Earlier this year 3 Mobile introduced a mobile version of the popular PCapplication Skype onto a selection of phones -- the for example -- to be used exclusively with their network. The concept would no doubt have taken off in a big way had the cost of mobile data been inexpensive as compared to standard call charges. Now instead of tucking Skype into the applications folder of their phones 3 has taken a more direct approach, a new handset with Skype front and centre, known as the Skypephone.
Even if it does look like a giant "tic-tac" -- and maybe because of this -- the Skypephone should immediately appeal to a younger market. The glossy white faceplate of our test model looks more fun than chic and definitely aimed at teenagers. So while the lure of free Skype calls should appeal to business users, particularly in small business, the handset may not.
The lightweight, slim candy-bar design is exactly the kind of phone you want to take with you when you're on the move. During our testing the phone left the labs and found itself in a few bars and clubs, and comfortably passed the important in-the-pocket test. Though with our test model having metallic, hot-pink trimming we were careful to duck into the shadows before making calls.
At 176 x 220 pixels the screen is a lower resolution than most screens we encounter, and it is obvious on close inspection with some graphics looking chunky. This doesn't mean the screen is difficult to read, nor does it detract from the colourful user menu which was a pleasure to use, but it does add to the impression that the Skypephone looks and feels like a toy phone. The keypad has decent sized buttons, making use of all available space under the screen and each key is raised and easy to locate when furiously tapping out text messages.
The stiff, plastic shell of the Skypephone did have us wondering about its vulnerability to knocks and drops. It seemed sturdy enough in our hands but we suspect a short drop onto the pavement would have the Skypephone in pieces. Add to this the fact that the battery cover has no locking mechanism short of a gentle magnet and it's conceivable that this mobile phone may not last the length of your contract in one piece.
While we're nitpicking: the position of the microSD memory card slot under the battery is a major annoyance, and the memory card is held under a tiny metal brace which we suspect is yet another component that will come free if it's not treated with the utmost care.
Let's get straight to the big guns: the built-in Skype VoIP application. For those unfamiliar with Skype imagine an instant-messaging program, like Yahoo messenger, and add to it the ability to make phone calls using your Internet connection rather than your phone line -- that's the bare bones of it. The major difference between Skype on your PC and the Skypephone is that you can't make phone calls directly to other phones using the Skypephone, only to other Skype users who have to be online before you call.
Immediately this detracts from the overall usability of the Skype app as you will have to pre-arrange Skype-to-Skype calls or hope that the person you want to speak with happens to be logged in. Still, the possibility to speak with overseas friends or family interstate for free will have mass appeal. Add to this the savings a business could enjoy by having staff on Skype and the market for this phone grows significantly.