Netgear's SPH101 Wi-Fi Skype Phone looks just like ... well, it looks just like a phone, to be honest. Rather similar to many of Sony Ericsson's cheaper phone lines -- if you took the W200i and dunked it in a tin of iPod paint, you'd end up with something not dissimilar to the SPH101, in fact. It's a rather plain and (subjectively speaking) ugly design, but there's no mistaking that this is a phone, and not in fact some kind of tool for removing stones from horses' hooves, for instance.
So it's a phone - we've got that far. Specifically, the SPH101 is a Skype phone . They're not particularly rare, given Skype's dominance of the VoIP market internationally. What makes the SPH101 stand out is that it's a Wi-Fi connected Skype phone that requires no PC connection whatsoever for making and taking Skype calls.
Set-up of the SPH101 is very simple indeed. Once it's charged, via the supplied USB AC charger, or a mini-USB cable if you've got one handy, it's a simple matter of powering the phone up. It'll seek out nearby Wi-Fi networks, and automatically try to connect to any unsecured networks unless you tell it not to. It's got inbuilt support for WEP and WPA authentication, although any network that requires a Web login - as you'll find for a lot of public area wireless pay networks -- is beyond the SPH101's abilities. Once you've got an IP address, you just enter your Skype username and password, and it'll keep you logged in for as long as its batteries last. It supports SkypeOut calling, although you'll have to do your financial management from a PC - there's no way to add credit directly from the SPH101.
Netgear rates the SPH101 as having up to 20 hours standby time and two hours talk time. In real mobile terms that's quite low, but then we can't see too many users taking the SPH101 with them everywhere the way you would with a regular mobile -- well, not unless you know of a lot of unsecured wireless networks and have a terminal addiction to chatting on Skype.
Voice quality is always a highly subjective matter when it comes to assessing Skype; some days it's great, and other days it's decidedly adkshlal;;;;;;; hisssss..... five dollars!....zzzzzttt... if you know what we mean. If you are in fact hopelessly addicted to Skype, we're sure you are. In our tests the SPH101 worked well with a nice clear speaker for our conversations, both local and international. The quality of both your broadband and Wi-Fi connection may change that, however.
At an asking price of AU$369, the SPH101 is a somewhat expensive gadget; there's no doubting that a 10 dollar set of headphones will technically do the same trick. Having said that, the SPH101 delivers a very simple and easy way to keep in touch with your Skype contacts without the need to install additional software or hardware, as is the case with many other Skype phones.