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GE 28310EE1 (Skype) review: GE 28310EE1 (Skype)

GE 28310EE1 (Skype)

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.

Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
7 min read

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.

7.5

GE 28310EE1 (Skype)

The Good

Internet and landline calls on one cordless handset; no connection to your PC required for Internet calls; relatively simple setup; phonebook stores up to 200 Skype contacts; built-in speakerphone on handset; additional handsets are available (you can have a total of four connected to the system); you can jump between landline and incoming Skype calls and even conference those parties into a three-way call with you.

The Bad

Look and feel of the system seems a tad cheap.

The Bottom Line

GE's dual-mode Skype phone/cordless handset may not be the sexiest model out there, but its ability to toggle between Skype and landline calls--and even do three-way conferencing between lines--sets it apart from the current crop of dual-mode Skype phones.

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).

We won't spend too much time explaining Skype's rates, but when you're calling a fellow Skype member, the call is free--anywhere in the world. To call other phone numbers, you can opt for an a la carte Skype Credit plan (you add money to your account and have it deducted as you make calls) or purchase an unlimited minutes Skype Pro plan for the region you're in. For example, the current rate for unlimited calls within the U.S. and Canada is $36 per year, which is a much better deal than other VoIP services out there. If you don't have a landline number from your phone company or VoIP provider, you can purchase a SkypeIn number that allows people to call you at a specific number from any phone.

In terms of call quality, we found call quality to be acceptable for a Skype phone, but we can't say this is the best-sounding Skype phone we've tested. It did fine on landline calls, but when we routed our calls through Skype, callers said the sound quality diminished--our voice sounded more "processed," which was simply the result of the audio signal being more compressed. Like your typical Skype call, you will get some clipping if your broadband connection--or the broadband connection of the person you're speaking to--is hit with any sort of congestion.

Was quality any better compared with using a basic USB headset connected to your computer? Not to our ears. But that's not really the point. The real key is that you can use the GE 28310EE1 just like you would a normal cordless phone. As you talk, you can walk from room to room and there's a built-in speakerphone on the handset if you want to go hands-free. That said, from a features standpoint, the GE 28310EE1 is geared more toward being a Skype phone, with most of its advanced features (call forwarding and voice mail, for example) designed for customers using Skype's optional services.

As a landline phone, the GE 28310EE1 is pretty basic. You do get support for caller ID (you can store caller ID numbers to your Skype contacts list) and a flash button for call waiting. As noted, the key difference between this model and other Skype phones is that you can toggle between Skype calls and standard calls--taking one does not disconnect the other. Better yet, you can join your Skype caller with your landline caller, creating a three-way conference call. We had no trouble making this happen.

GE says you can get up to 12 hours of talk time and up to 120 hours of standby time from a fully charged handset (a pair of AAA 900 mAh NiMH rechargeable batteries are included). We didn't run any rigorous battery tests, but in one stretch we spoke on the phone for well over an hour and it barely put a dent in the battery-life indicator. If you do end up leaving the handset off the dock for a few days, the battery will drain and doesn't seem to hold a charge like a cell phone can if you have it completely turned off. Of course, if you place the handset in the recharging cradle between calls, you'll be fine.

Like all cutting-edge technology, you can expect to experience a few quirks with the GE 28310EE1. Every once in a while, the phone will completely freeze up and you'll have to pull out one of the batteries to restart it (you have to hit the Page button on the base station to link the handset to it again). Also, when you add contacts to your Skype contact list on your PC, it doesn't immediately update on the phone, and you may have to restart the phone for the new contacts to appear.

We should mention that the phone is firmware-upgradeable, so there's a possibility GE will makes some tweaks as time passes. An option in the menu system allows you to see what your current firmware is and upgrade to the latest version--or downgrade to a previous version if you wish.

All in all, we were pretty pleased with the GE 28310EE1. There's a little bit of a budget quality to its design, but if you value function over form--and are particularly interested in the added feature of three-way conferencing of Skype and landline calls--this is the dual-mode Skype phone to get. That said, we expect new, improved Skype phones for 2008 and beyond--so the 28310EE1's extra functionality may not look so special a few months down the road.

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