Philips VOIP8411B Skype phone
Editors' Note: This review has been slightly modified since its original publication to include changes in the pricing of the hardware and Skype's service offerings, and references to additional competing models.
The vast majority of Skype users still make their Internet phone calls through their computers, employing the built-in mic and speakers on their PCs or, better yet, a headset. But as Skype's VOIP (voice-over-IP) service has become the dominant application for making cheap--or free--phone calls throughout the world, manufacturers are coming up with ways to untether you from your computer and bring a more traditional landline phone experience to making Skype calls. The Philips VOIP8411B ($225 list, far less online) is the company's first Skype phone that operates independently of your computer, though it does require a broadband connection to work. It also does double-duty as a standard cordless phone on a plain old landline.
The VOIP8411B "kit" comes in three pieces. The largest item--a black box the size of an average cable or DSL modem--is the hub, and must be connected via its included Ethernet cable to a broadband modem, router or switch/hub (we tested it with a Netgear powerline Ethernet adapter, for example). If you want to tap into your existing phone system, you'll need to have the hub close to a phone jack (there's a standard RJ-11 phone jack alongside the Ethernet port on the back of the hub). The box is powered by your typical oversized AC adapter, which can be a pain to deal with if your power strip is already full.
The other portion of the kit consists of a single handset and its small cradle/recharging station that draws power from a second, smaller AC adapter. The hub communicates wirelessly with the handset using something called Advanced DECT 6.0 (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) technology--it operates in a wireless spectrum (1,900 MHz) that shouldn't interfere with--or receive interference from--other technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, microwave ovens, and cordless phones.
As far as handsets go, the VOIP8411B is sleek and compact and actually looks a little more like a candy-bar cell phone, complete with a 128x128-pixel color screen (65,000 colors to be exact), than a cordless phone. Once we had everything plugged in (selecting where you want to put the hub and handset can be something of a dilemma), setting it all up was pretty simple. The one little snag we ran into is that we had to sync the headset with the hub by hitting the Page button on the hub; the button also acts as a headset locator. The ringer on the handset is quite loud--you can choose from a variety of polyphonic ringtones--so you won't have any trouble finding the phone if you misplace it.
A wizard on the handset asked whether we had an existing Skype account, and after we said we did, it instructed us to input our account name and password (you can choose to store your password and be automatically logged in, or input it manually each time). Inputting the info is just like text messaging using a dial pad, so if you're proficient at that it'll seem like a snap.