Today I am taking a look at the Belkin Wi-Fi phone for Skype... Skype, Skype, Skype, I always sing the praises of Skype. For those of you who do not know, Skype allows you to use your broadband connection to make voice and video calls to other users Macs or PCs, so long as they have Skype installed. In addition to this, you can also make what are called SkypeOut calls to regular landlines and mobile phones. These cost a small amount of money, but in my case I am on one of the many promotions Skype run from time to time, so I get my landline calls free until May 2007.
The only downside of Skype is being tied to a computer. You need to have your Skype application running and logged in... that is until now! Over the past few months Skype handsets have been appearing. No, I don't mean the wired handsets that cost around £15, this new breed use Wi-Fi to connect to your wireless router and then to the outside world.
Sorry for the long introduction, back to the Belkin Wi-Fi phone. In the box you get a USB cable (for charging from a computer), a mains powered charger, a manual on CD-Rom, a Quick Start Guide and the handset itself. The handset looks very smooth, comparable in to a medium sized mobile phone. It has a numeric keypad, two soft keys, call start and end, plus a four-way navigation key. The screen is full colour and a nice size, with a nice crisp display. The feel of the handset is great, it has a smooth rubberised feel to it, very nice in the hand.
Setting up couldn't be easier. After the initial charge, you switch the handset on, set the language, and it then searches for wireless networks. Picking the network you want to connect to will ask for a password (if it is protected). This is asked for as a hexdecimal string, so if you network is protected by WEP for example, do a quick google search for a converter to convert from WEP to HEX. With the security part out of the way you will be asked to either sign into Skype or create a new account. Assuming you already have Skype, typing in your username and password is all that is needed. You can then access you contacts list, set your status to online, away, busy etc, and make calls to other users computers or SkypeOut calls to landlines and mobiles. Navigating the menus and setting up other aspects of the handset is just as easy. You can even change your ring tone (three to choose from) and set the handset to vibrate on an incoming call…
The beauty of the Belkin Wi-Fi phone is that now you can leave it connected to Skype all the time. You will get a lot more use out of it because it is just so natural to pick up a phone and dial. Of note, if you switch your computer on and sign in to Skype, your Belkin connection remains unaffected, so in theory two people could use one Skype account at the same time.
Call quality varied, but this happens even when calls are made via a computer. I would say that 80% of calls I made with the handset were absolutely fine, crystal clear. 10% were acceptable, perhaps sounding more like mobile phone quality. The remaining 10% were a bit choppy, due to network traffic or moving a bit too far away from my wireless router. So, in the house, this handset was already proving its worth, but what about if I was out and about? Well, if you have an account with The Cloud, BT Openzone or another provider, then so long as you are within range of a hotspot, you can connect and make calls. I tested this at a local Cloud hotspot and connected successfully first time. The call quality was great and I was so pleased that I had made a totally free call.
Incoming calls are also possible. If someone has you in their Skype contact list, then they can easily call you from their computer. If you want people to be able to ring you from a regular handset then you would need to subscribe to another service. You can get a SkypeIn number, which can be based in various UK towns and cities (what I mean by this is, that even if you don't live in London, you can have a London based SkypeIn number). This costs around £23 per year, but can be had cheaper if combined with other services. A SkypeIn number also gets you access to voicemail services, so callers can leave you messages. The fact that people can call you, makes the Belkin handset an even more viable proposition.
Should you buy one? is very easy to answer. If you already have Skype, then yes, invest in one of these. If you don't have Skype, then get it and start experiencing the world of free or cheaper calls. I do not think that the Belkin Wi-Fi phone for Skype could replace a mobile phone, but if you are up for the challenge or live in an area with a lot of hotspots you could easily reduce your mobile bill. The only thing I would like to see is a docking station to charge the handset whilst indoors, other than that the Belkin handset is faultless.