VoIP Services I am using now

Like many in Indian Software services industry with teams in USA and servicing customers in North America, I too make many calls to US  every work week. To do this cost effectively and to have a US Phone number, the option is to use a VoIP (Voice over IP) service.

Vonage to Ooma

In my business, for last 10 years we were using Vonage.com VoIP service. For the two numbers based on our usage we were paying $80-130 per month inclusive of taxes. In the Internet world of lowering cost, this was strange, as our spends remained the same or was increasing slightly year on year. Recently we started to experience poorer voice quality, which I suspect may be due to latency in our Internet broadband in India (we are using a dedicated leased line of 16 Mbps for every ~50 users) and Vonage not being able to adjust dymanically to it. Few months back I checked out for alternatives, I came across many including Ooma.com, 8×8.com. They were offering Conference facility, Voice Mail, Business Extensions and so on. I was disappointed that Vonage was not innovating, though they were a good service, there was nothing new coming from them. (While writing this post, I checked out Vonage website, I noticed they have a new Vonage Business Portal with many new features).

In this background, on a friend’s recommendation few months back I moved my business connections from Vonage to Ooma Business. We got a new device from Ooma that supports attaching up to 4 phone instruments, unlimited extensions and other features. One by one we ported both our numbers (425, 206 Area code) from Vonage to Ooma, they guided on the process and it went well. We discontinued our Vonage subscription. Ooma currently don’t have a Mobile app for Business users. Now for last 3 months, we are paying around $58 ($40 for service plus taxes) for 2 numbers of unlimited calling to US. And Voice quality so far has been good, no complaints from users.


While I was using Vonage (and now Ooma) at work, I needed a VoIP connection in my house for late night calls from India. Few years back while visiting USA, I brought a MagicJack device which I had purchased for ~$50 which included a free subscription for 2 years unlimited calls to USA. Voice quality was fine, but to use it you had to connect the USB device to your PC and be running an app in your PC. This was a nuisance for regular calls. Later MagicJack introduced MagicJack Plus, which you could run without a PC, just plugin 3 cables (USB Charger, RJ11 to a Phone Instrument, RJ45 to your Network) to the device and you are good to go.  I found the MagicJack Plus device to be working fine for me, once the initial free subscription that came with the device ended, I renewed my subscription. At that time they offered a irresistible deal of 5 years unlimited calls to US at ~ $59.95, which I gladly paid.

Few weeks back the device (MagicJack Plus) conked off. I saw MagicJack was now having a new device called “MagicJack Go” for $59.95 plus taxes. It was advertised that the new device will include a one year free subscription (unlimited calls to US), but I was not sure whether my existing US number will port to the new device and whether I will get the remaining subscription period migrated from the earlier device to this new one. Anyways since a  colleague was returning from US I bought the device online.

Yesterday I connected the device (MagicJack Go) to my iMac at home, installed the app that it prompted me to do so. After logging in using my MagicJack credentials, the app wizard guided me to have my existing number (425 *** ****) ported from the old device to new one. In the process it added the remaining subscription duration to the free 1 year that came with the new device. This whole process from the time of inserting the device to making a call with the new device, was about 5 minutes. It was all self-service, no need to speak to any customer care. I have been using MagicJack for many years now, I was really surprised to see how far they have come in their online self-service and account management. In their initial days you had to literally hunt for the screen in their website to see your account details or even renew the service.

I have started using MagicJack App for Android Phone for last few months. The App has been impressive and extremely convenient to make calls even when I am not in my den. Unfortunately it has been crashing for last few days after I upgraded to Lollipop (Android 5.0) in my Nexus 5.0.

Skype Phone calls

Lastly, apart from VoIP services I use, I try to maintain a balance of Euro 10-20 in my Skype account all the time. This has been a convenient  and cheaper way for me to make calls to anywhere in the world from my phone/laptop especially when I am travelling. It is useful as well when I am outside work/home locations, using 2G/3G wireless data and want to make an outside India call. I also use it to make calls to other countries (non US) even when I am at work/home as its cheaper than the voice calls that the TELCOs charge.


XBOX Live – YouTube and OneDrive

Few months back Microsoft announced to make more services available free for XBOX Live users. This meant without paying for XBOX Live Gold subscription (around $10 per month) you can use popular apps like YouTube, Internet Explorer and OneDrive in your XBOX consoles.

I have two XBOX 360’s in house, I swapped one my son was using (XBOX 360 Halo edition) which broke down today with another one (XBOX 360 White) which was lying around unused. While doing it, I formatted the XBOX HDD, downloaded his profile and added my profile as well. After I adding my profile I downloaded the apps – YouTube, Internet Explorer and OneDrive. All of them worked brilliantly.

Using YouTube app in XBOX 360
Using YouTube app in XBOX 360

Google’s has done a fine job in authenticating and pairing devices like XBOX & TVs with your YouTube account through a code that appears on screen that you need to type in YouTube site from any device. The app in XBOX 360 allowed me to watch my favorites, uploads & subscriptions in YouTube. Once I pair a mobile device with XBOX YouTube app, I could search, select the video and play it from my iPad or Android phone and it automatically plays on the console (TV). Just like Apple TV Airplay but for YouTube. Cool.

Using Internet Explorer app in XBOX 360
Using Internet Explorer app in XBOX 360

Internet Explorer in XBOX 360 allowed me to browse the Internet easily, of course to be effective you need a USB keyboard plugged in the USB port of XBOX. Otherwise entering URLs through onscreen keyboard and controller is a pain. Unfortunately Internet Explorer in XBOX 360 didn’t display Unicode characters particularly my mother tongue Tamil. I guess in the new XBOX One console this should have been addressed as it is based on Windows 8 OS kernel.

Using Microsoft OneDrive app in XBOX 360
Using Microsoft OneDrive app in XBOX 360

Out of the 3 unexpectedly the one that impressed me was OneDrive. I can easily drop pictures or music into OneDrive account from my phone (Lumia 925) or desktop (PC or Mac) and access them from XBOX using this app, impressive stuff.

After setting this console I went back to the broken one (Halo Edition), the problem with it was the Optical Drive (DVD) wasn’t opening. From standing position I kept it flat in the table and voila, the drive opened. Now I have a working backup!!!




My new Workstation PC

My main PC at work was becoming slow for my usage. It was a Core i7 (Gen 1) with 8GB RAM, 500GB (10000 RPM HDD) with Dual monitors. In the last few months I upgraded the Graphics Card, 27″ inches (dual) monitors and put in a Bluetooth dongle. But there is only so much you can do to an old machine. I went shopping for a new Workstation PC.

The specification I wished for was:

  1. Intel Core i7 (4th Gen) Quad Core
  2. 16GB RAM
  3. 1TB HDD or 250GB SSD
  4. Display for Dual HDMI/Dual DVI output supporting 1080p
  5. Bluetooth 4.0 built-in
  6. Gigabit Ethernet port
  7. USB 3.0 ports (sufficient nos)
  8. Windows 8.1 Pro (please no Mac OS for work)

All the above for a price of less than Rs.1 Lakh (USD 1650). No laptops as I have a Surface Pro 1 and I was not planning to carry this anywhere.

I spent nearly 2 weeks looking around, spoke to local vendors, browsing  endlessly online. I couldn’t find any that fit my requirement. The only Desktop PCs I could find in India were All-In-One Touch PC’s, which I didn’t want for work as I prefer using Dual monitors and I have already spent on two 27″ monitors recently. OEMs like Dell & Lenovo had in their websites highend Desktops listed but when asked for quote, none of them reverted back. For the configuration I wanted I could only see laptops and I disliked the idea of spending for a laptop with a large 17″ display and not using it. Finally my regular vendor suggested I look at Apple Mac.

It looked like regular (non touch) Desktop PC market in India was dead. For Windows choice was only laptops & All in Touch.

With no other choice I looked at Apple Macs, deciding that I can load Windows 8 through Bootcamp and I can try Mac OS Yosemite as well in the sides. I narrowed to Mac Mini, as I both iMac & Mac Book Pro was not what I was looking for.  I got a quote of Rs.124,800 (USD 2070) for latest Mac Mini with 2.6Ghz Core i7, 1TB fusion drive, 16GB (vendor added 8GB), HDMI to DVI adapter & Mini Displayport to Dual-Link DVI Adapter. Mac Mini comes with all necessary ports (Ethernet, Bluetooth 4, WiFi, USB 3, Thunderbolt).

Before I placed the order I wanted to check all the features in Mac Mini works in Windows environment as well. Apple FAQ stated that drivers were available for Windows 8 including for Bluetooth, but the fusion drive will work only for Mac OS (disappointing but understandable). My support engineer suggested we try connecting two displays to a Mac Mini we already had in our office just to ensure everything works as advertised. We didn’t have Apple Thunderbolt to HDMI Adapter but we managed to connect two displays to Mac Mini, one using Mini Display Port & the second with HDMI. The two ports (Mini Display & HDMI) were close to each other in Mac Mini (unlike what you expect from Apple design) and it took a bit of effort and sampling 3-4 HDMI cables before we got the two in and the displays worked.

Connecting Dual Monitors to Mac Mini using Mini Display Port & HDMI
Connecting Dual Monitors to Mac Mini using Mini Display Port & HDMI

Seeing the above somehow I became uncomfortable. Waited for another week, luckily my vendor came back with a good news that HP has released very recently a new Desktop series that might fit my bill. Looking into it, it did match and I ordered it. The new Desktop PC came two weeks back and I am happy with the choice.

The PC I went for is “HP ENVY Phoenix 810-101in” costing Rs.90448 inclusive of taxes and with 3 years warranty.

Windows 8.1 PC with Corei7,16GB,2TB HDD,Blueray
Windows 8.1 PC with Corei7,16GB,2TB HDD,Blueray

Configuration of the PC was:

  1. Intel Core i7 4770 (4th Gen) 3.4Ghz Quad Core
  2. 16GB RAM (DDR3 1600)
  3. 2TB HDD with 16GB mSATA disk caching SSD (similar to Fusion Drive in Mac)c03750320
  4. NVidia GeForce GT 640 having DisplayPort (2560×1600), DVI (2560×1600) & HDMI (1920 x 1080)
  5. Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi (802.11b/g/n)c03784168
  6. Gigabit Ethernet Port
  7. 6 x USB 3.0 (2 each in Top,Front & Back); 4 x USB 2.0 Ports (2 each in Front & Back); Headphone ports in Front & Back; Multimedia card reader (SD and others)
  8. Windows 8.1 (no Windows Pro unfortunately)
  9. BlueRay optical disk (this was bonus but I don’t think I will watch movies at Work)

Added to above, the PC came with wireless keyboard and wireless optical mouse. For bonus the front audio output support Beats Audio for fine Audio reproduction.

Windows 8.1 Device Manager showing HP ENVY Phoenix 810-101
Windows 8.1 Device Manager showing HP ENVY Phoenix 810-101

For Windows OS configuration (not having Windows 8.1 Pro edition), I was worried that I had to format and reinstall Windows which will mean I will loose all HP default drivers and I have to spend getting everything working. It turned out it was easier than I feared. I got a Windows Pro key through our Microsoft Partnership program (you can buy Windows 8.1 Pro in retail) and inputting the key meant the PC upgraded to Pro effortlessly with all drivers and apps intact.

After solving the Windows edition issue, I proceed to uninstall all the crapware installed by default by HP. The main culprit in the list was WildTangent games, which has to be uninstalled from Windows Add/Remove Programs (you need to select manually some 39 check boxes to get rid of all games) and for each user from the Metro UI Start screen. The Cyberlink Media suite turned out to be better than I expected and I need them for Blueray playing and Optical disk writing, so I didn’t uninstall them.

Uninstalling Wildtangent games in HP Envy Phoenix
Uninstalling Wildtangent games in HP Envy Phoenix


At work, we have Microsoft Office 365 subscription for all team members. In the new PC, Windows 8.1 had put in a shortcut to Microsoft Office, I just entered the credentials to my Office365 subscription and voilla the copy of MS Office got activated, effortless.

Overall I am very happy with the new PC. Its fast, has all the ports I want, Audio is great and Windows 8.1 runs fantastic. Thanks HP for still producing great Desktop PCs.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 4

Tablets have become the main stream for many who haven’t used a PC or who don’t have a need for its breadth of features. My mother in law is one of these users. She got into using tablet about three years first with a Micromax Funbook entry level device, then upgraded to Samsung Galaxy Tab2 7 inches device exactly two years back (Aug 2012). Her usage is four apps-  Facebook, WhatsApp, Music player and YouTube in that order.

Recently she complained of her device being slow. I tried to factory reset but that didn’t help. So I looked at options to upgrade. She was comfortable with Android/Samsung so I didn’t want to change the platform. Another reason for ruling out iPad was no WhatsApp in that.

I went to Cromo store, selected  Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8 inches to buy which costs Rs.23500. Cromo allowed me to trade-in old Tab 2 for Rs.5000, net cost for me was Rs.18500 which was a good deal for this gorgeous device. I eye’d the premium Galaxy S 8 inch device but I couldn’t convince myself to spend another Rs.10,000 for speed and display which my M-I-L is unlikely to make full use of.

The device SM-T331 setup easily, the BSNL 3G SIM worked out of box. The display is sharp, the speaker volume and clarity is good.


8 inches Samsung Galaxy Tab 4
8 inches Samsung Galaxy Tab 4


Nokia Lumia 630

Last April (2013) my wife purchased a Nokia Lumia 820 for Rs.24,500 as an upgrade from her earlier Windows Phone (Samsung Focus). She loves the phone, its simplicity and the good camera. Unfortunately she dropped it to the floor earlier this week, the glass display broke and phone becoming unusable. When I checked with Nokia care they quoted Rs.8000 to change the display. Considering the phone is 18 months old, I decided to get her a new phone instead of spending on repairing the old one.

Wife was particular she wanted only a Windows Phone, so my choices was limited to Nokia Lumia 925, 1520, 1320 (6 inch), 530 and 630. She didn’t like the 6 inches 1320 & 1520s, I didn’t like the 925 (considering it came last year) and 530 will be slow for her. The choice got limited to 630, I liked the specifications and the price of Rs.10,000 for it. The Nokia retailer offered to buy back the broken Lumia 820 for Rs.1500 which I was more than happy to trade in.

Comparing with Lumia 820 she had earlier, Lumia 630 was an upgrade (Quad core vs Dual Core, 1830mAh vs 1650mAh)  in many areas except the memory (512MB instead of 1GB in 820, 5MP camera vs 8MP in 820). The Phone was lighter too at 134g compared to 820’s weight of 160g. Wife liked the phone and I came happy for not spending Rs.40K for a Lumia 1520.

Coming home I was able to setup the new phone in less than a hour. I inserted the SIM, connected  to Wi-Fi, restored the backup from cloud (of the 820), entered the passwords for Outlook.com, Facebook, Whatsapp, MetroTube (YouTube app) and finally inserted the microSD card from the 820 which brought back all her photos, videos and music instantly.

Update: After few days of usage, wife says battery life is good, speaker quality and volume is great, touch is fluid. Overall, happy with the purchase!

Nokia Lumia 630 at Rs.10,000 (USD 165) without contract
Nokia Lumia 630 at Rs.10,000 (USD 165) without contract