Fring picks up video calling on Android

Android owners who use IM-and-VoiP app Fring on their smartphones will now be able to place two-way video calls from the phone.

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We had a mixed experience with two-way calling on Fring for Android. Fring

Android owners who use the IM and VoiP app Fring on their smartphones will now be able to place two-way video calls like their iPhone and Symbian S60 counterparts.

A Thursday update to Fring for Android 2.1 adds free video chatting as a method for reaching out. You'll recognize it by the blue icon of a camcorder now sitting alongside a chat bubble and telephone image when you tap a contact's name to initiate a conversation. As far as we know, this is a first for Android telephony.

Of course, there are a handful of caveats any time you're dealing with VoIP, mobile, and video. Fring's two-way mobile video calls work better on smartphones with high-performing CPUs. It will also only work when you're calling contacts through a service that already handles video chatting, and even then Fring is only as good as the service it taps into. Since Fring uses your phone's camera as the Webcam, you'll find the calling feature eminently more useful if you've got a phone with a front-facing camera, like Sprint's HTC Evo.

We gave video calls a test drive using Skype--whose Android app does not offer video calling--and found the experience to be variable. In our case, calls were better over 3G than Wi-Fi, and there were problems connecting and staying connected to our Skype contact, both when the recipient spoke from Fring for Android and from Skype on a laptop. Fring's Android app also didn't always broadcast our contact's Webcam, though it did trigger ours each time.

It's worth mentioning again that as with most VoIP apps, the many factors that go into an IP (Internet Protocol) call will make Fring's service better for some than for others, though that's no reason that Fring shouldn't strive for consistency, or for more clearly communicating tips and specs through the app.

We'll also note that the video capability in Fring 2.1 for Android makes it significantly weightier, jumping from 1.64MB to 3.02MB with the upgrade. Though Fring's video calls provide a unique service for Android users to get personal in their mobile calls, there's still room to grow, particularly when it comes to customizing video options (like resizing the windows, for instance) and managing chats while on a call.