skypephone… after a few days

I wrote on Monday about the skypephone about what I learnt at the launch event.

Now that I’ve had a chance to play with it for a few days and make a few calls, I thought I’d add just a few of the thoughts I’ve had since then.

The good

Pricing – Kevin Tofel explained it well when talking about the Palm Centro when he said that

“Value is starting to show up as a ‘feature’ more and more in mobile devices.”.

Like the Centro, the skypephone takes something that you could only really do on expensive and complex high-end smartphones, makes some small improvements and makes it available on a phone that costs about £50.

Status in your contacts – I love this. I’ve given the second of the two skypephones I’m borrowing to my wife. She has been on a work residential thing this week – I know that she will be busy and don’t want to ring while she’s in a meeting or out for a meal.

With the skypephone, you can leave your phone on but set your status to ‘Away’, ‘Busy’, ‘Do not disturb’ etc. and this shows up next to your name in other people’s skypephone contact list. This means I can see if it’s a good time to ring her before I call. I really like this. I can’t explain why – as I guess you could just switch off your phone (leaving voicemail to tell people if it wasn’t a good time to call). But it’s the same as saying “Why have a ‘Busy’ status in IM? Why not just logoff?”. This just feels neater.

Actually, it’d be even better if you could set a Buddy Pounce-type alert – to be notified when someone is back on ‘Available’ again without having to keep glancing at your phone’s contact book.

Task SwitcherTask Switcher – Press the dedicated switcher button on the side, and a window pops up letting you choose between your open apps. It’s basically like the Alt-Tab that you get in Windows.

I loved this so much that I went searching for something similar for Windows Mobile, and ended up buying a copy of TaskSwitcher – mapping my phone’s camera button to it instead.

(Incidentally, if you have a Windows Mobile phone, I can recommend TaskSwitcher – very simple, very effective, and only about £2.50).

Developers Kit – I forgot to mention this in Monday’s post, which is a shame as I spoke to one of the techies at the event about it. But anyway – the OS running on the skypephone is BREW. I’m not familiar with it, but it does have a developers kit and you can write apps for it. I’m gonna have to give this a try before I give these phones back 🙂

It looks like the app support is Java-based. Not ideal but not too bad. It does look like you are a bit sandboxed – I think you have to add your app to the list of downloaded apps, next to the others that you might buy like PacMan and Tetris. But it’s better than nothing. (And this isn’t a smartphone… the SDK is probably not a fair thing to judge a cheap/free candy-bar-style feature phone on!)

The not so good

Off-and-on? – The phone seems to reboot itself for no reason every now and then. It’s happened at least once every day – on both of the skypephones we’re borrowing. I wouldn’t notice if it wasn’t for that fact that it plays a short few notes to announce it’s booting up, even while it was sat untouched and almost fully charged on my desk! To be fair, they did warn us that these are pre-release handsets, so hopefully this isn’t something that will remain in the retail version.

Delays – I haven’t used skype very much, so I don’t have much VOIP experience to compare this with. Is there normally a longer timedelay during VOIP calls than regular ones? Perhaps I just need to get used to it, but conversations we’ve had from skypephone to skypephone have a noticeable delay – you end up pausing after everything you say to wait a second for them to hear it, say something, and a second for you to start hearing the reply.

I dunno – I need to test it out better, but first impressions are that there is a lag. That said, I didn’t notice any delays at all on my call with Roo on his laptop… I need to try making more skypephone to PC calls to compare and see if there is another explanation.

The social… needs people – With all social-networking apps and websites, one of the key things for whether it will be useful to you is whether your friends are on it. Pownce has some great features, but I’ve given up on it because I know more people on twitter. Friends that I’ve tried to sign up on twitter have liked the idea but ultimately dropped it because I was the only person they knew on it.

A phone is about as social a tool as you can get, so shares the same problems. If you could convince all your friends to get one of these, it’d be fantastic. Unlimited free calls between you all. Unlimited free threaded IM-style text message between you all. A contact list that shows the status for all your friends – see who is available at a glance. For £10 a month (I think that was the minimum top-up on the prepay version of the skypephone), with a big enough group of people, that could be truly fantastic. But without it… it’s kinda less fun. In the same way as twittering by yourself feels a little pointless, having a skypephone with no skype buddies to call does spoil the fun a little.

It’s not fair – but it’s not enough for something new to just be an impressive service. I preferred the features of Pownce, but I don’t use it. In the same way, when my trial with these phones ends in a few months, whether or not I buy one will hinge almost entirely on whether my skype buddy list has grown by then.

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One Response to “skypephone… after a few days”

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