For the last month, I’ve been playing with the 3 Skypephone and in that time I’ve given it a pretty serious amount of use. I’d go as far as saying it has had the most severe real world user test I’ve ever given a phone, mainly because I’ve enjoyed using it so much.
Over the last month I’ve conducted multiple Skype-to-Skype interview calls with people I’ve needed information from for articles I’m writing, I’ve even done two interviews with radio stations using Skype-to-Skye calling as the call audio quality is significantly better than a conventional phone call (previous Skype radio interviews I’ve participated in have involved me using a desktop computer, headphones and a broadcast-quality microphone, so doing the same thing with just the phone and still producing audio good enough for broadcast was just amazing).
I’ve also been having Skype IM conversations with several of the freelance journalists that work for me, using just the keypad of the Skypephone and its predictive text support.
Of course, this phone is more than just a Skype client in your pocket. It is first and foremost a 3G mobile phone, and in that respect it is very good. It’s a dinky little phone, measuring just 100 x 44 x 13.6 mm, while it weighs in at 86 grams (and that includes the battery), so as well as being the smallest 3G phone I’ve used to date, it is also by far the lightest. Mobile phone call quality is spot-on on both 3G and 2G networks, while the keypad is nice and tactile, with a raised centre line through each key and solid feedback when you press a button. Even with big fingers, you will struggle to press the wrong button or mash multiple keys. I’d say the keypad is the perfect size, while the keys are an ideal shape to suit small and big fingers alike. Side buttons control camera access and volume, while a large button in the centre of the directional controller opens the Skype client.
There’s a two megapixel camera on the back – no flash, but there is a mirror for doing self-portrait shots – and picture quality is excellent, better than the two megapixel camera on the iPhone.
Under the bonnet (the battery latch is held firmly in place using a magnet) is a 3.7v 1150 mAh battery, which is more than enough to drive the phone for days at a time, even when logged into Skype for the entire time. 3 quotes standby time at 320 hours, I’d put it at about 72 hours if logged into Skype for the duration – that’s a good figure. Talk time is put at 270 minutes, which I found to be about right. 3 also quotes video talk time of 170 minutes which is confusing as there is no front-facing camera on the Skypephone for video calling?
Feature-wise the phone is heavily equipped, a big shock considering the low price. No HSDPA, only standard UMTS data support, but the phone has built-in Bluetooth and can be used as a data modem, it has T9 predictive text support, uses the Brew application platform which allows for some pretty decent third-party apps and games to run on it. It uses a standard mini-USB socket for charging and PC connection, while concealed under the battery is a 256MB MicroSD card (I’ve successfully used a 2GB one in the phone) for holding photos and MP3 files, which can be played via the phone’s audio player. Headphones with hands free are included in the box and audio quality from the phone is very good indeed. The Skypephone also supports the Bluetooth stereo headset profile. I’ve been using the phone with my Motorola Bluetooth stereo headphones.
The phone comes with a USB cable for transferring material between handset and a computer, and the sync software provided isn’t bad at all. It’s not iTunes, but it is significantly better than the apps bundled with most Nokia and Motorola phones.
The built-in software and support doesn’t stop there. As well as the media player (which handles audio and video) and Skype client there is a Microsoft Messenger IM client, YouTube player, support for eBay, streaming TV (but not Slingbox as yet) and some games to get you going. I really wish it had a Slingbox client, seeing as it handles the other streaming TV services 3 offers so well, and even plays YouTube content well.
While the phone’s home screen looks pretty bland and basic, with no graphics and system fonts showing the network, time and date, once you move into any of the menus or applications you are presented with really nicely-styled user interfaces and menu screens. The hardware design is pretty sharp as well, with the phone available in black, or in white with a choice of light blue or pink edges. I’ve got the black one. If there was an all-white one (no blue or pink bits) I’d have gone for the white to match my iPod.
Looking specifically at the Skype client and there is a lot of similarity with the basics of the desktop Skype client, which is fantastic. It also works so much better than the Skype client does on the Nokia N73 I reviewed last year from 3, which formed part of the X-Series mobile internet bundle. The N73 Symbian client had, and still has, severe problems with connectivity, is slow and frequently fails to send IM messages. In contrast, the Skype client on the Skypephone has been faultless, sending and receiving IMs, as well as initiating and receiving Skype-to-Skype calls flawlessly.
There are some limitations – not with the phone but with 3’s Skype support. SkypeIn calls are not supported, so if like me you have one or more SkypeIn numbers, callers will either be dumped to voicemail or will ring through to any PCs you have logged in at the same time, rather than making the Skypephone ring. It is no surprise that you can’t make SkypeOut calls – after all where would 3 make its money if you could. If you dial out to a conventional number, then the call goes out as a conventional mobile phone call and is charged to your 3 bill or pay-as-you-go balance accordingly. Only Skype-to-Skype voice calls go via Skype.
In all, I think this phone is utterly brilliant, so much so that I recommended it to several people looking to buy Christmas presents for people (at £49 each or two for £89 on pay-as-you-go, the price is cheaper than most lesser phones) and even bought a pair for two friends.
If you have any money left now that Christmas is out of the way, go and buy one. On any of 3’s contracts, the phone hardware is free, or you can get it on pay-as-you-go and top-up with a minimum of £10 a month to keep the Skype service enabled.
The pay-as-you-go credit that my review unit was loaded with has now expired. Will I be reloading it with some more – absolutely. Do I want to give the phone back – absolutely not. Will I continue to use the Skypephone – definitely.