With over 500 million user accounts worldwide, Skype is one of the most popular free Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) services around. Skype is probably most famous for its video chat service, but it also provides telephony (the paid Skype-out feature even allows you to call landline and cell phone numbers) and text-chat services. Until recently, Verizon stood out as the only carrier to allow Skype calls on its network. That has now changed--somewhat--with the introduction of the Skype app for Android 2.1 and above.
Skype for Android lets you text-chat and make Skype voice calls using a Wi-Fi connection. It cannot use your cellular data connection, though, and it cannot do video chat. Since most Android phones don't have a front-facing camera (the Sprint HTC EVO 4G and the Samsung Epic are notable exceptions), the lack of video chat is not surprising. Still, it would be nice to see this feature available for phones that can take advantage of it.
Using the app is fairly straightforward. To begin, log in or create a Skype account if you don't already have one. Skype deserves credit for making it possible to create an account with the app. You can upload a profile photo and add details to your user profile right from the phone.
If you are already a Skype user, you can choose to integrate your Skype Contacts with your Android Contacts--a huge time-saver.
Making calls is straightforward: Just select or type in a contact, push the "Call" button, and the call begins. In my tests, the call sound quality was adequate but not stellar. Conversation was intelligible, but often accompanied by static or a very slight delay. None of these defects were significant enough to hinder conversation, though.
While in a call, you can mute the microphone or even pause the connection. A speakerphone option is also available, but it was not loud enough to be useful in a noisy environment. The speakerphone setting also seemed to be vulnerable to feedback. This feature needs some work.
When receiving calls, you see the caller ID along with your caller's profile picture. You can also add the caller to your Contacts.
Text chatting works just like most instant messaging services. You can connect to several people at once in the same chat. However, you cannot send photos or files, which is disappointing.
Skype-to-Skype calls are free, but you can also purchase Skype Credit to make calls to landline and cell phone numbers. Charges are by the minute, and vary according to the country you are calling. You can purchase additional Skype Credit within the app.
Skype for Android is a useful way to make free VoIP calls without burning your cell phone minutes. While some heavy Skype users may be displeased that it only works over Wi-Fi, most people will probably be happy to have an alternative way to make calls when indoor cellular reception is poor. If and when this app is updated to include video calling, it will become a five-star app.
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