The Belkin Skype WiFi phone is a phone that looks like your cell, but works only with Skype and only over WiFi. It's about the same size as a larger candybar style phone—maybe 125% as long, wide, and thick as a Sony Ericsson T610. We got our hands on one and ran it through our testing process to see if it lived up to its Skype hype.
Well, let's talk about the looks first. The Skype phone looks just as good as all its press photos showing it with a black glossy front with a matted/rough back. However, just like with most products, the real thing rarely matches the product shots. The screen and top part of the front are nice and shiny, but the keys themselves are made of plastic and a bit less shiny. The rest of the material comprising the edge of the face and all of the back feels like a vinyl/leather/plastic mix, which gives it a rough texture. It actually feels pretty great, and gives a nice grip when you're making a call. It's nice to see a phone with only a minimum amount of brushed metal along the sides.
Once you've taken it out of the box and connected it to the miniUSB charger—convenient, because that means you can take this on the road and charge it with your laptop as well—you wait 3 hours for the battery to fill. Once that's done, you power it up and it's time for some software setup. One complaint we have here is that the rubber flap for the battery kind of gets in the way of charging, so you'll have to hold it back while you stick in the connector.
The setup process is very straightforward. Once you boot the phone, you select your language (English or Chinese) and agree to their disclaimer. The disclaimer says that Skype is not a substitute for an emergency phone because it can't make emergency calls. That should be understood.
Connecting to a wireless access point is just as easy. The phone tries to connect automatically to the first available open WiFi access point. If that happens to not be yours, you can then select a different one and enter in your WEP/WPA/WPA2-PSK key—if you use one— and connect. Once that's done, you're ready to sign on.
The Skype connection's exactly the same as on the PC, down to that same "blooooooOOP" login noise. You type in your username and password using the keypad, which is just as slow as on cellphones, and on you go. Then you hit the right menu button to see your contact list and you can choose to dial any of those, or just dial a regular phone number to use SkypeOut.
The rest of the controls are just about the same as a Sony Ericsson T610i. There's a green dial and a red hangup key, two face menu keys, 4 way stick and the standard telephone keypad. Nothing extraordinary about it. The buttons are just the tiniest bit plasticky and a little bit stiff, but nothing you can't work with.
Now for the call quality. How is it? Well, on Skype to Skype calls it's fairly decent. Just about the same as if you were making a Skype to Skype call from a PC. Not a whole lot of delay present in the call and no real echo. SkypeOut, on the other hand, was a little different.
SkypeOut to a landline was fine and had minimal delay. Just about the same as doing Skype to Skype, or maybe a tiny smidge more. Nothing dramatic. Calling SkypeOut to a cellphone added a bit more delay though. It was noticeable, but it wasn't terribly annoying. And if your home connection is currently running a lot of bittorrent traffic, your call quality would probably get worse. I tested this without bittorrent on, and just normal internet browsing and IMing and everything was fine.
Occasionally though, when calling one particular cellphone, the SkypeOut call would get dropped. Sometimes at 5 minutes and sometimes at 10. I didn't notice this with a landline phone and my own cellphone, so I'm not sure what the deal is. Probably just bad reception. One most of the calls, though, the phone does get pretty warm—exactly the way a cellphone gets warm. It wasn't too hot to be next to your face, but it would get a little bit uncomfortable. If you're a cellphone user you're already used to this.
But one time the phone locked up and had to be hard-reset using the power button. All the other buttons were unresponsive. After the restart, the time and date would get reset to 12:00 AM GMT. Kind of annoying.
There's not a whole lot of menu options besides contact list, call history, voicemail, changing your status, adding a contact, searching for a contact, and looking at how much Skype credit you have. You can't sign up for SkypeIn or SkypeOut credit from the phone—you'll have to do that from your PC.
The nits we could pick out of this phone would be the relatively small screen size considering the large real estate on the front that would technically be reserved for the "screen area". Most of that is just wasted space. Plus, that shiny screen attracts fingerprints and facial oil like no other. You'll be wiping it off on your shirt after every call because of how greasy it gets. Sometimes there's a bit of echo generated by this phone, but it could be Skype's fault. Also, the UI is a little bit sluggish and there's a few hundred milliseconds delay when you press a button to when it actually takes action on screen.
All in all, a pretty good Skype WiFi phone that actually looks nice enough to be carried around with you to work or to connect to WiFi hotspots around the city. Everything's good in this phone including call quality, button feel, and wireless reception. I could walk around the entirety of my apartment and still hear pretty clearly.
Seeing as the WiFi Skype phones are just hitting the market, we don't have much to compare this to yet. But when we do, you can look forward to roundups and direct comparisons so you know which Skype WiFi phone to buy.
Update: Bah, looks like Amazon beat us to the review. Could it be because they're a distributor? Nah, it couldn't be. They also have it listed for $179 on preorder.
Update 2: We spoke to Belkin and they confirmed that this was a pre-production unit, and that the issues I experienced were mostly due to this and the fact that it's running some non-final firmware. Their engineers are still hard at work fixing problems, like the sluggishness and dropped calls. If this is still a pre-production unit then that means they're pretty close to finishing up and actually launching the phone!
When they do have a newer firmware out, they promised to send me a copy so I can do another update to see whether the issues have been fixed. I'll also post an update later this week on how the battery life is doing.
Product Page [Belkin]
Flickr Gallery (If the embedded gallery doesn't work for you) [Flickr]