Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I tried Three’s new Skype phone and I liked it

Before leaving for California, I was approached by Matt from to test Three’s new Skype phone. I don’t usually bother reviewing products (albeit for a few books) but I live in London and my new company is in Mountain View, California. I am on Skype daily with our partners over the world, and often with our family and friends in Singapore. A phone plan that integrates Skype sounded like a godsend to me.

Two months later, upon my return to the UK, I received as promised 2 phones for a month long trial.

The phone

The silver ring around the Skype button is borderline bling but overall the phone is sleek and elegant in its simplicity. And it has a really nice feel when you hold it. I guess Three must have spend weeks with focus groups just to get the right weight, not too heavy, not too light resulting in this smooth feeling handset that fits nicely in the hand.

The specs
Decent colour screen, 2MB camera, takes pictures, videos and many other things that I could not be possibly bothered to mention, as I am not that geeky. Specs are there if you are interested (select a phone and click on "Mobile details").

The interface
Among the phones I used, Motorola consistently ranked worst in terms of clunky, non-intuitive user interface. Nokia is doing a pretty good job but I always had a soft spot for Sony-Ericksson. I am adding to my favourites Three’s interface which is easy to use and aesthetically pleasing. Good job for people like me who would rather never use a functionality than opening a user manual.

This is the crux of the matter. You can call and receive calls on Skype using Three’s network, which means you don’t rely on finding a wifi connection. Finally, I could talk to my Skype friends without being glued to my laptop. Because I am using Three’s network , voice quality was much better than my normal Skype calls. When logged-in to Skype (just press the “Skype” button), you will see your contacts and their status. To call, just select a contact and you are on. You can use Skype chat as well but the Three Skypephone does not support Skype Out or Skype In.

Live TV
The picture quality of live TV is impressive. Sharp and good streaming. On offer: BBC1, BBC3, BBC News, National Geographic, FHM, MTV…

Facebook, MSN, eBay and the likes
It has all that if you need it. There is a handy shortcut to Google Search on Three’s launcher (like a “Start menu on Windows). There is a direct link to Youtube as well so instead of spending too much money on video calls, post your clip on your Youtube channel for your friends to watch and reciprocate.

Finally, the price…
Now this is where it gets complicated, there are lots of information on rates and plans but it is a bit all over the place on Three’s website, and the small print is hard to find.

Pay As You Go (no contract)
You can buy a handset for £59.99 that includes a £10 top-up. You can use Skype for 30 days with a “fair use” policy (4,000 Skype minutes and 10,000 chat messages per month) but you need to top-up again with a minimum of £10 every 30 days.

Contracts are 18 months, which is far too long to consider for someone like me who spend months abroad. The cheapest plan is £12 a month and gives you 100 minutes or text messages. The phone comes free with the same “fair use” policy for Skype.

Live TV is £5 a month and add another £5 for unlimited web surfing. This will go on top of PAYG or contracts.

I showed the phone to a couple of friends and they all agreed that it is a looker with great functionality, with Skype, Live TV an mobile web among their favourite features (in order). As far as I understand, rates are competitive but my hunch is that you need to spend lots of time on Skype at time when you don't want to be at home to make it worthwhile. Otherwise you may be better off sticking to Skype on your laptop and a cheap call plan for calls/texts. The 18 months contract is a no go for me but I may look into the PAYG option after I speak to Three’s sales reps to clarify call rates for that option.

Overall, the Skype Phone is on top of my 2008 must-have list and I am glad I tried it.


Ed Mahony said...

Great blog

Would you be interested in exchanging links?

My blog is on creative thinking, communications and media.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. I have purchased a skype phone with a 18 months contract. I still use normal voice call, but others can use skype to call me, it's a good news for all my friends and families aboard.
Skype phone is a great idea, it's the first time we combine a normal mobile phone with VOIP service.