The 3 Skypephone S2x is the operator's latest Skype-enabled handset. It allows you to make and receive Skype calls in just the same way as you'd make standard mobile calls. 3 is currently offering the handset for £80 on a pay-as-you-go deal, or free on a £10-per-month contract.
The S2x is one of the best-looking own-brand mobiles we've seen from 3. It feels remarkably well built, and the aluminium battery cover on the rear gives it a relatively luxurious feel, as do the chrome buttons. It's small too, measuring just 45 by 108 by 13mm. Although it's rather heavy as candybar phones go, weighing 95g, the extra weight helps to make it feel more robust when you hold it in your hand.
Reach for the Skype
The phone supports HSDPA for speedy Web access via the decent on-board browser. But it's the excellent integration with the Skype VoIP service that sets the S2x apart from its rivals. Setting the phone up to work with your Skype account involves nothing more than simply entering your username and password. The handset then imports your contacts from Skype and adds them to the main contacts book.
Skype call quality varies according to the network conditions, but our experience with the handset was good. We had very few problems with calls breaking up or the dreaded robotic-sounding voices that sometimes afflict Skype calls. Another benefit of the phone is that the Skype application is constantly running in the background, so, as long as the phone has a data connection, you're always marked as available within Skype, which means people can call you.
The handset is also a good performer when it comes to normal mobile calls. Reception was generally strong and, although the earpiece wasn't the loudest we've come across, it did produce clean, distortion-free audio. Battery life isn't bad either. 3 says the handset is good for around 4.5 hours of call time, which is more or less in line with our own experience.
Unfortunately, the phone's camera isn't so peachy. It's only got a 2-megapixel sensor, so the shots it takes don't stand up to much scrutiny when you transfer them to a PC and view them on a monitor. The camera also lacks a flash, so shots taken indoors tend to come out looking very dark and noisy.
There are also a few other annoyances. The S2x doesn't have a standard headphone jack. Instead, the supplied headphones connect to the USB port on the bottom of the phone. Even the USB port is non-standard -- the S2x doesn't use the normal micro-USB connector found on most of today's smart phones and mid-range mobiles.
The handset's music player is also dreadful. It looks and acts more like a file browser than the type of music apps we're used to seeing on handsets from Nokia and Sony Ericsson. The phone's menu system looks tired and dated too, with uninspiring icons and graphical effects.
The 3 Skypephone S2x's Skype integration is excellent and offers a real opportunity to save money if you make plenty of overseas calls. We also like the sturdy build quality and stylish design. But the dated menu system and dreadful music player are real letdowns. If you're primarily looking for a handset to make cheap foreign calls, it's an excellent option, but a mid-range Nokia or Sony Ericsson handset would be a better option for most other people.
Edited by Charles Kloet