Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Service Review: On The Spot With Spot Mobile

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When looking for a value carrier, there are quite a few choices out there. Spot Mobile is one that has stepped up out of the shadows and created a beautiful mix of plans for the smartphone user and feature phone user alike. Getting in to Spot Mobile is as simple as grabbing a SIM card and inserting it in to any unlocked or T-Mobile compatible device. Yes, that is correct, Spot Mobile runs off the magenta 4G nationwide network, which means great coverage in metropolitan areas and a bit lower coverage levels on the outskirts of towns. With their recent refarming of the 1900mHz bands nationwide though, T-Mobile’s network is more than ready to handle most 3G and 4G devices with HSPA+ capabilities. Though Spot Mobile hasn’t jumped on to the baby LTE network that is currently rolling out, users can expect 10-15Mbps downloads with HSPA+42 compatible phones.

Cost: The plan options are even more impressive than the coverage. Starting with just a standard Talk & Text Plan for $24.99 a month, the “always around Wi-Fi’ers” will find a very low cost bill in their future. To add that occasional data use and MMS messages, you only shell out an extra $5. That $29.99 a month gets you the same unlimited talk and text with the added bonus of 250MB of data and a $5 credit for international calling. Stepping up to the $39.99 level, you get unlimited talk, text and data with the first 1GB at 4G speeds. This is double what T-Mobile offers with their $50 Simple Choice plan. You also land yourself a $10 international calling credit as well. For $10 more ($49.99) you double your data to 2GB of high speed and for $20 more ($59.99 a month) you get 3GB at 4G speeds.

One added bonus to the full offering of Spot Mobile plans in the $29.99 and higher range is the direct dial international long distance package. With the $29.99 package, you get a $5 international calling credit. Jumping to the $39.99 plan doubles it. The $49.99 and $59.99 plans both include unlimited international calling to select destinations and a $15 or $20 credit for those locations that aren’t included on the list.

Coverage and Network Speeds: Now that you have the rundown on the Spot Mobile plans, it’s time to see how the service performs. The nationwide network performed very well in the areas where our testing occurred. I especially appreciated the fact that the coverage map doesn’t include areas that require a footer of “coverage not available in…” I found that voice quality was very strong, but I did encounter a few of those “Downloading Media Content” errors that the T-Mobile network is known for. Overall, Spot Mobile’s coverage was excellent across the board. Data speeds approached 15Mbps on the Nokia Lumia 810 and topped out around 10Mbps on the slower HSPA+21 handsets that were tested. Even on an older iPhone 3Gs (HSPA+7.2) speeds were a solid 3Mbps downlink. Overall, Spot Mobile exceeded my expectations of how well it would make a $100 phone run and performed just as well on the latest and greatest hardware from various manufacturers.

Customer Service: If there is one thing that the majors have that the MVNO’s are missing, it would be stellar customer service. Fortunately, with social networking, service has become much easier for MVNO’s to offer without having to staff a full call center. Our experience with Spot Mobile ranged from “Amazing” to “Really?” but tended to slide towards the positive. Of course, our one “Really?” rating was more due to the fact that a certain editor didn’t read the instructions on how to port a number in, but I’ll get to that in a minute. I tested every mode of communication with Spot Mobile and found that calling customer service directly was the fastest option. Twitter (@spotmobile) was a very close second and actually beat the call center during normal business hours. That said, I don’t anticipate having to call for service very often as their entire system is very simple.

Refilling: They couldn’t make refilling your device much easier. Just visit a website, purchase a PIN number and key it in at the Spot Mobile website or via the instructions on the refill email. I found purchasing refills from our partner site www.getsmartphones.info very easy and the non-tax internet variety refill saves even more money.

Now, not everything was coming up roses for Spot Mobile, mainly due to the fact that the instructions on the SIM card were so easy to discard. If you are activating a new number, life is simple: 1) Buy a refill card, 2) Go to www.spotmobile.com, 3) Click activate and fill out some basic info. Done. If you are porting in a number though, you need to make sure you get your refill PIN, then call the 800 number or find an authorized dealer to perform your activation. There were a few glitches in the system that actually ended up giving me a ‘new’ number upon activation instead of porting my old one in.

Overall: I know that there are power users out there that will need more than 1GB of data. I also know that there is a very large portion of the population that will never go over 1GB of data. For users like this, Spot Mobile offers better service and more transparent options than much of the competition. While the 1GB plan at $39.99 may not be quite as good of value as the $45 2.5GB’ish Straight Talk plan, I have to like the fact that Spot Mobile tells me how much I actually get every month without being throttled or cut off. Too many of these “unlimited” plans don’t do that. Plus for an added $60 a year savings over those other plans, included international calling and better customer service, I find it hard to pass on Spot Mobile.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Accessory Review: Bose Soundlink Bluetooth Mini Speaker

Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker

Bose has long been a name associated with amazing audio performance. The company has brought us brilliant designs in the past and continues to amaze with designs like the one found in the Bose Soundlink Bluetooth Mini Speaker. A perfect marriage of sound and portability, the Bose Soundlink will deliver 7 hours of music fun in a tiny 2”x7”x2.5” package. And what a package it is. The Soundlink Mini delivers a construction quality that makes you wonder if you dropped it off the Space Needle or Empire State Building if it would survive. The Soundlink Mini is built like a tank and will take quite a bit of abuse before it starts to show.

Moving on to the sound quality of the Soundlink Mini, I found the sound to be at its best when I gave the speaker a backboard to bounce off of. Placing the device on a table top resulted in good sound, but it never got as clear when it was turned up loudly as when it was at medium volumes. Once I put the Soundlink Mini against a wall though, the sound boomed out and had amazing tones.

Overall, the Soundlink Mini is a worth addition to anyone’s audio setup – especially the one that uses their device for everything. The Soundlink Mini is ultra portable, great sounding and under $200. It’s just about the perfect device for those looking for a superior listening experience that goes anywhere they want it to.

Sent from my Nokia Lumia 810
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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Accessory Review: Soundbot SB220 Bluetooth Stereo Headphones

SoundBot® SB220 Bluetooth Noise-Cancellation Stereo Headphone for Music Stream & HandsFree Calling w/ Extended talk and play time, 400 hrs standy time, Built-in Mic A2DP, AVRCP by EyeCandis
Hot off the heels of my Skullcandy Titan review, I wanted to keep the music theme going with a few more must haves. This time, I take the music up a notch by removing the strings. The $19.99 street price on the Soundbot Bluetooth SB220 Headphones is a great deal. Although not a perfect pair of headphones by any means, the durable construction and good sound is the perfect combination for the active listener that may want to take advantage of their Window Phone’s text to speech capabilities. With a simple activation of this feature, you can be out for a jog listening to your favorite tunes – without wires – and when a message comes in, you just tell your phone to read it and it does.
The Soundbot Bluetooth SB220 Headphones have amazingly good sound, especially for the price. Lows are big and full. Highs were clean and clear. Mids had nice clarity and rounded out the sound nicely. The folding construction makes carrying the SB220s an easy chore. Of course, the hinge mechanism may wear over time, so be gentle with them. If there was a negative to the construction, it would have to be that the charging port is a MINI USB instead of a Micro USB port. Sure, Mini USB ports were great during the time of the BlackBerry Curve and Pearl, but this is 5 years later and they should probably update the design to match with current times. Fortunately, finding Mini USB cables is pretty easy and it will charge fine off most 5v USB bricks.
Overall, the Soundbot Bluetooth SB220 Headphones are a great addition to your device’s audio capabilities. The fact that they can be used as a bluetooth headset while on the run, at the gym or even in the car (keep one ear uncovered please!) is just a bonus. The battery easily lasts 8 hours on a single charge and my music sounded fantastic the entire day. Give yourself a treat to start November and grab a pair before they jump back to the $30 range where they usually are.
You can grab the Soundbot Bluetooth SB220 Headphones from the GetSmartphones.Info webstore powered by Amazon right now for $19.99.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Expand Your Storage With The SanDisk Ultra 64

SanDisk SDSDQUA-064G-U46A Ultra 64 GB microSDXC Class 10 UHS-1 Memory Card 30MB/s with Adapter

Hot on the heels of the announcements of the Nokia Lumia 1320 and 1520, I have quite the deal for those looking to expand their media potential before they upgrade to that new device. This is especially a great deal for those with a Nokia Lumia 520 or a Nokia Lumia 521. The SanDisk Ultra 64GB MicroSD card is priced under $50 at the Getsmartphones.Info web store, powered by Amazon. Actually, it’s currently listed at $49.34 and ships free, which makes it an absolute bargain for anyone that shoots a ton of photos or needs to carry about 20 days worth of music without listening to the same song twice and still have room enough to store all those photos and videos from your vacation.

The UHS-1 speeds on the SanDisk Ultra are fast enough to record full HD video, play back movies and videos at HD quality. The high speed SanDisk Ultra cards are even able transfer to computers faster than their Class 10 counterparts. The UHS-1 speeds transfer up to 30MB/s2. For those that need a bit more kick and have a compatible device, there is the SanDisk Extreme 64GB MicroSD card that features write speeds of 95MB/s2, though this card rarely works in most Windows Phone devices and has a street price of over $100.

If both of these cards offer a bit too much storage, and a bit too big of a drain in the pocket book, the SanDisk Ultra 32GB card could be the perfect solution. The 32GB card still features plenty of storage for the average user and comes with a much more sticker friendly $23.75 price tag. Of course, make sure you add a case or something to it to qualify for the free shipping on orders over $25 or you may as well just spend the extra $10 and pick up the Ultra 64GB card instead.

Sent from my Nokia Lumia 810
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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Product Review: Skullcandy Titan Earbuds

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When it comes to music, good headphones will make or break the experience for most people. Skullcandy earphones are usually one of the better bang for the buck deals out there, so I took the a pair of the  Skullcandy Titans out for a test drive. First off, the packaging is very sturdy. This is probably done to help retailers keep the items in the boxes. You need to punch a tab at the bottom of the box to get into it.

After you get in, you will see various sized ear tips, the headphones and a carrying bag. The bag is a nice touch for storing your buds when not in use. After a quick swap of the standard tips that felt a bit large in my ears I pushed the packaging off to the side and got started.

Sound: Out of the box without any EQ setting on my Lumia 810 produced a clean crisp sound. The highs were very clear and the lows were there, but didn’t have too much punch. Once quick flip in to the Audio settings on my device though, and the bass kicked in and the Titans delivered. I now understand why so many people say that Skullcandy knows earbuds.

Build: Since the performance was spot on with the Skullcandy Titans, I wanted to examine the build quality of them. There had been a few issues on Amazon reviews with the earpieces falling apart or even the ‘copper’ series ones oxidizing. Fortunately, I wasn’t trying the copper ones, so that wasn’t an issue for me. As far as other complaints about the quality, I found them to be empty. The seam where the plastic parts and metal stems meet is extremely solid, The rubber tips fit very snug over the plastic caps on the buds themselves. Overall, they seem very solid. That said, I wouldn’t try throwing them on the ground and stomping on them, I just don’t think they would take much abuse like that.

Overall: At a price nearing $30, the Skullcandy Titans are one of the lower end headphone sets out there. I won’t even justify the bargain basement under $10 models that we sometimes pick up just to have a pair in this comparison because they wouldn’t even measure up to the Titans. Throwing them up against the Sennheiser CX 685 or Bose IE2 headsets seems more logical and for me, a more even match. The bottom line is that these little $30 earphones can hold their own against these two headsets that cost 3-4 times as much. The Skullcandy Titans are one to check out for any music lover in the crowd.

Sent from my Nokia Lumia 810
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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Accessory Review: Nokia DT-900 Wireless Charging Base

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The Nokia DT-900 Wireless Charging Base is one of those accessories that most people don’t give a second glance to, but once you’ve tried it, you wonder how you lived without it. The DT-900 is the ‘flat’ model of the Nokia chargers and works with any Qi compatible device or charging plate. The built in charging on the Nokia Lumia 920 makes a great companion for the DT-900, as does the various charging backs for other Nokia models.

The charging plate for the Lumia 1020, Lumia 925 and the Lumia 820 works perfectly with the DT-900. Also, for those of you that have older devices that are Qi compatible or have Qi compatible backs. The DT-900 is available in Black, White, Red, Yellow and Cyan.

The DT-900 charges your device is a very efficient manner. My Lumia 810 takes about 3.5 hours to get a complete charge on the DT-900 as compared to about 2.5 hours on the standard USB charger. Personally, I pair my 810 to my Sony Wireless Network Speaker and set it on a DT-900 to keep it charged while listening to music with Nokia Play To more often than actually charging the phone on it. I also picked up a DT-900 for my bedside table for overnight charging.

The cost effective DT-900 runs about $35 on average and will really save some wear and tear on that charging/sync port on your device. This alone makes at least one DT-900 a great idea for any Lumia household. You can grab a DT-900 from GetSmartphones.Info’s Amazon store today for a great price.

Sent from my Nokia Lumia 810
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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Nokia World: Two New Phones Worth Looking At

Lumia 1320_632

What a night for Nokia! With the announcement of a few new devices, some accessories and a tablet, they pretty much have everything that Microsoft will need to compete on a level playing field with Samsung and Apple. Now, if they could only start securing a larger market share, they could start climbing back into the mix with the average consumer.

Dragons-Adventure

Let’s hit the cool gadgets and software announcements first. Probably the biggest news of the day – Instagram is officially coming to Windows Phone soon. For most users this is pretty anti-climactic as we’ve been using 6Tag and Instance for quite some time. Vine and Flipboard are joining the Windows Phone family as well. Of course, the software highlight of the day for me was Dragons Adventure for the 2520, which uses Here Maps and augmented reality to make a very interesting gaming experience. Though the 2520 isn’t on my must have list right now, Apps like this sure make it look enticing.

Lumia 1520 wireless charging_632

The biggest news for me was obviously the new Nokia Lumia 1520 and 1320 handsets. The 1520 will be the contract carrier’s dream handset at a retail of $750. They should be able to bring that down to the $299 price point starting out and finally leveling it out to $199 after a few months. This still isn’t enough for me to offset the total cost of the contract (around $3500 on AT&T for 2 years) but it’s quite the piece of hardware. Cramming a 2.2GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM into a body that houses a 6” display and 20MP camera, Nokia pretty well smashed one out of the park with the 1520. The specs are only made better by the fact that you can add additional storage for photos, videos and music. The Lumia 1520 is definitely going to raise the bar for the mega-phones going in to 2014.

Even with the 1520 super-phone announcement fresh in my mind, the device that really stood out for me was the Lumia 1320. At least it did for a few minutes… Unfortunately, the only way to get your hands on one of these is to be in a country other than here – for the moment. The little brother of the 1520 features a brilliant 6” display, a dual-core 1.7GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. It also has a smaller internal memory, coming in at 8GB. While many will pan this immediately, remember that you can kick a 64GB SD card in there for all your media needs. What you end up with is about 2-3GB of storage for Apps, which isn’t all bad, unless you are an avid gamer. If so, then pass on the 1320 and spend the extra to grab something with a bit more internal storage – like the unlocked 32GB Lumia 920 for under $350 right now.

Both devices are slated to launch in early 2014. The 1520 will probably be an AT&T exclusive out of the gate with the 1320 being limited to international availability at launch. The retail price for the 1520 is expected to be near $750 and the 1320 should hit the streets for $339 without contract.

Specifications for the Nokia Lumia 1320

Operating System: Windows Phone 8 with the latest updates
Networks: LTE-ROW: GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz; WCDMA 850, 900, 2100 MHz; LTE 800, 1800, 2600; LTE-LTA: GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz; WCDMA 850, 1700, 1900, 2100 MHz; LTE 700, 850, 1700, 1900 MHz; HSPA+: GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz; WCDMA/HSPA + 900, 2100 MHz.
Speed: LTE:3, 7, 20 bands – 100/50 Mbps (cat 3); DC-HSPA ROW: 42/5.76Mbps (cat 24 DL/Cat6 UL); HSPA+ CHINA: 21/5.76Mbps (Cat 14DL/Cat6 UL); GSM: EGPRS 236.8Kps
Memory: 1GB RAM, 8GB internal user memory; 7GB SkyDrive cloud storage, micro SD card support up to 64GB
Display: 6-inch HD LCD IPS (1280×720), Super sensitive touch support for glove and long nail use; Gorilla Glass 3
Processor: 1.7GHz Dual-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
Primary camera: 5MP Auto Focus, flash. Video 1080p @ 30fps
Secondary Camera: 0.3MP VGA.
Size & weight: 164.25 x 85.9 x 9.79* mm (*volumetric). Weight: 220g
Connectivity: BT 4.0 + LE, Micro-USB 2.0, 3.5mm AHJ, WIFI 802.11(2.4GHz b/g/n)
Battery: 3400 mAh (integrated)
Audio: 1 HAAC mic; 3.5mm AV connector, HD Voice; FM Radio

Specifications for the Nokia Lumia 1520

Operating System: Windows Phone 8 with the latest updates
Networks: GSM/EDGE: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz; WCDMA: 850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz; ROW LTE: 1, 3, 7, 8, 20; USA LTE: 2, 4, 5, 7, 17; HSPA+: DL 42 Mbps (Cat 24) / UL 11.5 Mbps (Cat 7)
Speed: LTE 150/50 mbps, DC-HSPA 42mbps
Memory: 2GB RAM, 32 GB internal user memory; 7 GB SkyDrive cloud storage, micro SD card support up to 64GB
Display: 6-inch full HD 1080p LCD , ClearBlack, High Brightness Mode, Sunlight readability, Super sensitive touch for glove and nail usage, Gorilla Glass 2
Processor: 2.2GHz Quad Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
Primary camera: PureView 20-megapixel Auto Focus ZEISS optics with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), 2x lossless zoom, oversampling technology, dual LED flash, 1080p @ 30 fps full HD video with optical image stabilization
Secondary Camera: HD 1.2-megapixel wide angle
Size & weight: 162.8 x 85.4 x 8.7mm (volumetric). Weight: 209g
Connectivity: NFC, A-GPS+GLONASS, WLAN (2.4/5Ghz) a/b/g/n/ac, ╬╝USB, BT 4.0 LE, Accelerometer, Proximity sensor, Magnetometer, Gyroscope, Ambient Light Sensor
Battery: 3400 mAh (integrated) with built-in wireless charging (Qi compatible)
Audio: Rich Recording with four microphones; Wideband Voice and multi-microphone noise reduction with four microphones; Dolby(R) Headphone, Graphic equalizer, Audio leveling; FM radio

Sent from my Nokia Lumia 810
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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Game Review: "Stack"

Are you a fan of Tetris but a bit bored with the game play? If so, Stack from LoonApps is the game you need to try. This random block faller takes every thing I love about the classic puzzle game and puts it on steroids!

The game is simple enough, with blocks falling from the top of the screen to the bottom. The area above the drop zone is the accelerator, or in most cases, the almost instant drop. A quick flick of a row or column allows you to move blocks in the same row and score even larger groups.

Stack is completely worth the $.99 price tag, but for the next few hours, you can snag it for free through the #myAppFree program for Windows Phone.

http://www.windowsphone.com/s?appid=a622b814-67af-4929-9c17-7eeeb9dfb724

You can find the latest from Loon Apps on Twitter by following @loonapps.

Sent from my Nokia Lumia 810
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Thursday, October 17, 2013

The HTC 8X Drops In Price Again

Unlocked Windows Phone 8X by HTC 16 GB (Blue) view 2

In the search for the best unlocked Windows Phone for a good price, I stumbled across a rather interesting deal on the HTC 8X at the Microsoft Store. The non-contract price of $399.00 might seem a bit high for snagging an unlocked, since you can snag the unlocked AT&T 8GB model for under $250 and the 16GB international version for a measly $259.99 from GetSmartphones.Info.

None the less, a sub $400 non-contract device directly from the Microsoft Store is nothing to sneeze at. The 16GB international version still doesn’t quite compete with the pricing on the Nokia Lumia 520 and Lumia 521, the $250 sticker price makes a worthy competitor for the best value around in Windows Phones today.

Sent from my Nokia Lumia 810
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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Protect Your Nokia Lumia Device

The Friendly Swede (TM) Bundle of 6 Premium Flexible S-Line TPU Skins/Cases/Covers for Nokia Lumia 920 + 2 Screen Protectors + Cleaning Cloth in Retail Packaging

When you get that shiny new Nokia Lumia, the first thing you should invest in is a quality case that won’t get in the way of those fancy Qi backs and other great accessories that you picked up. Below, I’ve selected my favorite TPU cases and deals.

The Friendly Swede (TM) Bundle of 6 Premium Flexible S-Line TPU Skins/Cases/Covers for Nokia Lumia 920 is an amazing value at $13.99. This pack includes 6 colors that can cover any occasion. The flexible cases are durable and will protect your phone from most of the scrapes, bumps and bruises that your phone will endure on a day to day basis. The 6 Pack of TPU cases will also help the resale value of your phone when that time comes to upgrade it.

The Premium Flexible S-Line TPU Cases are available today for $13,99 for the set or about $2.33 each.

Iwotou Nokia Lumia 925 Case Bundle/ Pack Wave Series S-Line Rubber Skin Soft TPU Gel Case Cover for Nokia Lumia 925 (AT&T, T-Mobile) + Cleaning Cloth & Wristband (Lumia 925, Red/ Purple/ White/ Pink)

If you have a Lumia 925 in hand, the Iwotou Nokia Lumia 925 Case Bundle is where the action is at for you. The same protection level as the S-Line TPU cases above, and a $9.98 price tag makes this 4 pack a great deal. The White and Red covers are the strongest in the group, but the lavender and pink will certainly add a bit of color when needed. I like to think of this pack as as the perfect couples pack.

The Iwotou Nokia Lumia 925 Case Bundle is available online for $9.98 for the set of 4 or about $2.50 each.

Eagle Cell PHNK521YSTBLBK HypeKick Hybrid Protective Gummy TPU Case with Kickstand for Nokia Lumia 521 - Retail Packaging - Blue/Black

Moving on to the smaller Lumias, the Nokia Lumia 521 has 100’s of options available. My favorite is the Eagle Cell Hypekick Gummy Case. With a retail price of $2.21, you can grab a few of these handy protectors and change colors whenever you feel the need. This goes great with the standard white back of the Nokia Lumia 521. Grab a few of the color selections in the online list and save them for when you feel the need to change it up.

The 521’s sister phone, the Nokia Lumia 520, also has the Eagle Cell Hypekick Gummy Case as my favorite protection option. With prices from pennies to around $10, there’s the right case in the right color for everyone. Check out the list for the Lumia 520 to find your perfect case.

Sent from my Nokia Lumia 810
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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Record That Lecture With Yivosoft Recorder

I think we all had one back in the day. One of those little micro-cassette recorders for taping our instructor's 45 minutes of boredom at 8:00 in the morning. Yes, I remember those days well. Of course this is 15 years later and the micro-cassette has been replaced by chips and the digital recorder has been replaced by an App.

Yivosoft Recorder is exactly the app you'd want for this function on your Windows Phone. Easy to use, very powerful and on the free page today, Yivosoft nails the voice recording need to the wall. The large buttons are finger friendly, the sharing features are plentiful and the App itself is amazingly stable.

This $2.99 App is free today via the MyAppFree program and is well worth the download. You can snag it at the store right now.

Check out "Yivosoft Recorder" for Windows Phone http://www.windowsphone.com/s?appid=f663e7b0-f65b-e011-854c-00237de2db9e

Sent from my Nokia Lumia 810
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