You may have read the hype around the back-end of last year. The handsets allowing the user to access the Skype network over the telco’s data network, allowing phone calls to other Skype users at no charge – effectively allow free roaming VoIP access, as long as you make a regular PAYG top-up payment. They also do a £15pm contract with bundled old-skool minutes and SMS’s included. The PAYG handsets retail at £40, or free if you sign up to a 6mth contract.
A few friends commented that they wouldn’t use the 3 network because of its national coverage. Well my experience with the phone suggests that it’s nowhere near as bad as these people fear. All networks are patchy. I can name several areas locally where my Vodafone cell is reduced to a brick because the network is unavailable. The coverage on 3 is reasonable, and is improving with significant investment from the company.
The handset itself is remarkably well-assembled considering its modest price. Coming in two flavours – white and black – the phone is compact and has a well designed form factor. The white model has a glossy finish – with a choice of coloured trims – and the black one is matte with a rubbery non-scratch surface. The colour options are clearly inspired by Apple’s MacBook. The phone features a fairly basic 2.0mpxl pin-hole camera (fine for snapping pics of the kids to show friends), the obligatory MP3 player, and a surprising good web browser with access to 3’s super-fast network (which features live TV, ooooh!).
The handset has a bright, clear screen. The UI is logical and easily navigated using the directional buttons. 3 Network calls on the phone are clear with a reasonable connection, and Skype calls are comparable with those on a PC with broadband.
Along with Skype’s VoIP access, the user can also use the network’s IM client, although somewhat predictably, you can’t use SkypeOut – which allows Skype-to-landline/cell calls (you can of course call another Skype-enabled handset FOC).
I can see why a lot of people would find this phone useful. If you have relatives overseas (we have family in Central Russia, Eastern Europe, Australia and the US!), you’ve probably already discovered Skype, so the 3 handset would free you from your PC and allow calls while on the move at no additional cost (beyond the top-up fee). The handset could also be the solution for people who haven’t got a decent Skype-headset or microphone; a sort of one-stop fix for VoIP calling. Another customer that occurs to me is the Podcaster, who often use Skype to create a virtual studio of guests for their shows. The Skype phone would mean a computer and equipment is unnecessary for people to contribute – just mail them a handset and they can send it back.
Quite a few readers may already have access to Skype’s features through their current handset. My Nokia N95 is installed with Fring, which allows Skype (and other VoIP and IM clients) to be used over Wi-Fi or HSDPA, but then it’s a very expensive phone. If you’re after an inexpensive VoIP solution, the 3 Skype Phone may be the one for you.