Three years ago I let go of one of the last vestiges of the wired world by cutting the land-line phone and moving to wireless. The problem with this has popped up in a number of unlikely places. One, I moved from a house to a new condo...and the reality of not having a permanent phone line and stationary phone hit hard. Once I had moved in I learned my front door buzzer required a connection to a phone line. So why not just have it ring to my cell phone? With two people living here, if one happens to leave...well you get the gist.
The second brutal truth was learning that the wireless signal in this area of San Francisco was spotty and we were often dropping our mobile calls. It was so bad that we had to map out areas of our home where you could get a signal...most of these involved pressing your head against the window and raising at least one arm to the sky.
Can you hear me yet?
The solution I came up with was to have the front door buzzer linked to my Skype account. The obvious problem here was I always had to have my laptop handy, which sadly resembled the new Zune Phone.
And then, like an answer from some technology prayer, came the announcement from a number of vendors that cordless Skype phones (which didn't require a connection to a computer) were on the way. At last, to be able to own a device like this was thrilling! Finally, a seamless merger of the Web 2.0 VOIP world I've known through computers...with a device that resembled the cordless phones I've been using for 20 years.
It came last week.
How does the reality stack up to the concept?
The Belkin Skype Phone
- True Wireless Freedom - No base station connected to a PC, connects to my WEP networks with little trouble, and connects to Skype within seconds.
- Multi-location support - I can be logged on to Skype through both my computer and the phone at the same time. Both ring at the same time.
- Sound Quality - Surprisingly good. Slight delay, but no more than your typical cell phone or bluetooth headset. This is of course more due to Skype than the phone itself. I also find it better than headsets plugged into the computer.
- Address Book - Contacts added to either the Skype software or the device are consolidated into one contact list.
- Mobility - Take it anywhere. It has a wireless network browser, so if you can find an open connection you can make a call. I imagine when Google gets this city "wired-less," we might all be saying farewell to the mobile phone companies.
- Services - Supports Skype Out/In and Voicemail.
Too big as a cell phone, but a nice "home phone" size.
- Tactile - The keys and buttons feel cheap. For something in the $150-$180 range I expect a little better. It just "feels" plastic-y in a bad way, like a toy. It also has those annoying rubbery flaps that "protect" the charging connector. I can hardly get these things open and I can never get them closed.
- Battery Life - I guess it is to be expected that the battery would suffer, this being an 802.11 device. And I'm not disappointed! The battery is lousy. I find myself plugging it in every night.
- While I am pleased that the phone doesn't require a base station connected to a computer via USB, I would have liked to see a base station for charging it and a spare battery. To charge this device you have to flip open the rubber flap, and insert a cable into the small USB hole on the bottom of the phone. Since most of us expect a nice base station with our regular cordless phones, I would happily have paid $50 more if this came with one, or had it as an option.
- User Interface - Just barely passable. I find many aspects of using the phone maddening and if it weren't for the fact that I can do a lot of things on the Skype desktop client, I'd likely send it back.
Fits nicely in the hand, but has "toy-like" feel to it.
As for the hardware, I'd say it was a pretty good first attempt, yet with all the developments we've seen with cordless phones in the past 20 years, I expected a little more. However, it solves the problem I had with not having a stationary phone line. So all in all, I'm relatively pleased. We obviously have some room for improvement and I think if I were Belkin I'd look closer at regular cordless phones for inspiration than at cell phones.
Regardless of my gripes at the hardware I'd say it was a good purchase and can recommend it for early adopters. I would also say that this technology, in general, is ready for prime-time, and if I were the Telcos I'd be sweating bullets. For the life of me I can't figure out why the major phone companies let a company like Skype get acquired by ebay? I mean seriously, hedge your bets people.
But it also makes me wonder why companies like Comcast think they can charge $40 a month for home VOIP services when Skype is currently offering unlimited calling in a special deal for $14.95 ($30 after Jan 31st) for a WHOLE YEAR. It is simply shocking to see the large Telco mentality up against the Web 2.0 mentality of creating more value for less money. While I would gladly pay more for enhanced services, I find that in the past 18 years that I've had a phone line and cable tv...these companies fail to actually provide better services. I find myself always paying more each year and getting less. And my experience with the Belkin Skype phone has led me to thoughts about the Web 2.0 mentality versus the Big Business mentality.
I'll be writing about that next.