SUMMARY: A no-cost way to communicate around the world – almost.
A friend in Asia turned me on to Skype and I thought this is a nice way to communicate globally at no cost, as long as the other person has Skype as well. I have been impressed with Skype’s voice quality and thought some of our readers might like to give this service a try.
There are a number of internet phone companies around, so the technology is not all that new; however, what I like about Skype is that as long as the other person has Skype on their PC and is on-line, you can call free, assuming you both already have broadband connections. All you need is a microphone and speakers, both of which increasingly are included as part of laptops.
To start up, you download a 10 MB file from Skype and install the service – this was very easy. Once installed, you can check your connection and audio gear with a test call to Skype:
You can dial any landline number:
However, this is where Skype makes money – turning on this capability requires you to sign up and pay for these calls:
The rates are low (Skype Calling Tariffs) with rates to many popular locations costing 2.1 cents/minute (calls to mobile phones cost more). In addition, you can also buy a Skype number for an additional fee.
The software keeps a record of all calls:
To find someone, you do a search:
I found my friends using this service in seconds. Once you find someone, you add it to our contact list:
Once in the list, it shows up when you open Skype, so all you have to do is select and call.
The functionality which allows adjustments is fairly robust:
What I like here is that you can become “invisible” while on-line you don’t wish to be disturbed. You can also limit people who can call you to only your contacts. The rest is fairly straight forward:
There is also a chat function:
The Options you can set are also fairly robust:
With the privacy Option, you can quickly limit your on-line exposure:
You can also forward your calls:
Overall I am impressed with the ease of receiving and originating calls – really a no-brainer. I found the software a snap to install and very easy to use. The service worked quite well with a real cheap-o microphone – no need to buy expensive gear to use it.
I would appreciate reviews of other services from readers – for example, I have not tried MSN Messenger and would be interested in some views on it. For Skype FAQs, go HERE.
SUMMARY: Voice quality blows me away – Video OK for the price.
Having used Skype for over two weeks on an almost daily basis, I thought my experience with it would be interesting.
As I mentioned earlier, setting Skype up is about as easy as it gets; this, coupled with its minimal download size of 10 MB, makes this service a no-brainer.
I found that for voice, the quality is outstanding 99.9% of the time (these experiences are Skype-to-Skype calls). I am using a broadband wireless connection with an Asus Z71A laptop running at 2.1 GHz, first at 512 MB RAM, then at 1 GB RAM (I upgraded the RAM to see if the video would improve but found no change – more below on this). I am using the laptop’s embedded microphone and speakers.
As to voice, I have used this to speak with folks in China, outside Shanghai, and the quality was the same as I find when using it within the USA – outstanding. Once in a while, say for about 1-2 seconds in a 10 minute call, I may get a patch where the voice sounds “stretched out” – like a long echo. This is infrequent and does not disrupt the call. I have not experienced any delays on either end.
I do find that calling is not as duplex as I would like – if you speak while the other party is speaking, it interferes a bit. I have also been told that from my end, if there are background sounds they are easily picked up and can interfere somewhat.
However, accepting these slight limitations, voice Skype-to-Skype is a bargain.
For video, I am using a Logitech Quick-Cam Pro 5000 purchased from NewEgg. This is another drop-dead easy install – Skype recognized the camera immediatly and a snap to test out.
As you might expect, video is bandwidth intensive and as such, I found that the frame rate is something like 10 frames/second. As you move, the picture blurs; the faster you move, the blurrier. I also noted that when the caller is speaking, if they do not move much their lips synch with sound. The more movement, the less it synchs. At times, the video will severely pixelate for a couple of seconds – something like perhaps once every five minutes or so.
If you expect a TV-like experience, you will be disappointed – at least this is my experience. However, considering the cost to call ($0.00) Skype-to-Skype, you simply can not go wrong.
My experience using Skype makes me think that traditional telephone companies are in for some rough sledding – services such as Skype are the beginning of what may be a paradigm shift in communications, with the internet as the change agent.
Using Skype for PC-to-PC calls is a no-brainer. Skype’s software is easy to use and very flexible – you can resrict your calls only to contacts that are in your phone book or open up to the world. With outstanding voice quality and so-so video, Skype overall is a bargain.