If you're a Skype subscriber, you're probably very happy with the cheap calls you can make to overseas land lines and mobile phones, and you're probably ecstatic over the free calls you can make 24/7 to your fellow Skype subscribers around the world. But you're probably not overjoyed having to be tethered to your computer in order to make those calls.
Thankfully, Belkin has come to your rescue. With the Belkin Wi-Fi Phone for Skype, not only are you free to roam away from your computer as you talk turkey with Istanbul, you don't even need a computer to make calls. As long as you have access to a Wi-Fi network -- any hot spot will do -- you can use your Belkin Wi-Fi phone to connect to your Skype account and talk to your heart's content.
We recently put a beta model of the Belkin Wi-Fi phone to the test, and we walked away impressed with its potential. While there are a few wrinkles still to iron out, the Belkin Wi-Fi has a promising future with Skype subscribers.
How Skype Works
For the uninitiated, Skype is a free service that allows you to use your computer's broadband connection to make phone calls to anywhere in the world. You simply create a free account on the Skype web site, download software to your computer, and once you have a microphone and headset, you can call land lines, mobile numbers or other Skype users through your computer. The Belkin Wi-Fi for Skype takes the computer, headphones and headset out the equation, but this is generally how the service works.
With Skype, your calls to overseas non-Skype users are substantially cheaper than most cell phone or land-line services, and your calls to your fellow Skype users, regardless of where they are in the world, are absolutely free. So if you're in a business that requires extensive overseas communication, or you're trekking the globe, Skype is a service you'll want to consider.
The Belkin Wi-Fi Phone Design
At about the same dimensions and weight of an average open-faced cell phone, such as the Sony Ericsson T637, the Belkin easily passes the transportability test. The phone features a durable black shell and a bright screen that offers a soft blue and white background with crisp black text. While adequate in low-light or office conditions, the screen doesn't fare well in bright sunshine, but it's still readable. Because the phone is only intended to be used for calls, it does not include any advanced media options. This interface is designed simply to get you connected to your Skype account. An easy-to-use center control toggle makes it a snap to navigate through the phone menu, and the number pad is similar in size to cell phone. The charging port and headphone connection are provided on the bottom of the phone, while the volume control is set to the side. Overall, it's a straightforward design, without any bells or whistles, that gets the job done.
How the Belkin Wi-Fi Phone Works
Although you initially need a computer to sign up for a Skype account, the Belkin only needs an open 802.11 b/g-compatible wireless access point to get you connected.
Without exception, the quality of our overseas Skype-to-Skype calls was as clear as any land line we'd ever used. There were no lags in the conversation, and nothing resembling static.
Once you power up, you can easily configure your Belkin Wi-Fi phone to auto-connect so that within seconds you'll be ready to talk. But if you're on the road, you'll want the option of connecting manually to the strongest available network. Using the center toggle, it's easy enough to navigate to the network settings where you'll see the full list of available networks and their relative signal strengths. You simply choose the one you want to connect to. If the Wi-Fi network offers open access, the Belkin will connect to it automatically; if it requires a password, you'll be prompted to submit it via the phone's keypad.
Once you're connected, the phone will sign you into your Skype account, and you'll be ready to talk. Your "contacts" folder will give you direct access to all of your Skype contacts. Simply navigate to the person you want to call, and if they're signed in, you can be talking to them within seconds. If you want to call a land line, you use the key pad to dial the number the old fashioned way. And while you lose some of the Skype features with the Belkin that you otherwise have with your computer, such as the ability to initiate conference calls, you gain the freedom of being able to roam within the range of any accessible wireless network as you talk.
Connection Quality and Convenience
We tested the Belkin Wi-Fi for Skype by calling land lines and cell phones in the continental United States, and by calling overseas to other Skype subscribers. While the quality of the connections within the U.S. to non-Skype users varied, the voice clarity was generally adequate on our end, though in each case the recipient of our calls did not immediately recognize our voice. Also, in each case there was a perceivable lag in the conversation that was intrusive at times.
However, we would normally not use Skype to make non-Skype calls within the U.S. With more than 80 percent of its subscribers outside of the U.S., Skype is ideal for international calls, and it's truly optimized for Skype-to-Skype calling. In our third set of tests, we called fellow Skype subscribers in Europe. Without exception, the quality of our overseas Skype-to-Skype calls was as clear as any land line we'd ever used. There were no lags in the conversation, and nothing resembling static.
None of this is to say that the beta phone we tested was without flaws. In our first round of testing, the phone powered up and connected to our office network seamlessly. However, in subsequent calls using the same network, we had some connection difficulties. Although the Belkin phone could "see" the network, and the password was configured correctly, it simply wouldn't connect. But once we took the phone to a public hot spot, it once again performed flawlessly.
One design problem we encountered involved the phone's power-saving mode. After 30 seconds of inactivity, the screen goes completely dark and the phone appears to be shut down. Changing the screen's "time out" settings had no effect on this. This would not be an issue if the phone had a feature such as a continuous time display or screen saver that indicated that the phone was still powered up. As it stands, however, it's too easy to assume the phone is shut down when the screen is black, and it's therefore easy to inadvertently drain the battery.
But that's a glitch that should easily be rectified, and it did little to take away from our overall conclusion that the Belkin Wi-Fi for Skype is a phone that has the potential of turning your free Skype subscription into an invaluable asset.
- Durable, compact design
- Exceptional clarity with Skype-to-Skype calls
- Eliminates the need for a computer while making Skype calls
- Inconsistent quality of non-Skype calls
- Regulating the power-down mode is problematic
- Phone offers no other multi-media features