Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Calling Home - Inexpensive but Somewhat Effective Methods of Communicating with the Kids

2012 02 01
Almerimar, Espagne

We have been experimenting with inexpensive ways to call home.  Here are the two best.  One we not only recommend but urge you to add to your onboard systems.  The other we are very hesitant to recommend despite some promising aspects.  First the really really good system:

Undisputed Champion of
Person to Person Communication


As difficult as this may be to accept the Blackberry Video Chat software, exclusively for the Playbook, is a joy.  Even with low bandwidth the Playbook delivers clear audio and decent video.  If bandwidth is lacking it will shut off the video and go to voice only.

There is only one drawback: you can only talk to other people who own a Blackberry Playbook.  But this system is so superior to anything we have tried so far we bought a second Playbook for our children so we can all chat online with video whenever we want.  We are in Spain, our children are in London Ontario and Esquimault BC.  We all talk all we want for nothing.  With great audio and good video.

It is so simple to use and to set up.

Here sits Magic Jack
Occupying one of my USB Ports
The Bad: Magic Jack

The disappointment in communications has been the "Magic Jack".  This is a $50 USB device that sets up a VOIP type service for you.  You get a US phone number and supposedly free telephone service.

It works better than Skype, which no one in Europe seems to use, I suspect due to the truly dismal wifi service around here.  When it works the quality is acceptable but not great.  Calls are often broken and hacked up sometimes to the point of uselessness.

Also the program eats up a lot of computer resources.  When it loads  and while it runs it flashes advertising messages at you and you cannot make them go away.  You can minimize the software window to stop the advertising but every few minutes it pops right back up.

This last bit is just plain unacceptable in a commercial program.  I paid for this.  How dare they take over my machine and stop me from working.

Not what you expect when you pay real dollars for a product:  Garish, flashing messages that cover up the documents you are working on and that you cannot remove for minutes at a time.  What a crock.

Also I discover that the owner is a Dr. Ho type sensationalist.  Remember the twitching muscle machine?  All your phone info is wide open to this guy and his henchmen: everyone you call, everything you say.  They can eavesdrop on all your calls.

This product was recommended to us by two other sailors.  This morning we called one of them, our magic jack to theirs.  The broken delivery of the automated message on the other end of the phone apologized for not answering because their magic jack service was not working very well.  "Maybe when the internet improves" they intoned as they made their recorded farewells.

When we hung up, leaving MagicJack running we logged into the Playbook and spoke with our Esquimault daughter for half an hour without a glitch.

We do not recommend Magic Jack.

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