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Talking to someone on the phone anywhere in the world has never cost less since connections were rerouted over the Internet. The technology, called Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP calling, no longer requires a computer. Moreover, voice-only calling is being usurped by video. Leading the switchover is the Skype Videophone Touch from Asus, a model that comes with a $43 instant rebate through July 15.
One of the most popular applications developed for Internet telephony is Skype. Once you set up a free Skype account, calls to and from other Skype users are free. Additional amenities such as voice mail and the ability to call people with a conventional landline or mobile phone incur small fees. Phones discussed here are from Asus, Keysan and Belkin, and they all use Skype.
The Asus Skype Videophone Touch is the first touch-screen videophone for Skype that you use without a computer. Featuring a seven-inch (800 x 480 pixels) LCD touch screen, the Skype Videophone shows live video of the person conversing at the other end as well as an inset (screen's bottom right) of you—the picture seen by the other party. People on the other end can use a computer and webcam or another Skype Videophone. Calls to and from other Skype users are free, but fees apply when calling those on landlines or mobile phones. (The rates are still less than conventional calls.) Though there’s an Ethernet port on the back, you may not need to connect the included cable since the device embeds 802.11g Wi-Fi. You can use the Videophone Touch as a speakerphone or with an optional headset, such as the Sennheiser PC 161 Stereo Headset, for privacy and better audio quality.
There’s a rechargeable battery in the videophone, so as long as you’re in Wi-Fi range you’ll be able to use the phone without necessarily being tethered to an electrical outlet. Be aware, though, that the battery peters out after 20 minutes of talk time or 30 minutes of standby time; such are the demands of the screen and Wi-Fi. At least the battery is replaceable.
Potential Skype Videophone users include long-distance relatives reaching out to their children or grandchildren and associates of far-flung businesses who can benefit from staying in touch visually. To see a B&H-produced podcast of the Asus Skype Videophone Touch, click on the image below.
If you're not ready for your video close-up, Skype is also available as voice-only technology. The Keysan Cordless VoIP Phone for Skype (right) is a PC peripheral that affords you the freedom of a cordless phone by letting you roam up to 100 feet away from your Windows or Macintosh computer—free of wires. You plug the included USB base station into your computer and charge the handset’s three included Ni-HH AAA batteries using the USB charging cable. You can also use alkaline batteries. The phone can be deployed for both PC-to-PC and PC-to-phone calling. Calls are made through your computer’s broadband connection using Skype. You open and close Skype with a single button on the phone. The phone’s LCD screen indicates battery level and signal quality and shows you who‘s online.
While the Keysan model works like a cordless phone, the Belkin Desktop Internet Phone for Skype (below) is for someone especially in an office who prefers the constancy of an anchored tabletop speakerphone. Unlike the Keysan, it runs without a computer. As the illustration shows, the phone connects to your router by Ethernet cable or wirelessly by Wi-Fi. Calls are routed through your modem and out to the Internet. After your initial Skype login, the phone will continue to sign in automatically.
So, whether you’re phoning from home or the office or prefer voice or video calling, Skype phone choices await to help you cut the cord on conventional calls and telephone bills.