Review: Zipit Wireless Messenger 2
February 11, 2008
Free your PC from teen-inflicted tyranny with this mobile instant messaging device.
Pros: Provides mobile IM without monthly fees; less expensive and more mobile than a conventional desktop or laptop.
Bottom line: A convenient and cost-effective way to communicate via IM.
Back in the olden dayslets say more than ten years agoit was common for teenagers to tie up the family phone for hours yakking with friends. For todays youth, however, the preferred method of real-time communication is instant messaging, which allows for commiseration with countless people in parallel.
If you want to free the solitary household computer from being monopolized for instant messaging duty, you may find salvation in the Zipit Wireless Messenger 2 (Z2; $149) from Zipit Wireless, a device that lets youngsters stay plugged into IM sans PC.
The $149 Z2 is a square, clamshell-style device that measures 3.7" x 3.1" x.085" and weighs but six ounces. Opening up the Z2 (a female voice coos zipit when you turn the unit on) reveals a 3-inch color LCD display and a full QWERTY keyboard. The back and side of the device feature small connectors that hint at future expansion capabilities, though Zipit hasnt yet announced any add-ons.
You can use the Z2 at home or at a hotspot, since it communicates with the world via 802.11g/b (Wi-Fi). A simple wizard walks you through the process of connecting to either an open network or one secured by WEP or WPA, and we had no trouble connecting the Z2 to a network using WPA encryption. (After connecting to a network for the first time, the Z2 proceeded to automatically retrieve and install system updates a process that took about five minutes.)
The Z2 can connect to the three most popular instant messaging networks (AIM, MSN, and Yahoo!), and it can be logged into all three services simultaneously. A large, centrally located MyFriendz button on the Z2 conveniently calls up a unified buddy list. The Z2s backlit keyboard is a bit stiff, but its large and well-spaced enough that most should find it comfortable to use, even for extended periods.
Those used to conducting multiple conversations in separate windows on a PC may find the Z2 takes some getting used to. Due to the limited screen size, each chat window consumes all available screen real estate, though you can cycle through your current conversations pretty easily using a pair of Prev and Next keys. Emoticons are a mainstay of IM communication, so the Z2 has a dedicated key that will let you choose from a menu of a dozen of them (which actually isnt that many compared to what you get with most PC-based IM clients).
The Z2 wont quite satisfy all online communication needs. Since it lacks a Web browser, accessing things like social networking sites isnt possible (maybe not such a bad thing). However, in addition to IM-based communication the Z2 also supports text messaging via the cellular phone network, albeit at an extra cost. You do get ten messages monthly for free, but 3,000 more will cost you $4.99 a month, which compares favorably to what most mobile carriers charge for messaging.
Like most mobile phones, the Z2 gets its power from a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack. Its rated for four hours of life, which is about what we got during our testing (we managed a bit under five on one with moderate usage). (The AC charger is small enough to tote along with the device if need be.)
Customization, music, and photos
When you register a Z2 on Zipits Web site, you gain a few personalization features like the ability to download different background wallpapers or choose from a couple of themes for the built-in applications. You can select the ones you want and theyre downloaded to the device within a few minutes, though it would be more convenient to be able to access them directly from the Z2.
Although nobody would mistake the Z2 for an iPod, it does have the ability to play music and display photos stored on a mini-SD card (and saved into the appropriately named folders Music and Pictures). The Z2s MyTunez application can play MP3 audio and lets you access the material by categories, including title, artist, album, and genre. Our Z2 unit only worked with MP3 audio, but Zipit says a future software update will add support for (non-protected) WMA files, as well.
If youd rather listen to something live, you can access more than fifty streaming Internet radio stations from the Z2. However, you can only have eight on your device at a time and like the backgrounds and themes, you must select them in advance from the Web site before theyre downloaded to your device.
The Z2s built-in speaker is monaural, and like most small-device speakers, its capable of only limited volume and audio fidelity. Fortunately, the Z2 also sports a standard 3.5mm audio jack, allowing you to use the earphones of your choice.
Compared to the audio features, the Z2s MyPhotoz viewer is more basic. It automatically runs through a slide show of all the photos in a folder (each folder is listed as an individual slideshow), and while you can pause the display on a particular snapshot during a show, you cant access a list or thumbnails of individual images.
If, as a parent, youd like to have some visibility and control over howand how longthe Z2 is used (and why wouldnt you?), ZipIt offers it via a Parental Portal on its Web site. Activating this feature is a little cumbersome, as you must provide the Z2 devices serial number and authorization code twice--once when creating the parental account, and then again when confirming it via an e-mail response.
Once youve set up the Parental Portal, you can fire off your own text messages to the device, as well as get a basic usage report, which will indicate how many minutes the device has been logged in that day, the day before, and cumulatively for the past week. You can also define time limits on usage, such as preventing the Z2 from working on specific days of the week or setting a daily time quota of up to 7 hours and 45 minutes (in 15 minute increments). What you cant doand it would be nice if you couldis block out specific times of day when the users should be doing something other than chatting with friends (like homework, perhaps).
The bottom line
The Zipit Wireless Messenger could do some things better. For starters, wed prefer some kind of browsing ability, more parental controls, the ability to customize the device directly, and we think the $150 price tag is arguably a tad too high. But the Z2 is still less than half the price of an entry-level desktop, and less than a third of the cost of a laptop, and it spares you the monthly fees of an IM-capable cell phone. So, assuming you are comfortable allowing your young offspring mobile and near-constant access to IM, the Zipit Wireless Messenger 2 can be a convenient and cost-effective way to provide it.
Joseph Moran is a long-time reviewer and frequent contributor to Wi-FiPlanet.com.