Skype for iPhone: Free Calls on Your Mobile Phone

In the days before cell phones and applications like the new Skype for iPhone, there was this thing called the hotel room telephone.

Here's how it worked. You'd pick up the bedside phone, dial to get an outside line, dial a number, and talk. Then, when you'd check out, the front desk clerk would give your bill. And you'd wonder: How could a 10-minute call home cost more than a lobster dinner and bottle of wine from room service?

But that, as they say, was then. Now when you're traveling, you can call home and talk for hours, for free, thanks to Skype (and other Voice over IP services). This week: a look at the new Skype for iPhone app.

Good-to-Excellent Audio Quality

After much anticipation, Skype recently released its free iPhone app to complement its free Skype-to-Skype VoIP calls. PC World's Liane Cassavoy gave Skype for iPhone a favorable review. My experience with Skype for iPhone so far has been positive, too.

Using Skype for iPhone, you can make and receive VoIP calls using your iPhone over a Wi-Fi network. (As of this writing, you can't make Skype calls on an iPhone over AT&T's cellular voice network.) If you're calling another Skype user, the call is free--even if the person lives oceans away. You can call landline or cell phones inexpensively, beginning at around 2.1 cents per minute.

In my tests, using Skype for iPhone on my home wireless network, call quality was good to excellent. Skype-to-Skype calls even sounded a little better than those I made on my iPhone using AT&T's cellular voice network. Calls to landline and cell phone numbers were good, though sometimes sounded a bit muffled.

Easy to Use

Skype for iPhone is easy to use and nicely mimics the iPhone interface. And you can send and receive Skype instant messages wherever you go. You don't have to be on a Wi-Fi network, as you do with voice calls.

A Skype feature I love is the ability to designate a cell phone number as your caller ID. This is crucial, because so many people these days let calls from unidentified numbers go straight to voice mail (I'm guilty as charged). The caller ID feature isn't particular to Skype for iPhone; it works with Skype on your computer. But it will certainly help you get more out of Skype for iPhone, because people you contact will actually answer your calls.

By the way, you don't have to own an iPhone to make mobile Skype calls. There's Skype for Windows Mobile, Skype Lite for Java phones, and a version for Google Android phones.

Downsides? A few. You have to be logged into Skype on your iPhone in order to receive an incoming call or instant message. Currently, you can join a Skype conference call but you can't initiate one on your iPhone. You can't add an emoticon to an IM or see one in a message you receive. (But if you're using Skype for business, you're not sending emoticons, right?)

Though this may come as no surprise, you can't video chat using Skype for iPhone. I suspect that feature is coming, though it's anyone's guess when. (The iPhone 3G doesn't support video recording, though there are some video recording apps you can download to a jailbroken iPhone.)

The Wrap Up

If you own an iPhone and travel often, I'd highly recommend downloading Skype for iPhone. Get your close business associates, family, and friends to install Skype on their computers and cell phones, too. You could call them from your Wi-Fi-equipped hotel room and talk for hours. You don't have to be tethered to your computer to talk. And best of all, you won't have to worry about the bill when you check out of your hotel.

Keep on Clicking

Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips

iPhone Accessory for Hands-Free Talking: I've had some hands-on time with Kensington's Hands-Free Visor Car Kit for iPhone and Bluetooth Phones (yes, that's the product's full name). It's a nice product, though at $120, a little expensive. Audio quality was good, and I particularly like that the product ships with two batteries. You can keep one battery charged while the other one's in use, in your car.

Another Option for Cheap Phone Calls: MagicJack is a USB telephony device that lets you make VoIP calls on the cheap. The device is $40 and includes one year of unlimited local and long-distance calls, free call forwarding, free caller ID, free directory assistance, and discounted international calling. After the first year, service is $20.

Palm Pre Expected in Mid May: The rumor mill says Palm's upcoming Pre smart phone will launch by May 17. Sprint has apparently confirmed that it is "in the process of providing the training for the new Palm Pre" to its employees. Also, online sources say Sprint is not allowing retail store employees to take vacations during May, which also indicates something big is expected to pop that month.

Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have Mobile Computing e-mailed to you each week.

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