Archive for September, 2006

What are the differences? – Between Beta and Final-released Version of SMC Skype WiFi Phones

September 22, 2006

I came across this message on a famous Taiwan cell phone discussion forum, saying some SMC Skype WiFi phone Beta-testing units were put on and sold at the Yahoo-Taiwan auction site. In order to help readers like you to make sure your SMC WiFi phone is the final release, AmperorDirect managed to get a hold of a Beta-testing unit. You can see our comparison results in below:

1. The major difference is the capability for the phone to update its software when it is connected to a WiFi network. The final released SMC Skype WiFi phone can update the software to the latest available version (Go Menu > Settings > Advanced > Software Updates). As to today, 2006/09/22, your final released SMC WiFi phone should have the V1.0.0.10 software (dated at 2006/09/13). If you find your phone cannot do software update, chances are you have the Beta-testing unit. This can be a potential issue.

(Left: Final released version. Right: Beta version.)

2. When you receive your final-released SMC Wifi phone, you should be able to see the Skype certified label at the back of the phone. The phone received the Skype certification on 2006/9/14. The Beta-testing units which were produced before that date, should not have the label on it.

(Left: Final released version. Right: Beta version.)

3. The final released SMC WiFi phones we received come as a truly multi-language version (The two available languages are English and Chinese). The beta version we got is an English only phone.

(English & Traditional Chinese Language supported on the final released verion)

4. The final released SMC WiFi phones we have come with a 3.7V 1200mAh Li-ion rechargeable battery. The Beta version we received comes with a 3.7V 1100mAh Li-ion rechargeable battery. Although, this might not be a good way to tell if the phone is a Beta version or not. The battery capacity difference (8%) is small. Both batteries might all be on the BOM.

(Left: Final released version. Right: Beta version.)

If you get your SMC WiFi phone from AmperorDirect, you don’t need to worry about getting the Beta version. Our phones come directly from SMC. If you buy your phone on eBay, please ask the vendor to check if they are selling a Beta version.

BTW, see the Safety certs label inside the battery compartment.

Click to see the SMC Skype WiFi Phone Review

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SMC Skype WiFi Phone – It’s here, and it’s gone

September 22, 2006

The long-waited SMC Skype WiFi phone has arrived here at AmperorDirect.com, on 9/21. There was a one day delay according to our original plan. However, it is understandable that SMC wanted to double check on their first shipment to make sure the phones shipped with the latest firmware. Anyway, the Skype WiFi phones are here!


(There are several layers of phones in the box. We received more than 2 phones!)

The question is, how long will the first shipment stay in our office? The answer is: less than 24 Hours. We are glad to be able to supply those who cannot wait to own this latest and cool gadget. We have shipped the SMC Skype WiFi phones to Italy, Australia, German, Japan, and Canada. The feeling of being able to help people all around the world is GOOD.

I want to use this chance to thank our shipping coordinator, Sheila, who refused to let me take her picture. She works so hard to ship things out FAST! Usually, all the orders can be processed and out in 24Hrs, within good / strong package. That’s why we can build up our reputation as a fast shipper. See our feedbacks at eBay.

BTW, don’t worry about inventory… We received our second batch of phones, today. You still have a reliable source of the SMC Skype WiFi phones.

Click to see the SMC Skype WiFi phones review

Click to see the History of the SMC Skype WiFi phones


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SMC Skype WiFi Phones will be here VERY SOON!

September 19, 2006

Good News. My boss has finally signed the purchase order. The SMC Skype WiFi phone is on the way to our Houston office. We have asked SMC to overnight several Skype WiFi phones. The estimated arrival time for these small quantity phones is this Wednesday, 9/20 (the remaining higher Qty will be shipped by Fedex ground and is estimated to arrive early next week). Keep an eye on AmperorDirect website if you want one of this cool new gadget.

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A Look Back On a Year Journey from Prototype to Product Release – Skype WiFi Phones

September 18, 2006
  • 8/1/2005: The first information leaked to the public about the Skype WiFi Phone is at here. Jaanus, the marketing guru at Skype, shared the on-going project to build a Skype PCless WiFi phone on Skype.com. There was no pictures, just some simple descriptions. The secret project did aroused a lot of interests in the Skype community.

  • 8/1/2005: Bill Campbell @ SkypeJournal blogged about the Skype WiFi Phone prototype. His prediction about the price was under $150. Good prediction, Bill, not on the price, but on the “have a bit of a wait” part. It turned out that “a bit of a wait” = “a whole year of waiting.”
  • 11/7/2005: Attcon debuted the first PC-less standalone Skype WiFi phone (model name: VM1185-T) at the “Skype Day in Japan” event: Hmm… the baby was born two days after the marriage. Skype and Accton must have done some secret dating for quite some time. See the News in Chinese.
  • 1/4/2006: Networking product maker Netgear and Skype unveiled the first WiFi phone designed to work on Skype’s internationally popular voice over IP service, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2006 @ Las Vegas): “We will be able to (multiply by 10) the number of Skype users around the world,” said Netgear CEO Patrick Lo. See the news at CNet.
  • 5/1/2006: Netgear announced Skype WiFi phone pricing and pre-order availability: The MSRP is $249.99. The pre-order can be placed through Skype store and other e-commerce partners. See the Netgear press release.
  • 7/20/2006: Skype unveiled the four vendors, SMC, Edge-Core, Netgear, and Belkin, for the world’s first Skype WiFi phone. See the press release at here.
  • 7/20/2006: SMC Networks is the first to deliver certified and tested WiFi Phones for Skype. SMC offers full quantity shipments to its partners across Asia with an initial English Language version. See the press release at here.
  • A more simple milestones list:

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Still Not the Time to Move Beyond Skype WiFi Phone

September 14, 2006

Hi Jim,

Here is the response to your recent post, “Wireless is not Cordless…”, on the SkypeJournal. It will be great if you can allow, or should I say, make it easier for readers like me to leave comments to your posts, on SkypeJournal.

I think we agree on most issues except maybe the most important: Skype and hardware developers should NOT stop development and improvement of the first generation Skype WiFi solution phones.

Assuming that Skype and their 3rd party developers are currently working on full web authentications and longer battery life, why would they need, as you state, “… focus their efforts on getting Skype incorporated into those other wireless platforms?”

As mentioned earlier, even with its current blemishes, the first generation WiFi phone solves a major hurdle – not having to have a computer on to make Skype calls. Further, the SMC WiFi phone we tested was beyond easy to use – which will help the non-computer savvy market. All that was needed to get the WiFi phone to work was turn it on, let it find the network, enter network key, and login. As you know, since you tested this or similar unit, it is that simple. The above features offer consumers a tremendous value. Why would anyone advocate throwing these advances away?

In regards to my parents and the ‘embedded phones’ you saw at VON, I am excited that more choices are on their way. As we understand it, ‘embedded phone’ manufacturers are hoping for a holiday release but more likely first quarter in 2007 – about 3-4 months behind WiFi.

We here at AmperorDirect are eagerly waiting to test the Philips (among others) PC-less dual phone. We think it will also be a product that consumers will demand. Having said that, we also hope that the Philips VoIP481 is better in overall quality than the Philips VoIP321. We had a chance to test the Philips VoIP321 (see here) and well, to say the least, we were unimpressed. At any rate, we will look out for your review and maybe even spend a bit of time reviewing it ourselves… 😉

There will be an abundant amount of articles and content written about the upcoming WiFi vs. Embedded choices faced by consumers – but that choice will probably have to wait till early 2007. If consumers want to turn off the computer and still use Skype, their only choice now is the Skype Certified WiFi phones.

Sincerely,

Howard Chang @ AmperorDirect.com

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Time to Move Beyond Skype WiFi Phones? – a Letter to Jim Courtney @ SkypeJournal

September 13, 2006

Dear Jim Courtney,

My name is Howard Chang, and I have always enjoyed reading your posts on the Skype Journal, especially the product reviews. Your articles have inspired me to start my own Skype accessory review blog at https://amperordirect.wordpress.com.

For full disclosure, I work for AmperorDirect.com – an online retailer of Skype related products and accessories. Further, we are in the process of determining our level of commitment to Skype WiFi products.

This letter is a reply to your conclusions made in yesterday’s “Fall VON 2006 Special – Time to Move Beyond Skype WiFi Phones” article. Specifically, I would disagree with the statement, “I have to recommend that Skype drop the concept of a dedicated Skype WiFi phone and focus their efforts on getting Skype incorporated into those other wireless platforms.

As an engineer and long-time Skype user, I can understand how you would come to such a conclusion. I, myself, would hope to have a non-PC, WiFi device that allows me to make Skype calls almost anywhere — such as at home, work, or on the road. Based on our testing, I was a little disappointed to see that this generation of Skype WiFi phones has limited WiFi hotspot use because of their lack of support for web-based authentication. In addition, increasing the battery life and a ring tone volume would be two of my preferences as well.

However, even with my engineering concerns, as an end user I cannot wait to own this Skype WiFi phone! Why? My parents live overseas. We have talked over Skype many times before and have enjoyed the high voice quality Skype offers us. Once upon a time my parents had a hungry and demanding kid (me!) running around. In order for them to provide for me and my education, my parents learned to save whatever they could. Even after I left their house they still look for ways to keep expenses down and they consider an always-on computer as being a big waste of electricity and money. Therefore, I’m lucky if I can catch them on-line so I can call them through Skype.

My parents are semi-experienced when it comes to computers, and with some minor additional help, they can set up and keep a broadband/wireless network working in their home. Just imagine how easy it would be if I could call them – with zero cost to either of us – if we both have a Skype WiFi phone installed. It’s like the MasterCard commercial: Broadband connection – $30 dollars, Skype WiFi phone – $180, Calling your parents anytime you want (and forever) for free – Priceless.

In my opinion, there are lots of people like me out there who have parents, relatives, business and personal partners, or friends living a long distance away and want to stay in touch. A PC-less WiFi Skype phone will help people communicate without the need of a computer – which, again in my opinion, offers tremendous value. To us, Skype WiFi phones are more than just an engineering prototype or toy, but currently the only Skype Certified device on the market that can provide Skype communication without the need of a computer.

I can still remember the words of my college Engineering professor: “An engineer is not a scientist. An engineer’s job is to turn the available technology on the market into some applications, with a reasonable cost, to benefit people’s everyday life.” In following this thought, Accton (SMC / Belkin / Netgear / Edgecore) has done a good job in converting the available chipsets from TI and Broadcom into the first Skype-based PC-less phone. This product solves the problem of always needing a computer on to send/receive Skype calls. Instead of dismissing their accomplishments and technology ‘break-through’, I think that they deserve encouragement for doing so well in launching this almost bug-free first generation product.

I hope that Skype and the third-party hardware manufacturers can continue developing the Skype PC-less phone. For the next generation of Skype PC-less stand-alone phones, I would put forth the following wish list:

  • It can be a dedicated Skype WiFi solution. If it is, I would like to see a built-in web browser that can allow for completing the web authentication process in most WiFi hotspots.
  • It can use the DECT or 2.4GHz cordless solution. But, it would be better to be a dual-mode phone to cover both land-line and Skype calls.
  • Have a good desktop cradle that can recharge the phone and have a built-in speaker. The speaker could play the ring-tone when there is an in-coming call, and it could have an adjustable volume.
  • Longer battery life.

Jim, thanks again for your efforts in the Skype industry. You work is appreciated, however, in my opinion, your Skype WiFi phone conclusion will prove to be incorrect.

 

Sincerely,

Howard Chang @ AmperorDirect.com

 

Click to see more discussion about this topic

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Logitech Quickcam Fusion Review – the Best on the Market, for now

September 12, 2006

Hello. My name is Howard Chang. I’m the product testing engineer at AmperorDirect.com. This recording is the first in series to document our effort to source a good budget webcam for Video Chat in Skype. Hope it can someday help users like you to pick you right webcam.

Test Setup

First, let me go through the test setup. The webcam under test is connected to the USB 2.0 port on my laptop. The video you are seeing right now is recorded through the software called AMCap. I do not record an actual video chat because the purpose of the test is to try out the webcam. I don’t want the Internet connection speed to affect the results. I setup the video output size as 320 by 240, because this is usually the standard size that an Instant Message program can do for the Video chat. As to the frame rate, I usually set it at 30 frames pre second, if it is available on the webcam. And, I use the Plantronics Voyager 510 Bluetooth headset to record my voice.

In addition, I try to test out the webcam from an end user’s perspective. I know the engineering terms and numbers might sometimes not make any sense to you. Also, some higher resolution webcams I tested actually work not as good as the low resolution one. Therefore, instead of comparing the spec, I think the best way I can help is to go through a set of actions which cover many real use situations such as different light conditions, still image, closed up image and moving object, and give out my opinion at the end of the recording. You can make your own judgment by yourself.

Logitech Quickcam Fusion

The first webcam I’m going to test is the Logitech Quickcam fusion. It is voted or reviewed as the best webcam available on the market in many review sites. You can see how good a good webcam can work and use the result as the reference point for all the other webcams.

Trick to use in the bright light condition

First, I set all the settings of the webcam in default value, and turn the auto exposure and low light boost functions on. I want to see how the webcam works under the bright light condition. So, I have turned on all the lights in my office. There are eight 2800 lumens Florence light bolts in my office, so it is pretty bright, here. Now, you must see the background bright change when I activate the auto exposure adjustment. This webcam tends to over compensate light in a very bright situation. The trick is to turn off the auto exposure setting and adjust the gain manually. Now, what you can see on the screen is more like the actual light condition in my office.

Good capture Quality, Good color

Let us try to look at an object. You see my companion, fury verball? It shows up pretty clear on the screen. You can see it is a furry cute thing with two big eyes. It has a blue body skin and two yellow ears. Basically, there is no problem for users to figure out what the object is on the screen, and the colors are shown up correctly. The ability to truthfully re-create the object on the screen is the reason why people rate this webcam high on the list.

Look at the close-up object

How about we take a closer look at the verball? Here you can see the major short coming of this webcam. It uses a fixed focus lens and therefore cannot display a tiny closed-up object, such as the little words on my business card, clearly.

Fantastic low light boost function

Let me turn off the office light to see how the webcam work in the dark situation. The only available light source is my laptop LCD display. Thanks for the terrific right light technology Logitech offers on this webcam, you can still see me on the screen. And, you can see the furry verball on the screen too. It’s not bad for a dark enviroment like this.

Let me turn on my 75W desk lamp. What you can see here is how accurate the Logitech Quickcam fusion can capture the light reflection from my face and from my shirt. Among all the webcam I tested, this webcam can capture the most realistic color and light on the object.

Conclusion

Here is my opinion about the Logitech quickcam fusion. It is no doubt the best webcam on the market that can capture and recreate the shooting object in the most truthful way. It can also handle the dark enviroment very well, when you turn on the low light boosting function. The only draw back I can see on this webcam: the fixed focus lens, is not that serious when doing video chat. I highly recommend to use the Logitech Quickcam fusion, if you want the most realistic result, can are willing to spend $80~$100 dollars on a webcam.

Click to see how to use Logitech Quickcam Fusion Webcam to do Skype Security application

Click to see more video review

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Philips VOIP321 Driver – US version V3.7.0

September 7, 2006

Click to see our review of the Philips VOIP321 dual-mode phone

We have received several requests to share the Philips VOIP321 dualphone V3.7.0 driver. Hence, we made an ISO file of the installation CD we have, and put it on the RapidShare. The download address is: http://rapidshare.de/files/32273692/VOIP321.iso.html.

When you are at the page, just scroll down to bottom of the window, find the “Free” button at the right hand side, and click on it. You will see the waiting time count down on the new page. (The waiting time before you can access to the file is usually 120 seconds.) After the waiting time, you will need to select the server you want to download the file from, and enter the verification code (show as a graphic on the screen). Then, the download will begin.

One thing you need to know before using this driver is that the communication frequency assigned to do DECT in US is different from it is in Europe. We don’t know if the different frequency makes any difference between the US version and the European version driver.

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Skype Mobile Version 2.1.0.53 Beta – Test Drive Results

September 5, 2006

Click to see the SMC Skype Wi-Fi Phone Preview

Since the SMC (Netgear, Belkin, and Edgecore) Skype Wi-Fi phone does not have a built-in web browser, we still need to use a PPC solution if we want to make Skype calls while on the road, at those Hotspots, without turning on our laptops. Skype released the Skype Mobile 2.1.0.53 Beta version in the mid of Augut 2006, and after trying it for two weeks, we wanted to share our experiences with you.
There are three major improvements:

1. Convenience:

After installing the Skype program, the Skype icon is placed on the PDA desktop, which makes it very easy to access the program, by users. The new beta version also comes with a larger dial pad, which makes it more difficult to dial the wrong number.

2. More available Features:

The following are some important new features that are offered in the latest version.

• Privacy setting (can set allowed calls, messages, or SkypeIn contacts).
• Call forwarding (will use SkypeOut credits).
• Can use Skype voicemail.
• Can add new contacts during a chat. Chat between multi-users is now possible.

Click to see more features offered in the change log.

You can see that the Skype Mobile suite is no longer a strip-down version of its desktop cousin. It now offers abundent features. The two features we think are important but have not made into this version are video and file transfer functions. We’ll see if Skype can include them in the next revision release.

3. Huge Voice Quality Upgrade:

What happened before:

When we tested the old version of the Skype mobile solution last October (by using the PDA’s built-in speaker / microphone), the voice quality is full of background noise to the person at the receiving end. The only way we could make the voice quality acceptable was by using a good Bluetooth headset with a good built-in noise canceling microphone. The one we used was a Plantronics Voyager 510.

Big improvement now:

With the new 2.1 Beta version, the noise canceling function in Skype Mobile is a big improvement. When using the built-in PDA microphone and speaker, the background noise has been reduced to a minimum level. Although the voice quality in Skype Mobile solution 2.1 still cannot match the crystal clear performance with a desktop or laptop PC, it is still pretty good. You can expect to hear a little distortion here and there, though, but it won’t affect the conversation quality.

One thing you should know is that Skype puts the noise canceling function non-activated in the default mode. We suggest you go activate this function right after you install the Skype Mobile suite.

Do you still need the headset?

Yes. But, it is not because the PDA’s built-in speaker / microphone are not good enough. It is because you wouldn’t want others to hear your conversation over the device.

(Tested with: Skype Mobile 2.1.0.53, Dell Axim X50 with 520MHz CPU and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled, Plantronics Voyager 510, corded headset)

Click to read the Plantronics Voyager 510 Bluetooth Headset review

Click to get your 11% off coupon at AmperorDirect.com

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Bluetake BT007SX / BT009SX Bluetooth USB Dongle Review

September 1, 2006

– A solid choice to make your computer Bluetooth enabled

Click to check the BT007SX product spec

Click to check the BT009SX product spec

Click to get the coupon code for these two dongles

Bluetake has brought two new Bluetooth USB dongles to the market: the BT007SX and BT009SX. BT007SX is a class 1 dongle with a transmission range of 100 meters / 330 feet, and BT009SX is a class 2 dongle with a transmission range of 10 meters / 33 feet. The major differences between the SX and the SI series (its predecessor) are:

1. SX series is designed using the EDR (enhanced data rate) standard. Instead of the 1Mbps data transfer rate stated in the SI series, the SX series can handle 3Mbps.

2. SX series is bundled with the software called BlueSoleil, which is a Bluetooth device control center that makes the controlling of connections between the Bluetooth USB dongle and other devices easy.

3. SX series provides better compatibility in Mac OS.

We received our samples of these two Bluetooth USB dongles and we would like to share our test results:

On Windows XP systems:

Installation in Windows XP systems can be easy, but you really need to follow the instructions.

The installation of the BT007SX and BT009SX Bluetooth usb dongles in Windows XP systems can be very easy. Just follow the sequence in the installation guide: install the BlueSoleil software first > reboot computer > plug in the dongle, and then you can see the BlueSoleil software recognizing the dongle.

If you are an engineer-minded person like us who always prefer to use the gadgets before reading the manual, you might get into trouble with these devices. We thought the BT007SX and BT009SX are USB devices and could plug-and-play without any trouble or setup. Sure enough, the dongles do work without BlueSoleil. However, unlike most other Bluetooth accessory vendors who have already moved to adopt the Widdcom Bluetooth driver, Bluetake still uses the default Bluetooth driver provided by Microsoft. As you may know, the Microsoft Bluetooth driver has limited features compared to the Widdcom driver. For example, the Microsoft driver does not support a Bluetooth audio headset. Besides, having the dongles plugged-in before installing the BlueSoleil will make it more difficult for the software to recognize the USB dongles.

Click to see our Bluetooth FAQ

But we can’t blame it on Bluetake. All the above issues were caused by the smart-ass syndrome. If you take the time read the quick installation guide first, you won’t experience those issues.

Pairing Ability

Pairing the BT007SX and BT009SX with other Bluetooth devices is a breeze. You simply need to first set the Bluetooth devices in pairing mode, and then set the BlueSoleil in discovery mode. After entering the security code for the devices for the first time, BlueSoleil will remember the code for that particular device.

Switching Connection Ability

Switching connections between the BT007SX / BT009SX among different Bluetooth devices is simple. BlueSoleil will show all the available devices on one screen so it is very easy to find the device you want to use, and right click on the device to call up the connection command. (See the sample picture.)

Connection Range – BT009SX (class 2)

The working range of the BT009SX is as advertised at 10 meters / 33 feet. We know the actual connection range is also determined by the Bluetooth device it pairs to, so we tested the dongles with several different class 2 Bluetooth headsets (Plantronics Voyager 510, Motorola H700, and Grandvue Bluemate 630). The statistics show that all the headsets can work beyond the 10-meter range.

Connection Range – BT007SX (class 1)

We then performed the same special tests that we developed for the class 1 Bluetooth USB dongles in the Bluetooth Myth article which compared the connection range of the BT007SX and other class 1 USB dongles, with the same class 2 Plantronics Voyager 510. The performance of the BT007SX is similar to other known name-brand dongles (such as IOGear, Billionton, etc.). These class 1 dongles can extend the class 2 headset connection range to around 20 meters, which is better than some no-name class 1 dongles we found at Wal-mart – which can only work up to approximately 15 meters.

The Trial version of the BlueSoleil Skype plug-in

The installation CD comes with a trial version of the BlueSoleil plug-in. With this plug-in installed, users can pick-up Skype calls by clicking the “call” button on the Bluetooth headset and don’t need to go back to the computer and click on the big, green pick-up button on the screen anymore – which can free users from their computers. Unfortunately the trial version has a 5M data transfer cap, so we are going to keep an eye on the development of the plug-in and update its progress here.

On a Mac:

A major selling point of the BT007SX and BT009SX is their wider compatibility on Mac systems. The specifications say that the dongles will work on Mac OX 10.2 systems and later. We put that to the test on our Mac testing machine – an iMac G3, 256 MB RAM, Mac OS 10.3.9, Bluetooth firmware 1.5 updated – and the system recognized the dongle when it was first plugged in. There is no driver or software installation required. Just follow the standard Bluetooth device pairing procedure in the Mac utilities and you can enjoy the cordless convenience the Bluetooth technology provides very easy.

Conclusion:

BT007SX and BT009SX are both solid choices for Bluetooth USB dongles if you want to make your computer Bluetooth enabled. The only little complaint we have is that they don’t use the Widdcom driver. However, after installing the BlueSoleil software, users won’t experience the shortcomings inherent in the Microsoft driver because BlueSoleil has already compensated them. Besides, we see a big potential for the BlueSoleil Skype plug-in to free users from their computer when making Skype calls. If you want to buy the dongle, we highly recommend that you consider the BT007SX class 1 dongle. With the price differences between the BT007SX and BT009SX being so small, why not get the class 1 dongle for its wider range?

Click to get the coupon code for these two dongles

Click to see how to use the Bluetooth headset call button to answer Skype calls

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Coupon Code for the AmperorDirect.com Blog Readers like you

September 1, 2006

I managed to get a special coupon code from our store manager, for the blog readers like you and me. It is “BLOG”. Enter this code when you check out at AmperorDirect.com. You can get around 12% off.

Currently, you can use the code on Plantronics Voyager 510, BT007SX and BT009SX.

Again, the coupon code is BLOG.

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