I’ve found a new online toy. It’s called Skype, and you should check it out.
Skype is a free program that resembles MSN (or AOL or Yahoo) Messenger, but instead of a chat utility, it’s a Voice-Over-IP utility. It’s a familiar interface and very easy to use: Just build up a list of contacts, see when they’re online, then click their icon to start talking with them.
That, in itself, isn’t all that amazing – heck, Messenger has voice chat built in, right? Trust me, Skype excels in the details.
The best feature is called “SkypeOut,” which allows you to use Skype to dial out to any phone. To use it, though, you’ll need a credit card. The minimum purchase is 10 euros (~$12 US), but that goes a long way. Oksana’s been testing SkypeOut with calls to Russia and it’s coming in under 4 cents / minute (compared to about 21 cents / minute for a telephone calling card or a whopping $1.54 / minute for direct dialing!) What’s more, both she and her brother agreed that it was by far the best sounding, static-free, no-delay, international phone call they had ever heard. In fact, it was better that any local call they’d ever heard.
(Which isn’t too surprising, really. Telephones are notorious for their substandard audio quality, and even the lowest-quality computer microphone is likely to have a broader frequency range. Not to mention that VOIP compression technology has come a long way in recent years.)
Granted, there were a few problems with Oksana’s Skype-to-Russia test. The call was dropped twice, and she had to redial many times to get through again. I doubt that the trouble was on Skype’s end, though. These things happen consistently, even when she calls direct.
Another great aspect about Skype is that it’ll run on a Pocket PC. Imagine discovering a free wi-fi hotspot anywhere in the world – with Skype installed, you’ve got a free phone that will allow you to instantly talk to anyone on your contact list. With a few dollars in SkypeOut account, you could call them on the phone, too. No more worrying about whether or not your cell phone works in some foreign country; just find an internet connection!
Anyway, Skype has impressed me enough to install it on my laptop. Unfortunately, there’s no one on my contact list yet. If you think it might be something you want to play around with, grab it from Skype.com and add me as a contact! I’m “a_midgett”.