Microsoft's VoIP and video chat app on Windows Phone has a few bells and whistles, but misses out on the high-quality video and features found in other Skype apps.
Looks-wise, Skype for Windows Phone is almost identical to the Android and iOS Skype apps. Unfortunately, the video quality isn't as impressive as it is on other platforms, and the app is missing a few features.
Skype is a service that lets you send instant messages and place video and voice calls over the Internet. What started as a desktop app eventually moved to mobile, with Windows Phone getting the app last, in February 2012, just four months after Microsoft's acquisition of Skype for $8.5 billion was finalized in October 2011.
You'll need to sign in to a Skype account to use the app. If you don't already have one, you can sign up from the app, but I don't recommend it, as once you tap "create a Skype account," the full-size sign-up page launches in Internet Explorer, which is a pain to fill out on a smartphone-size screen. This is not the case with the other mobile Skype apps.
If your Skype account is already linked to your Microsoft account, you can sign in with those credentials. However, if you haven't already linked your Skype and Microsoft accounts, you can't do it from the app -- you'll need to download a desktop version of Skype to accomplish that.
It's disappointing that there's no way to sign in with the Microsoft account that you must have set up on your phone in order to have downloaded the app in the first place. It's worth noting you can't link your Skype and Microsoft accounts on any of the mobile apps, either, but I was hoping Microsoft would put a little more thought into the app it built for its own mobile platform.
Instant message, voice calls, and video chat
After you sign in, you see your most recent Skype activity first, including phone calls and chats. On that main screen, you can quickly make a voice call or start a new chat. Unfortunately, you can't easily initiate the most-used feature of Skype: video calling.
Starting a video call is a tedious process that involves swiping over to your contact list, shown in the app as "People," tapping on a person's name, then tapping the video camera button that appears. The app then launches your front-facing camera and shows the other person's video feed full-screen, with your video feed in a smaller window on the right. You can switch the camera or turn off the video altogether, plus you can mute your microphone.
In order to test the video call quality, I used two Windows phones (a Nokia Lumia 925 and HTC 8X) and two Android handsets (Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and Galaxy S4) on the same Wi-Fi network standing in the same location. Video calls between the two Windows phones looked unimpressive and overall fuzzy. Calling from Windows phone to an Android phone gave me slightly sharper video quality, but nowhere near as clear as Skype on Android.
Voice calls performed better, with no significant audio issues, though both video and voice call quality depends on your data or Wi-Fi connection, so your experience may be different.
In September 2013, Microsoft updated Skype on Windows Phone to include video messages. Unlike a video call, which requires that the other person be online so you can have a conversation, you can simply record a video message and send it off for your recipient to view the next time he or she signs in to Skype.
To make a video message, select a name from your contact list to begin a chat. When the chat screen appears, tap the tiny plus sign icon next to the text box and select video message.
The app then launches your front-facing camera (there is a button to switch cameras here), and once it focuses, you can start recording by touching the red dot. There's a 3-minute limit for your message, but if you want to make it shorter, tap the red button again to end recording and review your video before you send it.
I had a lot of fun with the video message feature since it was easy to use and the videos I recorded looked clear. I sent a video to a friend over Wi-Fi, and he said it looked good on his end as well.
A notable feature of Skype on Windows Phone, that doesn't exist on the Android and iOS apps, is group chat. Once you start a chat with one person, you can tap the plus sign next to the text box to add participants from your contact list. However, you can't add additional people to a video or voice call, a feature that's only available on Skype's Windows and Mac apps.
Though the Windows Phone version of Skype gets a boost with group chat, it's missing features found in the other mobile Skype apps. For instance, you can view your Skype profile in the app, but you cannot manage your account or purchase Skype credits. Credits allow you to make voice calls to landlines and mobile phones in the app (voice and video calls to other Skype users and messages are free). To make changes to your Skype account or buy credits, the app opens a Web page in you phone's browser, but in the iOS and Android versions, you can do both without leaving the app.
For an app built by Microsoft for the company's own mobile operating system, I was hoping that Skype for Windows Phone would have at least the same features found on the other mobile apps. But as is the case with many Windows Phone apps (see Microsoft's own Facebook app), if you want to make any account changes, you'll have to use a Web page on your phone's browser instead of staying in the app.
While the app does pack the core Skype features into a simple, clean interface, and includes a few welcome extras to boot, its so-so video quality and lack of functionality make it feel half-baked. For messaging, video chatting, and calling your friends and family when you're away from a computer, Skype for Windows Phone will get the job done. Power users will want to stick with Skype on Windows or Mac for better video and advanced features.