burning desire to find the best bargain on the planet. In the VoIP marketplace, look no further than here. Repurposing a PogoPlug for less than $20 (and some of them went for $5), is the perfect way to learn about VoIP without breaking the bank. Our tutorial on the VoIP Deal of the Year will tell you everything you need to know to get started.

Must-Have Product of the Year: Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo is still an invitation-only device, but you need to get in line NOW. During the introduction, Amazon is selling them for $99. Or you can get one on eBay for about triple that amount. It’s money well spent. Think of it as a desktop version of Siri. But it’s so much more. With Amazon Prime and Prime Music accounts plus a free iHeartRadio account, you get access to a collection of over a million songs just by saying the name of the artist or song or playlist or radio station of interest. You also can upload 250 of your own songs not purchased through Amazon Music at no charge. Or, for $25 a year, you can upload up to 250,000 tracks much like iTunes Match. The sound quality of the device is nothing short of spectacular. My teenage daughter and I spent over two hours playing with it the first night it arrived. And the excitement hasn’t waned. It’s the go-to device for all of our visitors to explore new and old music. And, yes, Amazon Echo knows the weather, the time, and just about anything else you care to ask about. You’ll have it in your living room in no time. Not only will it speak the results while playing your favorite song, it’ll send the results and to-do list to your smartphone.

2014: Cloud Computing Reinvented

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a gradual migration of server platforms to the cloud thanks in large part to ever falling prices on the Amazon EC2 platform. But 2014 saw some new cloud strategies. First came the pay-once-use-it-forever platform of CloudAtCost.com. Wait for the next sale and save half on almost any of their server platforms. If you follow us on Twitter, we’ll let you know when it happens. We’ve had several servers for almost a year with no hiccups. In fact, we now keep backup images of the Nerd Vittles, PBX in a Flash, and Incredible PBX web sites running 24/7 on these Canadian servers. Check out the performance for yourself.

Then there was Digital Ocean with its pay-by-the-hour pricing coupled with the ability to create virtual machines for almost any platform in under a minute. It truly is a developer’s dream come true. Frankly, it’s our platform of choice for development of all the great software you read about here. Use our signup link and get a $10 credit to try things out. The beauty of the technology is you can create a server with 512MB of RAM and a 20GB drive, work for a half a day, take a snapshot of your project, and then delete the server until you feel like working again. Total cost for use of the platform and storage of your snapshot: about 2¢.

With any great new technology, of course, competition is not far behind. Meet Vultr, the Digital Ocean knock-off promising more memory, more server locations, and more features for less money. Is Vultr really better? We’ll let you know after we’ve had more time to play. Our first look uncovered a few wrinkles. First, you had to request enabling of port 25 for outbound SMTP mail support. Not a big deal if it were documented that you had to request it, but it isn’t mentioned anywhere on the site. Second, virtual machines take a bit longer to create and much longer to become fully functional on Vultr. We got spoiled by the one-minute spin up at Digital Ocean. But, the good news is a penny-an-hour server gets you a gig of RAM, 20 gigs of storage, and 2 terabytes of data transfer a month for $7. And it is fast! So stay tuned for a full review and…

Merry Christmas!

Originally published: Monday, December 22, 2014



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


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. 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. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts 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 our 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 and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up 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. Any balance is refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

  1. Some of our purchase links refer users to Amazon and other sites when we find their prices are competitive for the recommended products. Nerd Vittles receives a small referral fee from merchants to help cover the costs of our blog. We never recommend particular products solely to generate commissions. However, when pricing is comparable or availability is favorable, we support Amazon and other merchants because they support us. []

The Music Frontier: Taming Streaming Music on Hold with Asterisk 11

It’s been over 7 years since we first wrote about streaming music on hold with Asterisk®. While we’re energized with Back to School Fever, we decided it was about time for a refresher. And, in honor of TWOfer Tuesday, we also have a terrific new SIP discovery to share. It won’t cost you a dime.

For long time readers of Nerd Vittles, you will note that all of the MOH syntax has changed since the early Asterisk days. So today we wanted to document how to integrate streaming music on hold into Asterisk 11 with or without FreePBX®.

Prerequisites: With the PIAF-Green platform, all of the Linux tools you’ll need are already in place. On other Asterisk platforms, you may need to install MPG123 before any of this will work. Before streaming audio can be used for Music on Hold (MOH) with Asterisk, there are three essential pieces. First, you must have a source of streaming audio that works. Second, you need a streaming audio player on your Asterisk/Linux server that can “talk” to Asterisk. And, finally, Asterisk has to be properly configured to support streaming audio as the source for your music on hold.

Legal Disclaimer. There are all sorts of licensing restrictions on streaming of commercial music. With commercial radio broadcasts, the short answer is you can’t do it without paying a fee. However, things get murky where your music on hold stream originates with an Internet provider who already has paid a fee for your use of the streaming content. Nevertheless, you should consult with an attorney before beginning your broadcasting career. It would be an understatement to suggest that the RIAA, ASCAP, and their friends in Congress and the White House, have made “music mooching” an expensive hobby. In addition, there is a move afoot by the White House to make streaming of copyrighted music a felony. Not surprisingly, the White House Copyright Czar just jumped ship to take a cushy job heading up the industry’s anti-piracy lobbying group. For those that are criminally inclined, it probably would be less expensive to return to the glory days of shoplifting music and playing it in the comfort of your home or dorm room… not that we would ever encourage criminal behavior, of course.

Choosing a Streaming Audio Source. An almost infinite variety of streaming audio exists on the net. If you’re just getting into streaming audio, head over to SHOUTcast.com for over 50,000 FREE sources to get you started. If you’d prefer to set up your own SHOUTcast server, Nerd Vittles has previously covered solutions for both the Windows (WinAMP) and Mac (NiceCast) platforms. This is one area where the Mac platform really shines. NiceCast works flawlessly. Insofar as Asterisk is concerned, here’s the bottom line. If the streaming audio source you’ve chosen sounds like crap when you play it on your PC or Mac, it will sound the same way (or worse) as your MOH source. So start your project by picking a source that sounds good and be sure it plays reliably on your desktop PC or Mac before proceeding further. Keep in mind that anything above a 24K mono stream is wasted on a telephone call so there’s no need to choose a 128K stereo audio stream unless you just want to eat up your bandwidth. Also keep in mind that, unless you’re using your own stream on your private LAN, the streaming audio will be using the same bandwidth that you need to support incoming and outgoing phone calls over your broadband connection. So less is more!

Configuring Asterisk for MOH Streaming Audio. Here are the three steps to get things working today. First, you’ll need the web link to your music source. Second, you’ll need to configure a MUSICCLASS Channel to support that stream using Asterisk. And third, you’ll need to set up a test extension to try out your music stream.

In the case of SHOUTcast.com, the procedure to obtain the necessary link for your streaming audio source is straight-forward. Find the station desired and Ctrl-Click or Right-Click on the station and copy the link to your clipboard. This is NOT the link you’ll need for Asterisk! Instead, open the link in a new browser window. It will download a .pls file to your desktop. Open this file using a text editor, and copy out one of the File* entries (if there are several). Choose the one that looks something like this: http://160.79.128.61:5016. If you’re using Nicecast on a Mac, start up the app, choose your music source, and then click the Share button. Nicecast will display two entries as shown below:

Using our example, the required Nicecast link for Asterisk running on the same LAN is http://192.168.0.105:8002.

Now set up a music on hold channel for your streaming audio: nano -w /etc/asterisk/musiconhold_custom.conf. If you’re using your own streaming audio server, then use the Nicecast entry from the procedure above. Otherwise, use the SHOUTcast entry following the procedure we outlined. Here are some examples:

[Reggae]
mode=custom
application=/usr/bin/mpg123 -q -r 8000 -f 8192 -b 2048 --mono -s http://160.79.128.61:5016

[Top40]
mode=custom
application=/usr/bin/mpg123 -q -r 8000 -f 8192 -b 2048 --mono -s http://95.141.24.98:80

[NewAge]
mode=custom
application=/usr/bin/mpg123 -q -r 8000 -f 8192 -b 2048 --mono -s http://sfstream1.somafm.com:8032

;[nicecast]
;mode=custom
;application=/usr/bin/mpg123 -q -r 8000 -f 8192 -b 2048 --mono -s http://192.168.0.105:8002/

There’s a reason we’ve commented out the [nicecast] entry. If Asterisk doesn’t find it running, you’ll get an endless stream of “Interrupted system call” errors, not exactly the sort of stream we had in mind. And a cautionary note about bandwidth: a streaming audio source, once configured, continues streaming until you disable it in musiconhold_custom.conf and restart Asterisk. So choose your sources, the number of sources, and the amount of bandwidth each consumes carefully. Finally, here’s a tip about the volume of your audio stream. With MPG123, the -f setting is the closest thing there is to a volume setting. The values range from 1 to 32768. If some of your callers will be using cellphones, it has been reported that the 8192 setting is too high. Give 1192 a try and adjust as necessary to meet your own requirements.

Once you’ve specified your audio stream(s), save the updated musiconhold custom file: Ctrl-X, Y, then Enter.

Testing Your MOH Stream with Asterisk. With everything now properly configured, let’s set up an extension just to be sure it’s working correctly. Edit your extensions_custom.conf file in /etc/asterisk and insert the following snippet in the [from-internal-custom] context:

exten => 466,1,Answer
exten => 466,2,Playback(pls-hold-while-try)
exten => 466,3,Set(CHANNEL(MUSICCLASS)=nicecast)
exten => 466,4,MusicOnHold()
exten => 466,5,Hangup

exten => 467,1,Answer
exten => 467,2,Playback(pls-hold-while-try)
exten => 467,3,Set(CHANNEL(MUSICCLASS)=Reggae)
;exten => 467,3,Set(CHANNEL(MUSICCLASS)=Top40)
;exten => 467,3,Set(CHANNEL(MUSICCLASS)=NewAge)
exten => 467,4,MusicOnHold()
exten => 467,5,Hangup

Once you’ve added this extension code, save the updated file: Ctrl-X, Y, then Enter. Then restart Asterisk: amportal restart. Pick up a phone on your Asterisk system and dial 467. After you’re connected, it may take up to 2 minutes for the streaming audio to begin, but this delay only occurs after Asterisk is restarted. Once you’ve heard your audio stream playing, hang up and call back just to make sure. Remember, each stream you activate continues streaming! It’s your bandwidth.

Configuring FreePBX 2.11 for MOH Streaming Audio. Once you have everything working, let’s switch to FreePBX 2.11 and show you the quick-and-dirty way to accomplish the same thing with a single line of code. Just use the same Application string that was used in the musiconhold_custom.conf setup above. The only caution here is be sure to use different labels than the ones used above. For example, to use the same source as NewAge, just change the label to NewAge2 in FreePBX.

Now open FreePBX and click Settings -> Music on Hold -> Add Streaming Category. Then fill in the blanks like this:

Once you have one or more streaming categories defined, you can select your favorite when you create a new Inbound Route, Ring Group, or Conference.


Introducing Anveo

SIP Nirvana. We have another terrific SIP discovery for you this week. Previously, we’ve raved about Sip2Sip’s free SIP URIs and AnveoDirect’s terrific SIP bargains for those that like wholesale prices. And last week we introduced SIP.US which finally hits the $20/trunk price point for unlimited inbound and outbound calling in US48. It also works hand-in-glove with FreePBX 2.11. Today we want to introduce Anveo’s commercial offering which includes residential, business, and free SIP services. Anveo is the hands-down winner of our “Best Free VoIP Resource on the Net” award. We’ll get to why, but there’s so much more…

Let’s begin with a quick summary of their DID offerings:

Anveo has one of the most robust VoIP offerings you’ll find in terms of feature set. Here’s a quick overview:

  • SMS Messaging (1¢ per message)
  • Fax and Fax-to-Email Integration
  • Voicemail to Text
  • Salesforce.com CRM
  • ZOHO CRM
  • G.729 and G.722 (HD Voice)
  • Destination-based Outbound CallerID
  • Text-to-Speech (41 voices in 17 languages)
  • Google Contacts
  • Google Analytics
  • Web Calling
  • Call Recording with Amazon S3 Integration
  • Outbound Call Campaigns
  • Conference Calls with Recording
  • Worldwide DIDs and Number Porting
  • Disposable Phone Numbers
  • IVR Call Flow Builder
  • Anveo Phone API
  • Reseller Toolkit

For today, let’s focus on FREE. What a free Anveo account gets you is AMAZING. In addition to another SIP URI with fax support for your server, you also get access to Anveo’s Call Flow Builder to create templates with up to 10 items. None of it costs you a dime! Just sign up for a new account at anveo.com using the Nerd Vittles referral code: 9625450. That gets us a few shekels to keep the lights burning if you ever start spending real money with Anveo.

The shining star of Anveo is its drag-and-drop Call Flow Builder. The icing on the cake is Anveo’s Phone API which we will leave for exploration on another occasion. For Asterisk aficionados, think of Call Flow Builder as a drag-and-drop interface that actually creates Asterisk dialplan code on the fly. While you can create your own, there also is an impressive collection of sample templates from which to choose. Each takes less than 30 seconds to set up, and every template that you create gets its own dedicated SIP URI. For example, one click gets you a Fax-to-Email delivery service using any DID or SIP URI in your account. Another click gets you a Stealth AutoAttendant including automatic fax detection with email fax delivery plus SIP URI call forwarding, all for free. Very impressive! Here’s what it looks like when configured to send fax calls to email and non-fax inbound calls to Lenny. As we noted, this took less than 30 seconds to set up using a default template with any free Anveo account. All that we added was a SIP URI in the SIP Call Control by clicking on the Pencil icon to edit. Then we clicked SAVE in the blue title bar and, presto, Lenny worked!

First things first. Once you’ve signed up for a new account at anveo.com using the Nerd Vittles referral code: 9625450, Anveo will email your credentials. Sign in and activate a new SIP account. In order to register the Anveo SIP trunk with your Asterisk server, you’ll need two pieces of information which you will find under PBX -> Users/sub-accounts -> action.Preferences -> SIP Device Registration: Username and Password.

Once you have your username and password, open up FreePBX and add a new SIP Trunk with your credentials. You can create a custom DID for your trunk by tacking something like /12345 onto the end of the Registration String below.

Next, add an Inbound Route using the Custom DID you created above. Point it to an extension or other resource on your system. Then check to make sure your SIP registration was successful: Reports -> Asterisk Info -> SIP Info.

No exposure of your server to the Internet through your hardware-based firewall is required. However, for those using IPtables WhiteLists or Travelin’ Man for enhanced security, you will need to manually add a SIP entry for sip.anveo.com to /etc/sysconfig/iptables and restart IPtables. The appropriate entry should look like this:

-A INPUT -p udp -m udp -s sip.anveo.com --dport 5010 -j ACCEPT

Here’s what free gets you in addition to 15 megs of online storage for voicemails and faxes:

And Finally… The Magic. You now can receive free inbound SIP URI calls at zero cost from anywhere in the world using SIP/1555ACCOUNTNUMBER@sip.anveo.com:5010. And, if you prefer a more user-friendly SIP URI, take a look at last week’s Nerd Vittles cloaking service offering which is also free. Enjoy!

SIP URI Pricing Clarification. Inbound calls to your account’s SIP URI are always free. That means you can register an Asterisk trunk to your Anveo account, and all incoming SIP calls from your Anveo SIP URI will be free. If you sign up for a free IPKall DID as explained in our previous article, you’ll have a near perfect (and free) VoIP platform for your home or office. Give Lenny a try using our Anveo/IPKall/RentPBX combo:

On the Anveo Value Plans (see the DID screenshot above), be aware that calls using Call Flow templates that rely upon an additional Anveo SIP URI count against your daily bucket of “platform minutes.” Free accounts get 40 free minutes a day. Business accounts get 150 minutes a day. Additional calls are billed at 1.5¢ per minute.1

A Word of Caution. For those considering commercial or home use of Anveo for “real calling,” be advised that Anveo recently changed their pricing model on calls terminated in the United States. Some of these calls now are $.005 per minute while others reportedly were as high as $.25 per minute! Pricing has changed every day this week. We would encourage you to find a different termination provider if costs are a consideration. After four attempts to implement a tiered pricing model for U.S. terminations, Anveo rolled back to flat rate pricing on Thursday evening. See the DSL Reports message thread for details.


Deals of the Week. There’s still an amazing deal on the street, but you’d better hurry. A new company called Copy.com is offering 20GB of free cloud storage with no restrictions on file size uploads (which are all too common with other free offers). Copy.com has free sync apps for Windows, Macs, and Linux systems. To take advantage of the offer, just click on our referral link here. We get 5GB of extra storage which will help avoid another PIAF Forum disaster.

Originally published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 Last updated: Thursday, September 5, 2013




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


 

We are pleased to once again be able to offer Nerd Vittles’ readers a 20% discount on registration to attend this year’s 10th Anniversary AstriCon in Atlanta. Here’s the Nerd Vittles Discount Code: AC13NERD.


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. 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. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts 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 our 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 and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up 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. Any balance is refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

  1. We inquired about the SIP URI pricing with Anveo tech support. Their response is included in this section. The remainder of the article already had been written before contacting Anveo. In responding to the support request (in less than 10 minutes), Anveo generously offered us the use of additional platform minutes and a $5 “slush fund” for future testing and purchases of Call Flow PRO items (4¢ each). While we all may have our price for slanting reviews, we want to assure everyone that Anveo’s generosity in no way affected the contents or views expressed in this article. The FTC and NSA now can resume their naps. []

Taking a Page from Asterisk: How Far We Have Come

We’ve never written about paging technology before, and this is one of those areas of VoIP telephony where it certainly paid to wait. What a difference a few years makes! At least in the Asterisk® context, SIP-based paging traditionally involved issuing a Page command with a list of extensions in your dialplan. The wrinkle was that each VoIP phone manufacturer had its own SIP header to trigger autoanswer on its phones. And, without autoanswer, paging becomes next to worthless with desktop phones. Then came FreePBX®. It took all the pain out of the process by using the *80 prefix to issue a page to almost any type of SIP phone. The one wrinkle was that Grandstream and a few other phones require that autoanswer be enabled for paging in the device configuration. Aside from that, any user can pick up a phone on a PBX in a Flash system and dial *80707 to page extension 707 with duplex voice communications through the speakerphones, meaning both parties can talk and listen to each other, the perfect VoIP intercom. And, there’s more good news. Paging works with almost all of the major phone manufacturers’ phones: Aastra, Digium, Grandstream, Linksys/Sipura, Mitel, Polycom, SNOM, and Yealink. In addition, the SIP-compatible Cyberdata ceiling speaker and Cyberdata POE Doorphone/Intercom with Keypad function just like a SIP phone.

For small groups of phones, paging now works equally well using the FreePBX Paging Module which allows an administrator to preconfigure a group of phones, specify whether to skip busy extensions, barge into busy extensions and place existing callers on hold, or whisper the page to the busy extensions. You can even enable or disable duplex communications during the page. Think of it as instant conference. The module also provides the flexibility for individual phone users to block pages from one or more extensions or even all extensions. Finally, the module lets you create and save multiple configurations for different purposes, and you can designate an Announcement message that plays to every page recipient. For a historical look at the evolution of paging on the Asterisk platform, see Chapter 11 of Asterisk: The Definitive Guide (4th edition). Better yet, buy the book!

So why do we need paging? In the corporate setting, it provides a perfect emergency broadcast service for fires, earthquakes, patient escapes from the loony bin, etc. In a school setting, it could inexpensively replace costly public address systems requiring dedicated wiring, speakers, and amplifiers. The Asterisk paging solution has the added benefit of letting anyone broadcast from anywhere by simply picking up a nearby phone and dialing some (hopefully password-protected) extension number. Separate RTP streaming IP addresses also could be configured on departmental phones to allow automobile dealership zone paging for parts, sales, or service. So a receptionist could park a call and then announce it to a particular department by pressing a softkey on the sidecar. And you still could have an additional emergency channel that reaches everybody. Just set up a different number to page each zone as well as the entire organization.

So that’s where we were until a week ago when Brian Kelly of PIAF Forum fame began exploring Multicast RTP Paging with Asterisk and AirPlay. Think of Multicast RTP as a radio station that streams data on a particular IP address and port. If you happen to have Multicast-aware SIP phones, they can “tune in” to particular channels of interest. And, whenever a stream is broadcast on one of the channels the phone device is preconfigured to listen to, it will go off hook just as if it had received a page as outlined above. The major advantage to RTP streaming is that there is only a single stream of data on a single channel whereas paging to multiple extensions requires a channel of data for every extension. If you want to follow along with today’s project, just configure one of the Multicast RTP streams on your phone with the port and IP address shown below.

The wrinkle is your phone devices must support Multicast RTP streaming, and many current models do not. Our VoIP Phone of the Year, the Yealink T46G, qualifies. So do some of the Aastra, SNOM (v7), and Linksys/Cisco phones (with quirks!). And the Cyberdata speaker and doorphone (above) support Multicast RTP streaming as well. Digium Phones currently do not. If you know of other phones that support Multicast RTP streams, please post a comment. You’ll know if your particular phone supports it if it has a configuration section in the manual that looks something like this:

The good news is current versions of Asterisk including 1.8, 10, and 11 support Multicast RTP Streaming and PIAF-Purple and PIAF-Green come preconfigured for RTP Multicast Streaming. A single line of dialplan code is all you need to initiate a broadcast:

exten => 1234,1,Dial(MulticastRTP/basic/224.0.0.1:1234)

This would cause the Multicast RTP Stream broadcast to begin on port 1234 of IP address 224.0.0.1 as soon as someone on your PBX in a Flash server dialed extension 1234 and began to speak. Every phone or SIP device listening for broadcasts on port 1234 from IP address 224.0.0.1 would receive the listen-only page on their speakerphone.

Of course, Brian was not content to merely issue a page from Asterisk to his SIP phones. He wanted all of them to be able to listen to his iTunes music collection using his iPhone or iPad. This required AirPlay, but AirPlay can only stream to iOS devices. Well, not so fast. An enterprising guru on SourceForge created his own AirPlay emulator called Shairport4w. This is a Windows application that works just like an AirPort server. It “listens” for content from an iPhone or iPad that has designated Shairport4w as its AirPlay device. iTunes has the ability to stream music to any AirPlay device including the Shairport4w. So that was half of the puzzle. That got iTunes music playing great on the Windows desktop.

But we needed the other piece of the puzzle. We needed to push the music from the Windows machine to the SIP phones using Multicast RTP streaming. Brian found the missing piece of the puzzle for that as well. It’s called Multicast Streamer for Windows and it’s available at no cost from CodeProject. Simply download and unzip the bundle of goodies and run Multicast Streamer on your Windows desktop together with Shairport4w. Shairport4w captures the incoming AirPlay stream and pushes it to the sound card.

Now we simply need to configure the sound card as the input device for Multicast Streamer and make the appropriate settings to broadcast the RTP stream to port 1234 on IP address 224.0.0.1. This was the listening port and IP address we configured on our SIP phones. Be sure to also adjust the Samples per second to 8,000 and the Bits per Sample to 16.

Your mileage may vary but in our case the only output device showing on Multicast Streamer was Microphone. What we needed was Stereo Mix to capture data from the sound card rather than the microphone. If yours is missing, do the following. Right-click on the Speaker icon and switch to the Recording tab. If you don’t see Stereo Mix, then Right-click on an empty area and make sure that both “Show Disabled Devices” and “Show Disconnected Devices” are checked. When the Stereo Mix option appears, Right-click on it and check Enable. Set the level to 100. Now it will also appear as an input device when you restart Multicast Streamer. Choose it as the default input device, make sure all your other settings match what we outlined above, and then click Start to begin the stream. Now stroll over to your iPod music player app on your iPhone or iPad, choose Shairport4w as the AirPlay output device, and play away. To cancel the stream on any phone, just hangup the speakerphone. Enjoy!


Deals of the Week. There are a couple of amazing deals still on the street, but you’d better hurry. First, for new customers, Sangoma is offering a board of your choice from a very impressive list at 75% off. For details, see this thread on the PIAF Forum. Second, a new company called Copy.com is offering 20GB of free cloud storage with no restrictions on file size uploads (which are all too common with other free offers). Copy.com has free sync apps for Windows, Macs, and Linux systems. To take advantage of the offer, just click on our referral link here. We get 5GB of extra storage, too, which will help avoid another PIAF Forum disaster.

Originally published: Monday, July 22, 2013




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


 

Don’t miss the first-ever FreePBX World on August 27-28 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. For complete details, see this post on the FreePBX blog.


 

We are pleased to once again be able to offer Nerd Vittles’ readers a 20% discount on registration to attend this year’s 10th Anniversary AstriCon in Atlanta. Here’s the Nerd Vittles Discount Code: AC13NERD.


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. 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. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts 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 our 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 and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up 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. Any balance is 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.


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. 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. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts 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 our 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 and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up 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. Any balance is refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…