Skype is a Voice over IP (VoIP) service that allows you to make phone calls via a broadband connection to other users for free. And we like it.
Being able to ring chums up all over the world for jack diddly squat, frees up more money for beer, and its productivity-boosting features (like instant messaging and conference calling) rewards us with more pub time. Great!
But not everyone likes having to bellow into a computer microphone to make phone calls, or – even worse – sharing their intimate conversations with chuckling workmates eavesdropping on the conversation blasting out of PC speakers.
The only way you can hope to get a bit of privacy with VoIP calls is to don a headset that makes you look like a cross between a call centre dork and a fitness instructor. Not cool.
Despite all the benefits of VoIP telephony, the perceived ‘fiddlyness’ of the technology makes it look like an uber-geeky toy for weird, gadget-loving, parameter tweaking folks (cough!).
And here’s where the VoIP Cyberphone Skype phone comes in.
Although it looks like the kind of phone you could pick up at Brick Lane market for the price of a cup of tea, it’s actually a smarty-pants USB-powered device that makes using VoIP a breeze.
Installing the device is simple: slap in the CD, install the software and then go to Skype.com and set up an account. Job done!
Once installed, picking up the Cyberphone causes the Skype interface to immediately pop up on your PC’s desktop (sadly, this amused us for some time) and you can then scroll through your contacts via the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ buttons on the phone’s keypad.
Once you’ve selected the Skype user you want to talk to, simply hit the ‘call’ icon on the handset and you’ll hear a familiar ring tone, until the end user picks up. And then you can chat for as long as you like. For free.
Phone clarity was as good as any landline (although we did have to delve into the computer’s control panel to ‘up’ the volume) and the whole experience was as easy as, well, using a phone.
Naturally, fellow Skype users can ring you for free too, and you can elect to use your PC’s ring tones or use the one built into the phone.
You can also use the phone to ring up lesser mortals not connected to the web courtesy of Skypeout. Shell out for a €10 (US$13/£7) voucher and you can then enjoy greatly reduced calls to regular phones all over the world, saving up to 85% off standard BT rates.
Ringing up non-Skype users is simple enough, although you’ll have to include full international codes every time, which is a bit of pain if you’re only calling someone in the same area.
Mac users will be more irritated to learn that the phone won’t work fully with their OS, even though the Skype software does.
These minor quibbles aside, Cyberphone is a trailblazing product that will soon repay the modest investment.
The handset may not be challenging Apple for design awards, but it’s a solid, basic, no fuss device that opens up the world of free VoIP telephony to everyone.
It’s simple, straightforward and saves you a bomb.