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Oovoo video conferencing app comes to iPhone (hands-on)

A free app for iPhone gets you video conferencing with up to five other people.

Oovoo for iPhone
Audio and video quality can vary on Oovoo for iPhone. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Video calling apps are still fairly few and far between on the iPhone, but Oovoo for iPhone is already a step ahead in offering video conference calls with Oovoo for iPhone.

Features-wise, Oovoo on iPhone, which quietly entered the app store last week as a beta, closely resembles its Android cousin. It has a clean design that shows off the contact list, dialer, communications history, IM, and settings.

With it, you'll be able to place free voice and video calls to up to five other contacts, as long as they're using Oovoo on the iPhone, Android phone, PC, or Mac.

Audio and video quality are bound to vary according to your 3G, Wi-Fi, or bandwidth strength on all ends, as well as the hardware involved. For instance, video output was much poorer for a caller on a cheap Netbook with a built-in Web cam that was chatting over Wi-Fi than it was for a PC caller with a fixed line and a top-end Web cam.

We tested both the preview and the public beta versions of Oovoo in San Francisco on an AT&T iPhone. We also initiated and received multiple video calls with multiple callers. As with the Android version, some calls were smooth and steady, and some were choppy and unstable.

We experienced a number of audio and video issues during our testing, including pixelated images, voice delays, dropped calls, and sound distortions, like digital breaks and clipping. Some of that is unfortunately the nature of VoIP technology, and these problems can also plague Skype, Qik, and others.

Since there are so many factors feeding into reliable call quality, it's hard to say how much of the crackling, burping, dropping, and delaying is Oovoo's doing, and how much is the mobile network's. Still, after a particularly unforgiving series of dropped and mangled calls, all parties were inclined for abdicate the app in favor of e-mail or a straightforward voice conversation.

Oovoo had a few other kinks as well, including a known issue with formatting numbers incorrectly on the dialer. We didn't like that you have to toggle among callers to see their videos in a conference call (we'd like to be able to see thumbnails for all participants.) In addition to having to shift your focus from one camera to another, it took time for videos to reload once you switch.

It's great that Oovoo for iPhone offers the ability to video chat and even launch video conference calls on the iPhone, and do it for free. A strong call shows that off well. However, a poor experience like the worst of our calls could quickly turn people off of software that has the potential to become an invaluable service for visual communication.