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How many of us here have a home phone? How many of you have a mobile? Well, if you thought that was all you really need, there is a new phenomenon sweeping the net at the moment that looks like its going to prove to be the next big thing in communication technology.
For years I have been chatting away to mates on Yahoo or MSN via their voice chat facilities. I have mates all over the world and this has literally saved me a small fortune. However the quality of the 'calls' really wasn't ever up to much. That, and the fact that you had to always click the 'talk' button every time you wanted to say something, kinda stifled the conversation in my opinion.
Now we have VOIP. Voice Over Internet Protocall isn't really a new thing as such, however since the widespread takeup of broadband all over the world, it is really starting to pull in the masses and works by utilising P2P (peer to peer) protocalls so that you can effectively connect with another persons computer and talk freely without any of the obstacles of a messenger program.
The leader in the field at the moment, seems to be Skype. Recently bought by internet giants ebay, this program is the first truly accessible program for the masses to enjoy long (or short!) distance free phonecalls to anyone who happens to be running the software at the same time.
So how do I get it? *******************
Well that's easy enough, just go to www.skype.com and on the homepage there is a handy link for you to get it straight away. Once you have downloaded and ran the set up wizard, you are pretty much ready to go! In the wizard, it should let you choose your skype sign in name and then let you set up how the world can see you. You can be visible with whatever name you want and this is what will show in the skype directory. All you really need is a microphone and speakers however you can purchase specially designed USB handsets that look just like a traditional phone, or you can buy skype branded headsets. I have just stuck with my stereo and mic as I quite like the hands free aspect.
How easy is it to use? ************************
It really couldn't be easier. The best way I can describe the interface is that of a messenger program. In the skype window you have all the usual messenger stuff like add a contact, conference, chat and search. Then, you have the section where your contacts are stored. Again like any messenger, you can group your contacts depending on who they are (ie family, friends etc) and when someone is online, it will tell you. You also have the option to change your online setting so that people can see if you are about or not. In addition, you also have a call history and a tab with a telephone key pad on it for when you want to dial a traditional phone number (more about that later). To call someone, all you really need to do double click on the contact that you want to phone, and it will connect for you. It will ring on their end and they (if they want to talk to you!) just need to click on answer and that's about it. A handy feature is conference calls where you can add in anyone on your contact list to have a group conversation. The quality is still the same and best of all, its still free!
There is a very limited chat feature on here, but to be honest I have not had any real reason to use it. You basically highlight the name of the person you want to type to, hit chat in the toolbar, and its ready to go. Personally, I prefer MSN over all of the messengers around so I tend to have that open at the same time and leave Skype to its intended purpose - actually talking. And that goes for the webcam too by the way, it can be used in skype but I prefer to have that running in MSN)
If you do find that you are having problems, there is a very comprehensive help and trouble shooting section in the main site which will ask you a series of questions to get to the solution for you. It also has a feature where you can phone their answering service and it will play back what you said so that you can test to see if your configuration is working properly.
What was this you said about a directory? **************************************** I'm glad you asked! When I first started using it before it was taken over by ebay, I was a bit worried about crank calling. When you go into a search, you can search on username obviously, but also on location and it will bring up a whole load of names who have skpye installed and are online. I had visions of numerous crank callers talking in foreign tongues so I very rarely signed into it. This has changes however as you need to accept another user in order for you to receive a call from them and vice versa. If you have chosen to put your normal numbers in, you can choose to show them in the directory or only to people who you have allowed into your contacts so this really isn't a problem now. You can, if you are bored, go into 'skype me' mode however and this allows you to be seen publicly and contacted by anyone who feels like it though so far I have chickened out of that facility!
Can I call someone who isn't online? ***********************************
Absolutely. While using skype to call other computers is free, there is a low cost option where you can phone literally any phone number (landline or mobile) throughout the whole world and this does work out MUCH cheaper than any landline company can offer. The call it 'skype out' and the cost is split into two sections. The global rate covers Europe, North America (inc Canada), parts of Asia and Auztralia and that is set at 0.017 (about £0.012) Euro's per minute to anywhere that falls within this. Now, correct me if I am wrong, but that works out cheaper than a local call in the UK. The other section is labelled 'other destinations' and on the rates page on skype.com, you can get a complete run down of all the costs. They still seem mighty cheap though. To use this, you need to buy credit in advance in 10 Euro bundles but I actually prefer this as your balance is always visable in your skype window and you never run the risk of running up a high bill as you can see what you are spending. The only thing is though is that the credit does have an expiry date which is set at 6 months at the moment. This is a problem as it never seems to go down very much! I have been phoning landlines for a few months now and I still have a healthy balance….!
You can if you wish sigh up for extras on your skype account that lets people on traditional phones call your computer which they call 'skype in'. To do this, you have to rent a line however and they will assign you a new telephone number. It costs 10 Euros for three months or 30 Euros for 12 months however the major advantage of this is that if you get a local number (ie if I got an 0141 for Glasgow prefix) then I could basically sign in anywhere in the world and if someone from Glasgow phones me on that number, it would only cots them the price of a local call and nothing extra for me. This feature is bound to be of great use to someone who travels around the world however it DOES work in the reverse such that if you are in a foreign country and THEY phone your local number, they will get charged the international rates. I am not sure about the policy on multiple accounts, but I am sure it must be possible to basically have a number for a few different countries to get over that problem. They also include a free voicemail service with 'skype in'.
So what is the call quality like? ************************************
I can honestly say that it is better than most normal phone calls I make. This could be because I have my compute hooked up to my stereo however, but then you don't have that option with a standard phone so I would still count that as better overall. The only time I have had a break in the service is if I am maxing out my bandwidth by downloading some hefty files at the same time however I have learned to turn off other P2P software and this has sorted the problem. I wouldn't recommend it for dial up users though, I tried to have a conversation with a mate who was using dial up and it just wasn't worth it. Lots of lag and breaks in her voice which just made it rather pointless. But with other broadband users, it is hard to fault it. I would suggest getting a dedicated microphone however, I tried it using the mic in my webcam but the quality was only so so, but when I switched to the stand alone mic, it works like a treat.
There really isn't much else to the program, it is very simple to use and has the potential to save people an absolute fortune in telephone bills, especially if you make a lot of long distance calls. I have awarded this 5 stars as so far it has yet to let me down and has meant I can keep in touch with people around the world far easier and cheaper than I could in the past.
Hi, I like your review. I myself am using skype and VOIP though not everything what you named in your review was already known to me.. So thanks : )
Sofe 30.06.2006 18:47
I actually have Skype but I've never used it because I have no idea how it works. Wait, that is not entirely true; I HAD no idea, but after having read your review I think I might be able to use it! Thanks for a fantastic review! Sofe