Skype for Windows Phone 8 preview now available with exclusive features

A preview version of Microsoft's Skype for Windows Phone 8 is now available delivering exclusive features to the mobile OS and raising some privacy eyebrows. Skype is Microsoft's free VoIP app and was recently announced to be the successor to Windows Live Messenger , the company's instant messenger service.

Skype for Windows Phone 8, is now available for download from the company's online app store.

This release of the app, which requires 512MB of RAM to operate, contains all the features outlined by Microsoft when it revealed a sneak peek of the software on Oct. 29 but because it's a preview version, it may have call reliability and bug issues.

The Windows Phone 8 version of Skype has greater integration with its hardware than the editions for other mobile platforms such as Android and iOS. Smartphones that will be able to run the new application includes HTC's Windows Phone 8S and Windows Phone 8X; the Lumia 820 and 920 from Nokia; and Samsung Electronics' Ativ S.

Although still an independent app, Skype for Windows Phone 8 is tightly integrated with the new version of Microsoft's mobile operating system. The "always on" app, for example, has direct access to the operating system's People Hub, where all the contacts for a handset are stored. It also has the ability to show notifications on a phone's lock screen, as well as access the incoming call screen.

Skype logo

With access to the lock screen, Skype can display information about chats, and voice and video calls whether the phone is on or off. In addition, you can display similar information when using apps other than Skype.

Access to the incoming call screen, allows you to switch between cellular voice calls and Skype voice calls on-the-fly.

Skype can also be displayed in resizable live tiles on the Windows Phone 8 Start Screen. At its smallest size, your number of unread messages will appear in the tile. At its largest size, the last message you received will appear in the tile.

Other features include automatic addition of Skype contacts from other platforms and a Favorites feature for quick access to commonly called contacts.

If you have a Windows Live ID, your instant messaging buddies will automatically be pulled into Skype. That's a valuable feature because Microsoft has announced that it will be gradually phasing out Windows Live Messenger and that Skype will be its instant messaging app across all platforms in the future.

This edition of Skype for Microsoft's mobile operating system also begs a few questions. For instance, although Microsoft says that the app's "always on" feature doesn't significantly impact a phone's battery life that's yet to be tested by user experience.

In addition, access to a handset's People Hub could raise privacy issues that Microsoft may need to address.

(Mikael Ricknas, of IDG News Service, contributed to this report)

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