This wasn't a big gear year for me. I'm all set with my television, digital camera, and laptop. My mobile phone desperately needs an upgrade, but I'm not sold on the Apple iPhone and the T-Mobile G1 falls short of being the Google Android phone of my dreams. While there were a lot of consumer electronics I purchased and enjoyed in 2008, none of them changed my life in that TiVo-like way. However, one device that I've come to rely on immensely is the Ooma Core Phone System. This little box lets me make all the domestic calls I want for free, as well as international calls at very low rates. If you can stomach the fact that Ashton Kutcher is the company's creative director (really), Ooma is a fantastic product and service.
Ooma's Core Phone System currently lists for $250, though you can find it for less at several online retailers. You plug the Ooma Hub into your Internet connection and attach an ordinary telephone to the Hub. The Ooma Scout can be used for another phone in your household, extending the reach of the Hub. Once you're all set, you can make free domestic calls through the Internet.
I have a lot of family and friends in Asia, as well as a few pals in Europe. Using Ooma to call them is super convenient and much, much cheaper than using a traditional phone company. One of the people in my household needs to call overseas quite a bit, but isn't really comfortable on a PC. This is another area where Ooma comes in handy. If you know how to dial a telephone then you can use Ooma. There's no need to switch on a computer and use different VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) programs to make a cheap international call.
Over the years, I've used quite a few VoIP services. In terms of pricing, Ooma trounces Vonage and Skype, while being on par with Yahoo! Internet Messenger's prices. As for call quality, Ooma is much better than Vonage and Y! Messenger, while being on par with Skype. While I had some international calling quirks in the past, the service has been pretty excellent over the last few months.
Yeah, it's not a sexy or glamorous pick, but my Ooma box has been one of the most vital pieces of consumer electronics in my arsenal during 2008. If you're looking for excellent phone quality, free domestic calling for life (or until the company shuts down), and cheap international calling, I highly recommend Ooma...provided you can get past the Ashton Kutcher thing.