The $99 (about £51) Snap Personal Internet Communicator is part telephone, part intercom.

The Snap Personal Internet Communicator connects to your PC via USB, and allows you to talk to one of eight contacts at the push of a button, no dialing needed. Although it's an innovative device, a few limitations hamper the Snap Personal Internet Communicator's appeal. The biggest of these drawbacks is the fact that all of your contacts must also use the Snap.

Once you have registered your Snap Personal Internet Communicator online, you can add contacts to your Snap phone. It has eight buttons to which you assign specific contacts. Another button launches a web page where you can manage those contacts.

You can print out a label to insert in the unit so you can remember whom you've assigned each button to; beside each name is a green light that glows when your Snapmate is online and available. Push the button, and the contact hears a ring and sees a flashing light. They push a button to answer your call. Conferencing is a cinch: press three buttons in succession, your pals answer, and you have four voices on the line; your contacts can also patch in three more people each.

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The speakerphone sounded crisp in our tests, with only a few instances where words came out stuttered. During a couple of calls, we heard a faint echo.

If you're not quick off the blocks, you might miss a call. The Snap Personal Internet Communicator scarcely rings twice before voicemail picks up, and the ring length isn't customizable. (At this writing, the company says that it will lengthen the ring time, up to four rings.) The .wav-format voice messages arrive via email, but our messages didn't arrive for a few days, and some ended up in the spam folder. The Snap doesn't report missed calls - we would've liked that. It's also limited by its USB cord; you're tied to your computer when using it. The company expects to have a cordless version in 2009.

Because the Snap Personal Internet Communicator is a speakerphone, you'll need to use a headset to get around the privacy problem. A standard mobile phone headset with a 2.5mm plug works fine, but that's another cord to futz with.

If you're glued to a desk talking to a core group of people many times a day, the Snap could fit the bill. But you'd need a boss willing to cough up $99 for each Snap device and a yearly fee of $25 per user if your company's firewall is enterprise-level. Consider, too, that millions of workers are happy yakking on Skype (with videoconferencing to boot, which the Snap lacks), all for free, without feeling a need for change.

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Snap Personal Internet Communicator: Specs

  • 2 headsets
  • requires: PC running Windows XP (Home or Professional), or Vista
  • 512MB memory
  • USB 2.0 connectivity
  • High-speed Internet access
  • 2 headsets
  • requires: PC running Windows XP (Home or Professional), or Vista
  • 512MB memory
  • USB 2.0 connectivity
  • High-speed Internet access

OUR VERDICT

Is the Snap Personal Internet Communicator unique and innovative? Absolutely. Does it have broad appeal? No.

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