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IPEVO TR-10i gives iChat and Skype a speakerphone boost, now for less

Even if it's not explicitly stated with every post about an app or discussion of a peripheral, there's one basic criterion for reviews that I try to stick to as much as I can: "Would I spend my own money on this thing?" Sometimes an otherwise-excellent product gets priced out of the value equation, or there are competitors and free offerings that deliver most of the functionality for a fraction of the cost. When you can get the same chore done with the built-in capabilities of your Mac, the decision about spending additional money on a gadget to do the same thing "but better" can get even harder.

When the IPEVO TR-10i speakerphone for iChat first shipped last year, I was eager to give it a try, and it didn't disappoint. Having a USB microphone sensitive enough to pick up voice chatter from a roomful of people is a definite advantage -- the MacBook Pro's built-in mic doesn't usually work well with more than one or two. Likewise, a built-in speaker with volume, recording and call answer controls proved to be a big plus, especially for those times where I didn't remember I needed to start recording until after the start of the call.

The unit works perfectly with iChat (including support for all the on-device controls), but also delivers good results with Skype and other softphone apps like EyeBeam and Zoiper; the microphone and speaker work with any Mac app, in fact, so you could use it as a voice mic for GarageBand if you wanted to. Call quality was very good, once I got the input volume settings sorted out via the IPEVO device FAQ. Like any good speakerphone, it's got a hardware mute button to take a brief break from your call.

Still, I think the killer feature of the TR-10i (as long as you don't mind looking a little ridiculous) is that you can easily switch it from speakerphone to handset mode and use it like you would a conventional phone. For private conversations before or after a conference call, it's very handy, and to tell the truth it doesn't look any goofier than a USB or Bluetooth headset.

With all this in mind, I would have loved to write a glowing review of the TR-10i a while ago. The only problem was the price: for quite a bit less than the $79.90US cost of the TR-10i, you could get a pretty nice USB mic and just use your Mac's speakers for conference calling. I couldn't fault the product, but I couldn't stomach the price... so I stalled and stalled on reviewing it, trying to figure out if I truly would lay down the better part of a C-note for this particular gadget.

Fortunately, I think someone at IPEVO had the same sense about the TR-10i that I did: even though Mac users don't mind paying extra for quality, they still can tell when a product's features and its price don't match up. The TR-10i is now available direct from IPEVO for a more reasonable $49.99, and at that price point I can say without reservation that I would buy one myself. The company also has a free shipping deal in force through this Wednesday (9/9), so the timing is right. The difference between the original price and the new price may be only one Snow Leopard's worth, but it makes the TR-10i much more attractive.

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