Review Nothing in life is free - or is it? With Skype's gratis voice-over-IP (VoIP) software taking the world by storm, Firebox.com, a UK-based gadgets site, has teamed up with the company and a small handset manufacturer to release the Firebox VoIP Cyberphone, writes Stuart Miles.
For those not in the know, Skype allows you to make phone calls over a broadband connection to other users for free. Think of instant messaging but with voice rather than the typed word. VoIP will also allow you to call 'real' telephones or mobiles at a fraction of the cost of dialling through the normal exchange. That's 'fraction' as in 1.2p per minute to a mobile in the US rather than the 13p that BT would charge you if you called from a landline.
Skype is nothing new, of course - Internet telephony apps have been around for years. What's prevented them from entering the mainstream is the lack of a phone-like handset. Who, after all, wants to sit around all day wired to a PC through a headset and looking like a dork. Enter the Firebox VoIP Cyberphone.
The handset is very basic, but when connected to a PC through the computer's USB port, it interacts nicely with the Skype software. If someone calls you, the phone will ring. Pick it up and it will launch the software, just as dialling the number on the phone controls the software on screen.
In tests the software installed easily. We managed to create a Skype account in seconds rather than minutes and, as with free email services, the only major problem was choosing a user name that hadn't already been taken.
Having set up an account, we started phoning friends around the world, and our €10 voucher bought from the Skype website seemed to last forever. Calls were made to France, the US and Australia, and we still had credit. Even better is the fact that if you're only dialling other Skype account holders the service is free.
So what's the catch? Currently, the Cyberphone will not work with a Mac. Skype does, but the Cyberphone doesn't. It's just down to the lack of drivers, and we're rather disappointed. Other than that, you will have to start learning all those international dialling codes, including the UK's +44, as Skype, in an effort to be globally downloadable, doesn't ever acknowledge which area code you are calling from.
Grumbles aside, the phone is basic but good, the calls are cheap and Skype is certain to change the way we use the phone in the future, particularly once its starts appearing on Wi-Fi mobile phones and PDAs. For £30 you will soon make back the money that you would have spent on your BT phone bill and if you really must look like a call centre dork then the phone offers a headset socket input.
|Firebox VoIP Cyberphone|
|Pros||Cheap, if not free, phone calls.|
|More info||The Firebox Cyberphone site|
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