Quick Review: Hands on With the Belkin Skype Phone

Quick Review: Hands on With the Belkin Skype Phone

Summary: 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.

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TOPICS: Mobility
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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?
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.

So last November I put in an order for the Belkin 802.11 Skype phone. 

It came last week.

How does the reality stack up to the concept?

Surprisingly well.

 


The Belkin Skype Phone

The Good

  • 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.


The Bad

  • 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.


Unsolicited Advice
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.

Final Thoughts
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.

Topic: Mobility

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5 comments
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  • I love Skype

    I just signed up for it recently, for the 14.95 unlimited calling, and $38 to get a phone number. That is only $52.95 per year.That is about $4.41 per month. Way cheaper then Comcast and Vonage. However Skype DOES NOT OFFER 911 CALLING. It is important to know that Skype is NOT a phone replacement it is wasy to make phone calls for a reasonable price. You will still want a land line or a cell phone for emergency calling. I love my cell phone, and Skype is a cheap but excellent alternative.

    I strongly recommend it.
    BroGnorik
    • NetGear New Dual-Mode DECT Cordless Skype Phone

      But I got the new [url=http://www.netgear.com/About/PressReleases/en-US/2007/20070107d.aspx]NetGear Dual-Mode Cordless SPH200D[/url]

      The new Skype promotion for $14.95 is well worth the price of admission--and throwing in a SkypeIn account ~$30 is not usurious.

      We'll trial it for a few months but based on the phone calls I've made thus far with it (good), I'd say we will be dropping our home landline--we have Verizon cell phones which will suffice for E911.

      OK Thanks!
      D T Schmitz
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    • Dell Latitude D500 t $200

      im thinking about buying this item .. and i was wondering if it came with the 802.11b Wi-Fi Wireless
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  • Belkin Wifi phone my experience

    After two months using the Belkin Skype phone in four countries and a dozen of cities, and additionally to what had been written in this above article, these are my impressions.
    When it runs, it is nice and easy. The good part is that the phone remembers the setting for the networks you connected (but for how much networks I did not find any information about it). But the connection to wireless network is not always consistent especially with secured networks. Sometime I cannot connect but there is no clear pattern that can explain this. Often I have the message "No IP address assigned"; sometime it is right sometime not because I got the IP. Nevertheless be sure you have the last firmware version, it improves the connection initiation stability.
    As there is no browser it is not possible to connect to network that require a web based authentication (90% of the hotels I visited). Boingo is not available in China where I am living now (and in many other locations and countries), so it is not a solution for me. [b]A browser for this Wifi phone is a must![/b]
    The most annoying part is I think the poor quality of the keyboard. It is imprecise and quite hard. Inserting a "0" in the encryption Key is a least tricky. You must keep the keyboard in alphabetic mode (not in numeric as with all the other numbers), then you have to press the 0 key five (5) times, even six sometime, for the first zero you enter in the key, but only three times after this first input. I guess that the developers have a very logical explanation, but not me.
    To update the firmware I tried at least 10 times before my OS finally detect and install the USB phone driver...No idea why.
    Related to this, is the USB driver stuff: On my laptop when I connected the phone for the first time on a USB port, Windows asks to install a USB device driver for a device call OMAP1710 (the phone processor). Nothing special here (at least if you are a skilled user expecting some USB configuration with a name apparently not related with the device you just plug into your computer), but the fact is that the driver is not supplied or only if you install the new firmware. The new firmware setup seems to installs a USBIO device identified as a Skype Phone Device (I did not investigate too much here, no time, so maybe not very accurate). Why this device driver is not available in a different way and why there is strictly no mention of this installation in any provided documents?
    As mentioned many time, the battery life is very short, shorter that the 3 hours (01:30 in realty) communication or 30 hours standby (Max 24h) mentioned in the manual.
    Conclusion:
    The quality of the phone keyboard is bad and for this price I expected something closer to a standard GSM phone in terms of quality and functionalities (a browser, chat function, a real address book, a calendar and agenda, calculator, world time, Task manager, Alarms, saving more than one user profile, without mentioning various multi-media features etc...).
    Globally, I am a little bit disappointed, but it is still an interresting stuff, for geeks only. It is not a very mature technology and I am waiting for the next generation. With a fix of the small software bugs, some interface improvement to make it easier to use, add few features (A browser for the network web based access authentication), improve the device hardware quality, complete the manual (very basic one for now) and I will start to be a happy Belkin user.

    Gautier
    gandreotti@...