Around 2.5 million people in the UK make regular use of Skype, but for most of them making a call via Skype means using a PC. This is where the Skypephone from 3 comes in. It's a mobile handset with the Skype software onboard so you can make free calls from the phone to other Skype users.
The handset is available for around £50 as a pay as you go phone or for free on contract.
If you were expecting this handset to be a large brute of a thing then think again. It's actually surprisingly small and slim. It's available in black or white (the latter having either a blue or pink trim) and while the design is more functional than flash, it's not an altogether unattractive phone.
Spotting the raison d'etre for the handset is not exactly difficult because there's a big bold button in the centre of the phone's directional pad emblazoned with a large Skype logo. Pressing this starts up the Skype software and from here you can either create a Skype account from scratch, or if you're already a user, just sign in with your username and password. Once you sign in, the phone communicates with the Skype service and downloads your Skype contacts. Handily, Skype contacts appear in the phone's main contacts book as well as in the mini Skype application.
Making calls to a Skype contact is a piece of cake. You just highlight the contact and then press the call button. During our testing, the sound quality was pretty much what you'd expect to get when using Skype with your PC. Most of the time, the quality was excellent, but sometimes it suffered from the usual VoIP issues, such as Dalek-sounding voices and call echo.
Naturally, 3 doesn't want to cannibalise its own call revenue, so while Skype-to-Skype calls are free (as long as you're on contract or top up every month) you can't use Skype to call normal telephone numbers. Instead, you can only do this via the normal 3 network. Still, we have to say that we think the phone's Skype functionality is first rate and many people will still really appreciate being able to call their Skype contacts without the need for a PC or laptop.
Apart from the Skype abilities, in many other ways this is a pretty straightforward 3G handset. The menus are clean and sensibly laid out and the texting is very easy to use. There's also a decent music player and 3 has included a 256MB microSD card for storing tracks. The sound quality via the supplied headphones was also pretty good.
We've got no complaints about the quality of normal mobile calls as they sounded very crisp and clean and the handset has decent reception. Battery life isn't bad either as you'll get around 4 hours 30 minutes of talk time out of it.
The phone's camera is relatively basic. It has a 2-megapixel resolution and while pictures taken outdoors in sunlight don't look too bad, there's no flash, so snaps shot indoors in less bright conditions tend to look very fuzzy, with lots of digital noise.
Also, the phone's keypad is on the small side and the keys feel squashed together, so it takes a while to get used to for texting.
The screen certainly isn't the best we've seen either. The resolution is OK, but the colours tend to look washed out. This seems to be partly due to the backlight, which even at its brightest setting isn't actually all that bright.
It's hard to complain about this handset, as it's relatively cheap at around £50 pay as you go (or free on contract) and provides a very straightforward way to make free calls to other Skype users while on the move. Of course, you can't use its Skype functionality to make cheap calls to normal phone numbers, but then you can't really blame 3 for partly protecting its own call revenue.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Jon Squire