3 Skypephone

Three are offering something very special with their mobile phone service here in the UK. They have a 3G mobile handset which looks and works like any other mobile phone, however it has a killer feature that I’ve yet to see other networks collar on to yet.

Skype software is integrated in to the handset and 3 will let you use it as much as you want and it won’t cost you a penny extra whether you’re on contract or pay as you go.

If you have friends and family that use Skype or if they get kitted out with one of these handsets then you may never have to pay to call them ever again. Of course it’s not just about the network and service. That’s just half the story. The handset has to work well with these online services. So find out why I think the Skypephone does nearly everything right from the hardware and software to the cloud service it offers.

3 have come up with a successful formula by combining some of the greatest names from the web with its own 3G-network service.

The Skypephone isn’t just a one trick pony, as the name might suggest. It works with Windows Live Messenger, video streaming from the BBC and YouTube and you can even keep up to date with your Facebook contacts straight out of the box. No extra downloads or messing about. Just log in and away you go.

I’m not amazed that they’ve been able to cram so much in to this handset, since most of it is web based. What is impressive is how well 3 have managed to get the right balance of integration for ‘cloud’ services and the software that runs on the handset and not just sticking with one service and one provider. They have put what a lot of us use on the desktop right here on this mobile device.

Using the quick launch key from the main screen, you can instantly access all of the rich content that is available, some of it free, some of it at a premium price. The good thing is you’re warned before you commit to paying before accessing any content. I tried a few of these services and was impressed with how quickly I was able to get access to video content. There was minimal buffering and once the stream was up and running there were no interruptions. If you’re an X Factor fan then you’ll love the free access to the TV show.

When you look through the list of services available from the quick launch menu, it’s almost as if someone took the best of what is available on the web and put it on there, regardless of the rivalry that many of these services have between each other. Take search engines as an example. Normally I expect to see just one search engine tied to the service and this handset, but you see both Yahoo and Google from the menu. You will also see Windows Live messenger for all of your IM needs, even though Skype does this too.

I was able to get the eight days of standby time (always switched on but not used to make any calls) as described in the specification. This reduced to four days with daily usage for IM and Skype calls each day.

No doubt inspired by the trend set by the iPod, the glossy design is both lightweight and compact. Buttons are finished in the same material as the chassis and is backlit with blue LED’s, a welcome change to my K800i. Simplicity seems to have defined the styling of this handset – just like the branding and image that 3 are pushing with this product.

There is the option to have different trims at point of purchase, with white/blue, white/pink and black. At the back you will find a 2.0 megapixel camera with a dedicated shortcut key on the left side of the device for quick snaps. Above the photo button is the switch key, which brings up a top layer menu for accessing open applications, the look and feel of this reminds me very much of the Alt and Tab for the Mac.

Just to make it clear that this handset has been blessed with Skype technology, a big ‘you can’t miss it’ Skype button has been placed in the centre of the four-way pad. This provides quick and instant access to the Skype application.

If you have a Skype account already, you can get set up and running within a few seconds. Just hit the Skype button and enter your log in details. Access to the Skype service is entirely free and does not impact your bandwidth usage. You can leave the connection on constantly without having to worry about extra charges since access to Skype is entirely free. The mobile version of Skype works the same way as the desktop version does so not only do you get voice calls you can also use the IM capabilities to keep in touch. This is a wonderful idea if you’ve got friends, family and close ones with the same phone – no more text message charges and the chat is instant and live.

Another clever feature of the Skypephone is that it can act as a secondary device. So you can in fact log in twice using the same account, one from your desktop and again from your phone. When you receive a call, you choose which one to answer and routes the call to the relevant device.

Sound quality is the same if not better than what you get from the desktop based version. People that I spoke to on this handset were telling me that the call quality wasn’t quite as good as what they normally hear when doing a direct Skype to Skype call over the internet, but it was the same as what he would expect from a phone call.

Three are advertising the Skype service as free however this is subject to fair usage restrictions set at a very generous 4,000 minutes and 10,000 instant messages per month. This should be more than adequate for even the most avid chatters out there. Just one catch though. You do have to top up at least £10 each month to gain access to the Skype service. Even though you’re using the Skype service it doesn’t actually use up your credit.

I find it hard to argue with these terms especially with the handset costing only £49.99 or £59.99 if you want to get set up (including £10 top up) straight away.

Pay monthly options are available as well and the handset comes free in this scenario with a mixture of tariffs available. Mix and match plans start at £12/month, which gives you the 100 package that can be used as minutes or texts (e.g. 60 texts, 40 minutes). Price plans go up to £27/month with the 1100 package and you can change how the minutes and texts are allocated on a monthly basis. For all Mix and Match plans, you get an extra 300 minutes for calling other 3 network users as well as the free voicemail and instant messaging.

Whilst the Skypephone isn’t a Smartphone, it does offer a good level of calendar and contact functionality as well as mp3 playback (included in the package is a 256MB micro SD card) and Java application support. There’s not a lot missing from this handset.

For the audience that this handset is aimed at, the usability, form factor and simple/flexible price plan makes it a well-rounded ‘package’. I found it really difficult to pick any one particular aspect of the Skypephone that doesn’t work, however I do have some suggestions for future revisions to this handset.

I would like to see further development of the user interface, to make it just as attractive as the rest of the handset because it lacks any ‘jazz’, but the simple look does work very well and is quick to get around. A 3.0 megapixel camera would be welcome with a higher resolution screen to make the video experience more enjoyable. Headphones are included, which is just as well because the built in speaker was incredibly loud and tinny and offered minimal flexibility with the volume (found it to be either too quiet or too loud when watching some videos).

Overall, I’m thoroughly impressed with the Skypephone both by the handset and the network service behind it. I only hope that the service continues and expands to other handsets in the near future, I know a few other networks could definitely learn a thing or two from 3.

The package that 3 have put together is very complete and offers everything that today’s Facebook and YouTube generation needs from a handset. It’s also very tempting from a cost standpoint that will help drive the much needed 3G network usage.

2007-12-11 Onwah Tsang

3 comments - why not add yours

  • Cypher says:

    My experience has been completely different. I’ve only had the Skypephone a day. I couldn’t get *any* reception on the 3 network in central London (Piccadilly Circus, Soho) or in Wimbledon. In Reading, the connection to Skype sometimes fails, and when it works, the phone only displays about half of the contacts that are online. Which is utterly useless. Right now Skype on my computer is displaying six online contacts, and on my phone there are only three. Also, the battery life is pretty poor. I had a 40 minute Skype conversation, downloaded Live Messenger, left the phone on idle for about 6 or 7 hours, and it was completely flat. And I couldn’t connect to Facebook from the menu: I had to navigate there from Google, at which point I was told I needed to pay to access the “internet” (outside of 3’s walled garden). But I bought this phone for only one reason, and that was to use Skype. If it doesn’t improve, it’s going back to the store.

    Posted on 5th January 2008
  • Cypher says:

    I’ve had the phone a week. It sucks. When I’m able to call my girlfriend in Belgium, the sound quality is much worse than normal Skype. It’s worse than a mobile to mobile call to SA. It’s hard to hear what she says. Same for various other contacts.
    Worse, it often misreports who is online, missing out about half my contacts. I told Three about this, and they said they were “aware of the problem”.
    Worst yet, even though my contacts can see that I’m online on Skype, often when they try to call, it rings their side: yet on my side nothing happens. And I never get a missed call notification. And they send messages to me that never arrive, not even when I later log in on my computer. They simply vanish into the ether. As they say.
    It’s worse than not having a phone, because communication gets lost and I waste time trying to talk to people. I just hope I kept my receipt. The fact that such an immature technology has been unleashed on the public (and more specifically me) is scandalous.

    Posted on 12th January 2008
  • Cypher says:

    And by SA I mean South Africa.

    Posted on 12th January 2008

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