Monday, November 29, 1999

The smarter way to stay connected

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There are Skype phones that you can get for your PC, both wired and wireless ones. But what they do is connect to your PC and act as the speaker plus mic for a Skype call. That's where Belkin's WiFi Skype phone is different. It basically allows you to use Skype without using a computer. It's 'Skype Certified' too.With built in WiFi, the phone connects to a WiFi hotspot and allows you to make calls using Skype, just like you would on a PC. All you have to do is sign in to your Skype account on the phone and all your Skype contacts show up. Just click on any of your online contacts and start a call; it's that simple!The phone is a fairly standard looking, if slightly bulky, phone with a small-ish, basic colour screen. The screen has little indicators for WiFi signal strength and available battery. The initial setup requires you to connect it to your WiFi hotspot (it supports authentication) and then enter in your Skype details. There's a standard phone keypad, a volume rocker on the side, a mini USB port (for charging only), a headphone out and a Li-ion battery for power. The mini USB and headphone port are under a rubber flap on the bottom edge.A wall charger is supplied, though you can also charge it by connecting it to any PC via a standard mini USB cable. If you have a good (reliable and fast) broadband connection, this phone works just as advertised. Call quality is excellent, with minimal lag.Around 30 minutes of SkypeOut credits are included in the box so you can get started by calling any phone, not just a free Skype call. You can buy more credits from too, but nothing stops you from making only free calls to PCs and other WiFi Skype phones.What is probably the biggest advantage of such a device? It's a boon for someone who regularly needs to make VoIP calls to a loved one overseas. If both sides have a WiFi broadband connection, all you need to do is get two of these phones, and you'll be able to call each other as much as you want, for free. Granted, the Rs 9k upfront is a huge cost (Hint: It costs less in the US) but you stand to save a lot of cash in international phone bills. The more you call, the faster the device pays for itself.However, at this price, Belkin should have included Bluetooth, which would have allowed a connection to any commercially available Bluetooth headset or speaker. Other downsides are that it only works with Skype (the phone literally does nothing else). And that it is bulky, with a rubbery keypad and is rather plain looking. Oh, and it doesn't support browser-based authentication. So it will not work in hotels, airports and coffee shops where you need to use a browser to enter a username and password. It's worth the asking price only if you're going to really use Skype frequently.© CyberMedia

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