Night minutes. Weekend minutes. Data minutes. Mobile-to-mobile minutes. Roaming charges. Rounding off to the next minute. Service charges, usage charges, government fees, taxes. C'mon Verizcingusprintmobile — aren't there more ways to squeeze blood money out of my cell-phone usage?
Or, frag that mess and go with a portable Skype phone, like this one from Belkin. It looks just like your ordinary, average candybar cell phone. But instead of connecting you to your caller via an overpriced cell network, you make (almost) free calls via the Internet using Skype VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol, pronounced VOY'p) from any Wi-Fi hotspot, at home or on the road.
Boy, would it be a pleasure to report that this portable Skype phone is a viable option to Soulless Cell Company. But we can't. Crap. But at home, it's a lot more convenient than being wired to your PC to make and receive calls.
WHO WANTS THISYakkers who want to make "free" portable calls.
WHYCell-phone calls are expensive. Why pay more?
WHAT'S COOLJammin' it to your mobile provider.
WHAT'S LAMESounds like you're talking in a tunnel — when you can find and connect to a network.
FINAL MARK: CWould be great at home with better sound quality; lousy on the road.
PRICE: $180See Belkin's site for more on the Belkin Sykpe phone.
Joining a long list of notable nascent technology products such as the Kaypro 1 and the Apple Newton, this Skype phone is clearly a sign of one potential telecommunications future. Optimally, a phone like this would work best in the more than 100 cities with mesh networks already operating, such as Los Angeles and Hoboken, NJ, or being built around the country . But lacking that, using a portable Skype phone outside your home is analogous to driving a car cross-country in 1910. Because of the ad hoc nature of current Wi-Fi hotspots, you must first locate and connect to a local network before you can make a call, a laborious and often fruitless process that's hardly worth the time or the effort.
Not only does this phone look basic, it is. Physically, it's 4.5 x 2 x.75 inches, has a rubberized back for an easy grip, a tiny joystick on the front for menu navigation, a mini USB jack for charging, and a headphone minijack. All the keys are square but tiny and not backlit. Even though this phone is designed to connect to the Internet, there's no Web browser of any kind —s VoIP calls only, please. There's also no Bluetooth, no personal apps (calendar, alarm, etc.) that are found on all cell phones now, no camera, and only four ringtones to choose from, none of them very loud. Yep, just a Skype phone.
Once the signal bars appeared, I attempted several calls, with varying degrees of no success. I actually heard the phone at the other end ring on one attempt, then nothing. In other words, the phone had a powerful enough receiver to find dozens of distant networks, but not strong enough to hone in powerfully enough on the closest network to actually make a call. They could not hear me now.
Also fickle was the battery meter, which arbitrarily shifted between a third and two-thirds filled. But you'll want to leave the phone charging at home — you get only 3 hours of talk time and a mere 30 hours of standby.