Save yourself a packet on mobile calls

Stephen Fry: I Skype, you Skype, he/she/it Skypes, we will have Skyped, they would have been Skyping

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday 13th September 2008 in The Guardian “Save yourself a packet on mobile calls” – The Guardian headline.

Every once in a while a proprietary device or process strikes it lucky and becomes The One. A combination of apt nomenclature and mass-market penetration will allow it to achieve the ultimate accolade of being used as a verb – we have been Googling for the best part of a decade. But who would have guessed that a company from Tallinn, Estonia, might join this elite group? But I Skype, you Skype, he/she/it Skypes, we will have Skyped, they would have been Skyping.

3’s Skype phone

Skype is the best known of the VOIP services, utilising the Voice Over Internet Protocol to allow anyone with a net connection to make free calls to other Skype users. You can also top up a Skype account via credit card or PayPal to get a SkypeIn number, and make and receive local and international calls, taking advantage of all that bandwidth at a fraction of the price your home telecoms company would charge. On top of this are Skype’s videoconferencing and instant messaging services, akin to iChat, AIM, Jabber and Windows Messenger.

Wi-Fi Skype phones have been around for some time, so you don’t have to be tied to your home or desktop when Skyping. They connect to a wireless network without the need for a computer. The Belkin WiFi Phone for Skype is an excellent and serviceable example.

But what if you prefer to take advantage of all the savings your Skype account allows without having to search around town for wireless hotspots? A mobile phone with Skype capability, surely that is the way forward? Well, upwards of 50 have been capable of Skyping for some time now, with workarounds for BlackBerry and Windows Mobile, but there has been nothing quite like the new 3 Skypephone S2, an all-singing, all-Skyping mobile from Skype in partnership with Hutchison Telecom’s 3 Network.

The S2 is a small, neat unit, manufactured by the Chinese company Amoi. Along the bottom of its bright, clear screen parades a line of familiar icons that allow instant access to Google, Facebook, Windows Messenger and, of course, Skype. It is the work of a moment to input your Skype username and password, and have your buddy list come up and integrate itself instantly with the phone’s address book. You are Skyping in seconds.

You might think that such a phone is all about the nature of the network contract. If you have an all-you-can-eat data package, then Skyping looks like a good deal, but if you are charged for your 3G data access pro rata then large bills could be racked up that render the whole thing a waste of money. Well, startlingly, this phone can use standard GSM for its Skype functionality and all calls between Skype users are free. This is true Skyping. You can be out of reach of a 3G or GPRS mast and still Skype away to Sidcup or Sydney.

What about email? Well, the S2 isn’t a smartphone, but there is a solution: it operates with fabulous ease as a USB dongle modem. In other words, when you connect it to your PC or Mac, modem drivers mount as an install package and then it is, as they say in America, “a snap” to access the internet on your lap or desktop, at 3.6MB access speeds in a 3G area. On-the-move connectivity that doesn’t depend on wireless networks or ad hoc “tethering”: a superb feature beautifully implemented.

This phone replaces Skype’s original foray into the mobile market, the S1, and is trimmer, smarter and more feature-laden than its predecessor. The 3.2mp camera is barely more than adequate and the video frankly ropey, but aside from that there is little to carp at. The Google suite of Search, Mail and Maps is useful – though when I tried to use the latter I was given the message “Sorry, Google Maps does not work on your Amoi 8512″, which I am charitably assuming is a glitch with the pre-release model. A crisp QVGA display allied to a happy thumb-feel keypad makes for a desirable and admirable phone that could save you hundreds of pounds in calls.

Acronym of the week

QVGA Quarter Video Graphics Array, 320 x 240 resolution display common on phones and other small devices.

This blog was posted in Guardian column

22 comments on “Save yourself a packet on mobile calls”

  1. Jockox3 says:

    It seems quite a lot of people have been stung by Skypephone and so it might be worth mentioning that you do not get SkypeIn (since you mentioned it) or SkypeOut (less controversially, though with Skype now offering a gazillion SkypeOut minutes per month for practically nothing likely to be more so) with these phones. Neither Three nor Skype seem too keen on telling custommers this. Indeed there are plenty of tales (including in my case) where the Three shop staff have assured buyers that they get the whole Skype package. In fact, you don’t actually find out that they do not have these bits of functionality unless you delve into the Skypephone online forums, which is hardly a well publicised caveat.

    These phones are great, but if you rely on people being able to call your SkypeIn number to get hold of you you will be sorely disappointed. It’s a great way for kiddies with lots of Skype friends to natter for sure, but for many, without SkypeIn it is only half a package.

  2. Selma says:

    Doesn’t this one do Skype and mobile phone? Surely your non-Skype friends can call you on your mobile number (at normal prices) while your Skype friends can contact you on the same devise and skite (sorry) about how much less they are spending to talk to you.

    Or have I got the wrong end of the stick?

  3. Is their a verb for that irritating feeling when using Skype and the mic is picking up your own speakers and creating an endless loop of background noise? Or for the act of trying to brave the crackle and hiss to inform a less adept user on the other side that he/she should turn the volume down?

    Skype: that lifesaving program for many a student abroad trying to get in touch with web-deficient parents… where the most common phrase in use is “turn down YOUR volume and move the speakers away from the mic”… or as it usually ends up being heard: “taaa daaa d vulmmm and schschshch wa frajk”

  4. pedant says:

    Stephen, obviously I hate to be pedantic, but the definition of an acronym is

    acronym |ˈakrəˌnim|
    a word formed from the initial letters of other words (e.g., radar, laser).
    ORIGIN 1940s: from Greek akron ‘end, tip’ + onuma ‘name,’ on the pattern of homonym.

    How would you pronounce the acronym QVGA?

  5. hgld says:

    I agree with Jockox3 – the restrictions regarding SkypeIn are not made clear by either Skype or 3.

    For this sole reason, I won’t be switching.

  6. KG says:

    I know it’s the weekend and all, but still, using latter on a list of three? Very unfry! Interesting phone though, right enough.

  7. TimR says:

    So to get this straight, skypephone doesn’t so much put skype on a phone as it does allow you to contact other skype users when they’re online using a 3g network? So in order for it to be useful as anything more than a normal phone you have to have a fair few contacts who are on skype often or who have skypephones? You’re right Jockox3, they don’t exactly make that clear on the website.

  8. I’d be a little worried about the quality for long distance calls, which is where you can really save with Skype. When my ex-boyfriend moved to America, we had real trouble getting Skype to work across the Atlantic. Which may explain why he dumped me a week later… But I digress. I’d be interested to hear how the general quality on the S2 compares to a normal cellphone.

  9. I actually have one of these phones. I often use it to call my uncle who lives in London, but sometimes I use a regular headset for that.

    Here’s an owner’s perspective on it:

    The camera is, compared to other phones I’ve had, very usable for artist reference photos and blogging posts, and it comes with a USB cable to plug in and export your jpg’s to your computer.

    The reception on the Skypephone is actually very good, depending on who you’re talking to. I once talked to my brother in Queensland using it but he couldn’t hear me on his end because he uses a rubbish headset. Other than that there’s nothing quite like talking to English relatives while on the bus while incurring no outrageous costs. I have a small buddy list for Skype since my friends can’t get headsets for it because they’re too cheap to buy one, but it’s a loyal list of rellies I wouldn’t otherwise get to talk to.

    I wouldn’t bother taking video with it since I already have a video camera, but that’s just me, with a real video camera I got ages ago.

  10. Oh and for the person who asked whether it does Skype and mobile phone, it does both interchangeably so you’re not stuck when your OutSkype limit runs out for the month. Which is handy because text messaging and Skype text messaging combined is useful. Why? Because Skype instant messages disappear when the person sending messages to you logs out I seem to have experienced.

    It’s a great hybrid phone, and I use it often.

  11. iconista says:

    I am so confused I could cry! Been to the Three site and the Skype site. The options are contradictory, opaque and the sites labyrinthine. Is there an Ariadne out there who could give me a thread to follow? I feel the MInotaur’s breath hot on my neck – though I may just be flushed from the info-rush. Really, if anyone can tell me how I can utilize 3G and the internet to access to my globetrotting parents without having to sell my grandmother to pay the phone bill, please do.

  12. NeilHoskins says:

    Skype may well be the best-known of the VoIP services, but it’s a proprietary system and nobody really knows how it works. What’s more, for some never-disclosed reason it doesn’t lend itself to implementation on Symbian phones, by far the most popular smartphone OS. A far better idea is to use a SIP-based VoIP service, which most, if not all, Nokia N-series and E-series handsets can run natively without installing any extra apps.

  13. StickyKeys says:

    In America Skype hasn’t caught on quite like the company I work for would like it too, but it’s only a matter of time. I’m excited to see it grow as I hear it’s quite the phenomena in Europe. I think the marketing for it in America is off though, as I never would know about it if I didn’t work where I do.

  14. peteratskype says:

    Selma above is absolutely correct – the 3 Skypephone lets your Skype contacts call you for free, and anyone who doesn’t have Skype can call your mobile number as normal. I hope this clears up some of the confusion.

    @jacqueszammit you might like to take a look at the Skype call quality guide if you’ve been having problems and/or point the people you’re calling in the same direction :) If you run up against the same issues repeatedly, give me a shout on Skype (peterparkes) and I’ll do my best to help out.

  15. Billy Brush says:

    Being illiterate (raised by Mario’s moustache) one needs a dictionary for Ariadne!

    …I think it’s Rocky Balboa’s missus though..

    If you knows them words, you baint be havin major problems working out Skype surely..

    I hope Stephen talks about Fable 2 soon, I am getting rather excited waiting for it and hope he can spill a few beans such as will there be digitised badgers, and what voiceover work he it animated in realtime etc etc..and i hope they link to it on GU gamesblog.

  16. Romach says:

    Hello Stephen, I hope you are well. This is my first visit to your blog and I am really enjoying your posts. I will be back again to read more on a regular basis :-)

  17. iconista says:

    Darling Brush, how I wish a classical education bestowed an aptitude for technology! Ancient myths have in no way prepared me for 3G.
    It’s all Greek to me.

  18. CallieO says:

    I am an avid user of skype – I couldn’t be without it now- both laptop and mobile app.

    Although the 3 coverage in Ireland is patchy especially where I live – in general the service is excellent. The UK coverage is excellent, however I suspect the occasional server glitch with IM ( instant messages/texts for skype) getting lost.

    The call quality through a headset is superb, and conferencing is easy.

    What have you got to lose?

    P.S you can also embed the skype application to a web presence for a seriously cool customer feedback option!!

  19. Ronnie Rowlands says:

    Dear Stephen,
    am very much enjoying your blog, but I was a bit disappointed to see that there is no typed version of your last podgram. Had you produced a typed version, i would have sent you my question in its comment box and it would have more relevance. However, as there is no where else, here goes.

    I don’t know whether or not you do ‘requests’ regarding your podgram subjects, but I have one. I often hear the ramblings about immigration from the pub bores, about how they’re “coming here and telling us what to do its political correctness gone made etc”. But it is only the pub bores and the know-it-all columnists who rant on about it day after day. It would be very interesting to hear what you have to say regarding immigration and political correctness and the ‘walking on eggshells around minorities’ that papers like the Daily Mail enjoy harping on about every day.

    You may never read this, and if you do you may disregard it, but i’m crossing my fingers. Hope your next podgram will be as explosive and furious as ever.

    All the best,

  20. howlingmadhowie says:

    isn’t skype the protocol where the Bundesnachrichtendienst (Federal Intelligence Service of Germany) monitors and records everything you say and type?

  21. mickstephenson says:

    As a closed protocol Skype should be vehemently hated with every bone in you body, Stephen, as a friend to GNU I’d have thought you would understand that.
    Here’s hoping that it won’t take long before Skype inevitably dies the death it deserves, and take Adobe Flash with it.

  22. LynxLuna says:

    I love Skype. Though it’s a closed protocol I find it very useful and somehow charming in it’s function and style. But use it in a mobile phone sounds recundant to me. You can use the phone to call, that’s precisely the point of it. And if they’re going to charge you fot using the 3G service I really can’t see the advantage on having a phone with skype, anyway.

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