The VOIP321 handset is one of two Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) enabled cordless phone products just released by Philips (the other is the VOIP433). The rationale behind the new line is simple -- most consumers resent being chained to their PC when making calls (as with a traditional VoIP headset), and they also don't want to be forced to use a separate handset for their landline and VoIP calls.
With the VOIP321, Philips has teamed up with Skype to allow users to both make and receive Internet calls to and from their online Skype contacts. It also supports SkypeOut, enabling users to effectively ditch their landline in favour of far cheaper VoIP-to-landline calling rates.
For those that aren't comfortable letting go of their copper line just yet, the device is also capable of hooking into your regular landline ("Public Switched Telephone Network" or PSTN for those familiar with the jargon), and you're able to switch between VoIP and PSTN modes seamlessly (at least judging by our limited testing at the launch event).
Philips has clearly put significant effort into designing the device. The kit comes with two primary components -- the handset (with cradle) and a separate box that connects up to your PC (via USB) and landline. The box communicates wirelessly with the handset, and provided that you're logged into Skype on your desktop PC, your contacts and their online status are streamed to the handset in real-time.
The kit is sold with either one or two handsets (AU$129.95 for one, AU$199.95 for two), allowing households to potentially have a regular landline and a VoIP call taking place simultaneously.
As the attached images can attest, aside from the buttons enabling the VoIP functionality, the handset's design is virtually identical to any other cordless phone so non-techies can continue to place regular landline calls while the more technologically inclined members of your household can take advantage of the VoIP features.
Other handy features include a 50-name address book, ten pre-installed polyphonic ringtones and loudspeaker/hands-free functionality.
Easily the most apparent downside to the kit is the fact that the VoIP side is only compatible with Skype, so those using a different VoIP provider are out of luck.
Additionally, the screen is smaller than we would've liked and it's not colour, unlike Philips' VOIP433 handset.
Finally, the VOIP321 isn't compatible with Mac versions of Skype, but at Philips' launch event a Skype spokesperson said that this feature may be added in future depending on customer demand.
Avid Skype users that aren't quite willing to ditch their landline are sure to appreciate the flexibility that Philips' VOIP321 handset provides.