3 have just launched their new SkypePhone. I have been given one to try and have spoken with some of the technical people who produced the device. Here are my initial thoughts and some more detailed information how it actually works.
Obviously, the phone itself has to be good enough if 3 expect people to give up their current favourite phone and tariff. In the respect, the phone doesn’t disappoint having 3G, a 2 mega-pixel camera, video capture, Bluetooth, 16Mb memory, 256Mb memory card and MP3 player. The phone is particularly small, slim and weighs only 86g. In fact, I have been told that one of the design targets for the phone was to be as attractive and feature rich as 3’s current phone lineup.
What exactly is it? It’s a proprietary phone (model number WP-S1) jointly developed (funded) by 3, Qualcomm and Skype. It’s manufactured by Amoi, A Chinese ODM manufacturer. It isn’t locked to 3 but obviously the Skype features won’t work if you change the SIM.
How well does it work? Having tried a few calls, it takes about 20 seconds to connect – comparable to using Skype from a PC. The sound has a lower dynamic range than on the PC but nevertheless compares well to a normal GSM call. There’s very little background noise, no noticeable latency (voice delay) and very little clipping. In fact, having tried mobile phone to mobile phone Skype calls, these are even more clear and noise-free.
How much does it cost? For pay-as-you-go it will be £49.99 with a minimum £10 top-up per month. For contract customers it’s only £12 per month on a mix and match tariff that includes 100 minutes or texts or a combination of the two. For both contract and pay-as-you go, calls to Skype users or other SkypePhone users are free and you won’t pay for this data usage.
Any catches? There’s currently no SkypeOut (ringing landline numbers) or SkypeIn (redirection of Skype personal number). This is for technical reasons/for optimum time to market and future generations of the product may include this and even video calling. It’s also not possible to use Skype while roaming. There will be cap or ‘fair use’ limit 4000 Skype minutes per month.
Any benefits other than Free Skype calls and Messaging? Having contacts on the server and synchronised with the phone means that it’s easier to maintain contacts in one place. New contacts created on the phone are also sent to the server. The Skype application also provides push presence information for all your online contacts. If the app is running then presence information is obtained via TCPIP. If the app isn’t running then it is pushed from the server via (free) SMS which wakes up the application.
What makes it go? The application is written in Brew and can be upgraded over the air. The phone to 3 server part is done using a normal voice call. This circumvents the latency problems associated with ‘real’ mobile VoIP. It also means that the service will still work well under 2.5G.
Can I develop for it? Yes! As well as accepting Brew apps (via the usual Brew ecosystem) there’s also a Java VM.
I wondered why they chose to create a brand new phone rather than customise a 3 X-Series S60 that already carries the Skype service. I was told that while there was interest (from Nokia?) in doing this, it soon became apparent there wasn’t the will to do this in sensible timeframe.
While it has been possible to use Skype on 3’s X-Series for while now, 3 hopes to entice and more importantly retain customers with a service that’s much more affordable and easier to use.
More details on the phone can be found at www.3skypephone.com.