Skype appliances are coming to market thick and fast now. I recently tested the PHIP65 Dual Mode Cordless Phone Designed for Skype from Auvi Technologies LLC. It lets you make and take both Skype and landline calls. The PHIP65 is priced at $130. My experience with it was generally positive, though like many products being rushed to market to exploit the expected Skype boom, it's a little short of perfect.
The PHIP65's cordless phone functionality is based on the DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) standard developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). DECT operates in North America in the 19201930 MHz band, which is good because it means it's less likely to interfere with Wi-Fi networks than cordless sets using 2.4 or 5 GHz spectrum.
The product includes a candy bar handset with charging cradle, plus a DECT base station which can be used with up to four handsets. You can't make multiple calls to different numbers or Skype contacts simultaneously from different handsets, but there is an intercom feature that lets you call from handset to handset, and you can transfer calls from one handset to another. Additional handsets are priced at $80 each.
The base station is a little smaller than the smallest Wi-Fi access points. It has an RJ-11 jack for attaching the system to the PSTN (or a Vonage-style VoIP service) and an integrated USB cable that plugs into a PC running the Skype software. You need to install memory-resident Auvi software on the PC. This appears to be a factor in a slight slow-down in boot time on my test system.
I like the fact that the handset is powered by two standard AAA nickel metal hydride batteries. It means you can replace the supplied batteries inexpensively if they stop holding a charge. Auvi claims that fully charged batteries provide up to eight hours of talk time and 110 hours of standby time, which should be ample.
The handset is comfortable to hold and easy to use. Pressing the dedicated Skype key automatically connects the phone to the Skype client on the PC and retrieves your Skype contact list, which is displayed on the two-line monochrome LCD screen. This is an obvious strength of the design, but it could have been done better. The screen font is larger than it needs to be, which means most names are truncated by the edge of the screen. The letters are also quite pixilated, which makes it doubly difficult to read names at a glance.
The numeric keypad buttons and green Talk/Flash and red Off/Exit buttons are large and clearly marked. There are also good-size Menu and Redial/Mute buttons that double as soft keys when labels appear on the screen. A rocker switch in the center below the screen scrolls the cursor up and down the lists and menus, and also gives access (from the home screen) to the 50-name contact list and to the call record. (The phone list must be created on the handsetthere is no PC synchronization function. The call record saves 20 incoming and 10 outgoing calls. )
There are a couple of ways to make a Skype call. To call somebody on your contact list, press the Skype button, scroll down the list until the cursor is beside the person's name and press the green Talk button. You'll hear the usual Skype tone and then a ringing sound when the call goes through. The Skype client software and a call window will pop up on your PC screen at the same time.
You can make a SkypeOut call using the same technique if you have the person listed in your Skype contacts. To call any number using SkypeOut (which of course requires that you have SkypeOut credits purchased from Skype), enter the number, including country code, preceded by the plus sign (press and hold the zero key for a second), and then press the Skype key. Use the same technique for Skype speed dial calls. Enter the speed dial number, then press the Skype key.
Making a land line call is the same as with any portable phone: key in the number and press the green Talk button. Taking calls, whether Skype or landline, is also as with other portable phones: press the Talk button, say, 'Hello.' You can set up the phone to ring with different tones for incoming Skype and landline calls. There are 10 polyphonic tones from which to choose.
The PHIP65 offers a reasonable array of advanced features in addition to the already mentioned handset transfer and intercom functions. The handset has an integrated speaker phone (accessible by pressing a dedicated key on the keypad). The screen will display incoming call number (if you have caller ID service from your phone company)and name, if the number is in the phone's contact list. You can make three-way conference calls. And there's a clock and alarm function. You can plug the handset in anywhere within range of the base station. The typical outdoor handset-to-base-station range for DECT products is about 325 feet. We tested the handset at up to about 100 feet, through one exterior and one interior wall. There was no discernible degradation in connection or voice quality.
The PHIP65 is not a wideband phone. You won't get the better-than-regular-phone lushness of tone experienced with Skype calls made using wideband USB headsets attached to a computer, but the sound quality is generally good, certainly as good as or better than most cell phones.
Connection quality was also generally good in our testing. On one occasion I noticed some light static that may have been the result of interference (though on this frequency, from what?) Some people I called complained that my voice faded slightly or became "wobbly" at times. This almost certainly had more to do with Skype connectivity than DECT connectivity. On landline calls, those problems did not arise. And on both Skype and landline calls, the other person's voice almost always sounded clear and steady to me with good volume.
Bottom line: this is a great phone for home use and could even be used in multi-handset mode in small businesses. The handset user interface could do with a re-design for the reasons mentioned above, but its shortcomings are not fatal. And even if you only make occasional Skype calls now, the PHIP65 is a pretty good cordless phone for use on landlinesand it will work for Skype calls when you need it to.