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Windows only: Skype 4.0 is officially out, and it features all the really big video windows and Outlook and problem-reporting tools from last year’s betas. It also beefs up Skype’s handling of bandwidth. The biggest jump noticeable, at least for users of the official 3.8 version, is the window real estate given to video chat and IM chats, and the general overhaul given to the app’s skin and look. Skype’s standard two-pane video chat has been traded in for a picture-in-picture layout, but that can be changed by dragging out your own video thumbnail. Skype also touts a new audio engine and network manager, Silk, that uses half the bandwidth to provide audio and tries to save it from stuttering when Skype notices your connection slowing down in the background. The video engine purportedly does the same type of save-the-call moves when your bandwidth drops off. Skype 4.0 is a free download for Windows systems only. Skype hounds, are you noticing better audio quality and fewer glitch-outs? Liking the new look of video chat? Tell us in the comments. Screenshot from Skype.Skype 4.0 for Windows [via Download.com]
Productivity consultant Jared Goralnick offers ten reasons why your phone shouldn’t automatically notify you the moment you receive a new email message—like protecting your sanity, for one. Some phone email clients (like Gmail Mobile for Java-based phones) require that you start them up to check your mail; other devices like the Blackberry check automatically and notify you the moment a new message lands in your inbox. It may seem convenient to have your phone auto-check email, but do the constant interruptions actually save you time? After the jump, tell us how you like email on your phone—pushed to you on the fly or only there when you check.
US-centric: Tired of getting phone calls from the same 800-type phone number, but have no idea who’s calling? 800Notes, a free user-submitted reverse phone directory, lets you see who might be ringing, whether it’s a sales firm, debt collection agency, or other cloaked caller. Whether or not you find a match depends on if anybody else has reported the identity of the caller, but many of the matches have useful information, like a caller’s experience in trying to get the other end to stop calling. For those who’ve recently changed numbers or seem to attract false debt collection calls, it’s definitely worth a bookmark for when Google searching fails. 800Notes [via MakeUseOf.com]
The Marc and Angel productivity blog drums up 10 useful mobile phone numbers to keep in your contacts list—the kind of numbers you don’t use often, but you really want to get at fast when you do. Among them, they make a strong argument to do a little research ahead of time and find a reputable, affordable, and, most importantly, available locksmith: There’s nothing worst than being locked out, especially at night. Save yourself the hassle of trying to find a reputable locksmith with reasonable prices when you are locked out and stressed out. Do a little homework now and find yourself a reputable locksmith that has a 24 hour emergency call service.
Sound advice, and quick to accomplish with a Google Maps or online yellow page service. What must-have numbers are firmly lodged in your phone’s address book? Serve up a few ideas in the comments. 10 Handy Numbers to Save in Your Mobile Phone [Marc and Angel]
Need to make a long, long, long-distance call but don’t want to pay the cost of a cheap lunch every minute? My VoIP Provider might be a good place to start looking for cheap internet-based calling options. The site offers rates and customer reviews for roughly 1400 VoIP services around the world, and can display and sort calling rates between nearly any two countries. You’ll always want to dig around a bit before signing up with an unknown VoIP service, of course, but it’s a handy way to get even cheaper phone calls than with standard call-out services. My VoIP Provider is a free service that doesn’t seem to require a sign-up. Check out a handy roundup of the numerous VoIP tips and tricks we’ve previously featured to get more out of your internet calling.MyVoipProvider [via MakeUseOf.com]
Automated phone bots keep interrupting your dinner with their pre-recorded marketing messages? Play the U.S. Special Information Tone signal for “vacant circuit” when you pick up the phone. Our brother site Consumerist says a reader who kept getting automated debt collection calls added the tone to the beginning of his voicemail greeting: The next time the robot called, it thought it was getting a dead line and dutifully erased the number from its system. Voila, automatons be gone. Some places have autodialers that don’t (or have been tweaked) to respond to SIT tones, but if you’ve got a persistent unwanted robot caller, it’s worth a shot.
Of course, adding this to your answering machine greeting may confuse genuine human callers as well, but that may be worth scaring off the bots. Grab the tone as a WAV file from the Art of Hacking site. U.S. SIT (Special Information Tones) signal: Vacant Circuit (out of service or nonexistent phone number) [Art of Hacking via Consumerist]
If you’re like me, you probably get unwanted mobile phone calls often from people who accidentally but habitually dial the wrong number. You can ask your carrier to block the repeated offenders, but that option is not supported by all carriers. The Baby Toolkit blog has an alternative that may be just as good. For people who repeatedly call the wrong number, create a contact called “Wrong Number” and set your phone to silent. That way, you can save your cell phone minutes and avoid being distracted when you get a call that isn’t intended for you anyway.Hack Your Cell: Identify Regular Wrong Number Calls [Baby Toolkit]
Constant phone interruptions can break up even the most dedicated workflow. However, you can solve this by setting aside a specific time each day to return and make your calls. Productivity blogger John Cox has more: Folks will leave you messages. Return those messages at a set time. Try to say between 10AM and 11AM in the morning and 2PM and 3PM in the afternoon is the time that I call people back. Not before, not after. I suppose there could always be exceptions to the rule due to emergencies, but to be honest with you, I haven’t had to make the exception. The only reason that folks expect an immediate return call is because we train them into that behavior.
I’ve had to do this since I started working exclusively from home, and it’s cut my distractions down pretty drastically. If you’ve set aside a specific phone time, please share in the comments how this is working (or not working) for you.7 Habits [John Cox]
Windows/Mac/Linux (All platforms): Freeware Voice-over-IP (VoIP) application Gizmo Project makes phone calls from your PC similar to the popular Skype. Like when we first mentioned Gizmo Project, it still boasts several excellent features like voice integration with other Gizmo Project users as well as Google Talk, Windows Live and Yahoo Messenger users, support for AIM and MSN chat, and a free call-in number—making it sort of a kitchen sink version of Skype.
The latest version of Gizmo Project supports video chat (though it’s not as high quality as Skype), an improved interface, and several worthwhile fixes. If you’ve tried Skype but you’re looking for more functionality and integration with other communication standards, Gizmo Project is worth a go. If you’ve been using Gizmo Project since we first mentioned it, let us know how it’s working for you in the comments. The current beta is Windows only, but will presumably support Mac and Linux soon.Gizmo Project 4 Beta [Gizmo Project Forums]