December 03, 2010, 11:07 AM — The scoop: FV TouchCam N1, by faceVision, about $120.
What it is: The FV TouchCam N1 is a high-definition Webcam capable of supporting 720p resolution for video calls (not just across a LAN, but over the Internet). The camera is certified by Skype for its HD video calls, and includes hardware encoding of the H.264 protocol (instead of relying on the PC's CPU). Other features include a 78-degree wide angle lens and dual built-in microphones for better sound quality.
Why it's cool: While you may have a Webcam built into your new notebook, it most likely doesn't offer the 720p support, the dual microphones (you'll end up needing to use headphones for good call quality), and the wide angle lens that the N1 offers. If you are videoconferencing a lot (or you want to start making more video calls), the N1 offers an upgrade from the standard built-in Webcam.
The wide angle lens is very nice for video calls with multiple people, so they don't have to scrunch next to each other in order to be seen on the video screen. The design of the N1 is also very nice - the brace can easily attach to the top of a notebook screen as well as a flat-panel monitor. The camera and USB cord are also small and compact enough to pack inside your travel bag (but be careful not to scratch the lens, as there's no travel pouch included).
We had two units to test, and when both N1s were connected, it offered a great video call and awesome sound. I then switched to a built-in Webcam on a notebook (a 1.3 megapixel camera), and both the sound and video quality on my end went down. On the upside, I could still see and hear the caller (who was using the N1) just fine. Best bet would be to just buy two cameras and give one to the person who you want to call the most.
Some caveats: The camera currently doesn't support the Skype Mac client or iChat, so Mac users are out of luck. In order for two-way 720p calls, both users need upload and download broadband speeds of at least 1.2Mbps. Skype users also need to upgrade to Version 4.2 or newer before installing the cameras.
Grade: 4.5 stars (out of five)
The scoop: Swiftpoint Mouse, by Swiftpoint Ltd., about $70.
What it is: This very tiny mouse is aimed at notebook users who don't want to carry around a traditional travel mouse, as well as those who can't stand their notebook's touchpad. The small size of the Swiftpoint Mouse allows users to operate the mouse in the area right below the keyboard and to the side of the touchpad. The design also makes it feel like your hand is using a pen, and not a mouse.