I’m now a proud owner of a 3 Skypephone, a new phone from 3 which has Skype functionality. That might not seem so great until you consider the following:
- It doesn’t just ‘have’ Skype – Skype is integrated fully with the phone. It runs when you turn it on; your status appears at the top of the screen, along with your signal strength; you can add Skype usernames to your address book along with mobile numbers, and have their Skype online status show up; Skype calls appear alongside normal calls in the call register; and there’s a big ‘Skype’ button in the middle of the phone which takes you straight to your Skype contact list. This isn’t a separate application bundled with the phone, this is the phone.
- But it’s also a very well-specified phone. Being from 3, it’s a 3G phone, with a web browser. It also has an MP3 player and can run Java applications.
- There’s a 2 megapixel camera, which is as good as most other standard camera phones.
- It has Bluetooth, with support for stereo (A2DP) headsets and sending/receiving files.
- It comes with a removable 256 MB microSD card, with support for 2 GB cards.
- It has a micro-USB port, which is used for the charger, hands-free kit and USB data cable, which are all included, and can work as a USB Mass Storage Device when connected to a computer.
- It’s the second-smallest 3G phone available on the market in the UK.
- It’s free with a £12/month contract, or £50 for pay-as-you-go customers (subject to a £10 minimum monthly topup).
The phone is very nice – it’s a candybar design but it’s very thin and has a large screen. It’s quite easy to use and the UI resembles that of my Samsung phone. It’s also good that, despite the inclusion of Skype, it doesn’t skimp on the other details – you can never use the Skype functionality and it’s still a very good phone, and the price is almost unbeatable.
So… the drawbacks:
- Right now, the phone only has the core features of Skype. You can only make calls and have text conversations with other Skype users – SkypeIn, SkypeOut and Voicemail do not work, nor does video chat. This may change in the first half of 2008, however.
- The phone, apparently, is unlocked, so you can buy a prepay handset for £50 and change the SIM card to use another network. However, the Skype functionality is handled by a 3 server and voice calls work the same way as normal phone calls between the handset and the server – this means that if you’re not on 3, the Skype functionality will not work.
- It’s 3G, and will use GPRS in areas where 3G isn’t available, but there’s no support for HSDPA yet.
- Skype functionality will only work in countries where the 3 network is active, which at the moment is the UK, Ireland, Italy, Hong Kong, Australia, Sweden, Austria and Denmark. So if you happen to be in France you’ll have to make regular phone calls.
- It’s a new phone from a relatively unknown manufacturer, so reliability could be an issue initially, however I haven’t had any problems with it yet.
- No idea what the battery life is like but I’ve been assured it’s not dissimilar to most phones currently available (Update: Specification sheet says 320 hours, which if true is impressive). And it can be charged through USB.
Still, the Skype functionality is totally free – it doesn’t cost anything extra and there’s no data charge for it. It is subject to a fair use limit of 70 hours talktime per month, which is more than reasonable and amounts to a couple of hours every day. Considering it’s being marketed at home consumers (rather than business users) I can’t see people regularly hitting this limit. The contract also includes around 1 GB of data transfer for non-Skype data.
Now for the boring disclosure bit. I didn’t pay for the phone; I am able to use it for free on a trial basis for 3 months to promote it through word of mouth and provide feedback. I attended the launch of it in London today, having been invited last week. However, my honest opinion is that this is an excellent phone and one that I would certainly consider buying.