We've reviewed several dual-mode cordless phones with Skype in 2007, and if you've compared the various models, you'll notice that our reviews sound very similar. That's because apart from styling and the availability of additional handsets, there's very little difference between the current crop of Skype phones. GE's dual-mode Skype/cordless handset also shares a lot in common with its dual-mode brethren--with the exception of one key feature: The GE 28310EE1 allows you to toggle between Skype and landline calls and--better yet--conference the two parties in for a three-way call with you. This feature may become standard in 2008 models, but as of this writing, the GE phone is the only Skype phone we know of with this feature.
Like we said in earlier reviews, 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 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. Like the Philips VOIP8411B, the Linksys CIT400, and the Netgear SPH 200D, the GE 28310EE1 operates independently of your computer, though it does require a wired (Ethernet) link to a broadband connection to work. It also does double-duty as a standard cordless phone on a plain old landline.
The GE 28310EE1 comes in three pieces. The largest item--a gray box the size of an average cable or DSL modem--is the hub, and it must be connected via its included Ethernet cable to a broadband modem, router, or switch/hub. (If you don't have a wired connection nearby, a wireless bridge or powerline adapter will do the job; we used a Netgear powerline Ethernet adapter, for example, and it worked perfectly.) 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 oversize AC adapter, which can be a pain to deal with if your power strip is already full. It's worth noting that the look and feel of GE's "hub" doesn't quite measure up to competitor's hubs in terms of build quality or styling, but this is a minor complaint.
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 other cordless phones.
As far as handsets go, the GE 28310EE1 isn't as stylish as Philips' Skype phone, but it's got a distinct modern look that luckily stops short of being ugly. We also thought the buttons were simply laid out and aptly sized--this handset's a little larger than some of the other Skype handsets and looks more like a traditional cordless phone than a cell phone. That's not necessarily a bad thing.
Like other dual-mode Skype home phones, this has a 128x128-pixel color screen (65,000 colors to be exact). 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, though the system--at least at first--can be a little finicky. Our review unit actually came with another user's Skype info installed on it, so we had to reset the phone from the menu system and unplug the hub to get restarted.
One small difference between the GE unit and other Skype phones is that the hub doesn't have a Page button, which typically acts as a handset locator. This model has an intercom option within its menu system that allows you to communicate with other handsets around your house (the system is expandable up to four handsets--the handset-only model is the GE 28311EE1, which will run you about $80). Unfortunately, we only had one handset, so we can't tell you how well it worked, but the option is there. We can tell you that the ringer on the handset is quite loud--you can choose from a few ringtones--so you won't have any trouble finding the phone if you misplace it.
A wizard on the handset asked us 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.
After logging in to Skype, you can bring up your Contacts list, which also incorporates the familiar Skype icons that let you know whether a contact is online and potentially available for a call. Making a call is as simple as navigating down your contact list and selecting that particular contact; the person is automatically dialed, and the call goes through with virtually no delay. What's impressive about the process is that feels very much like you're making a speed-dial call using a standard cordless phone. (It's also worth noting that you can speed-dial any phone number attached to a contact using your landline).