Skype turns the Internet into your own personal telephone line
By Mark O'Neill
At a Glance
Easy to use
Cheap or free calls
Large user base
Call quality sometimes poor
Text messages sometimes slow to arrive
This familiar software app offers a cheap (often free) way to make telephone calls.
Skype is a free software app that for most people needs no introduction. It has been on the scene for nearly a decade and has transformed the telecommunications industry by offering a cheap way to make long distance phone calls.
Skype allows you to make telephone calls over the Internet. All you need is the app from the Skype website and a headset. If you want to make video calls, a webcam is also needed.
Installing Skype is a breeze so you shouldn’t be put off using it by the thought of any complicated setup and steep learning curve. It really is just a case of installing the program, creating your user account and you’re all set to go.
Calling other Skype users is free for as long as you want, wherever they are in the world, which is great if you have a child traveling the world or a spouse fighting with the armed forces.
The only time you have to pay is when you are calling someone who doesn’t use Skype, such as when you are calling a landline or a cell phone number. But even then, the rates are extremely cheap. With rates around roughly 1 cent a minute, it would be hard to get closer to free.
These low rates have driven many people to abandon their landlines in favor of using Skype. But you should be aware that call sound quality can vary at times, plus some countries do not allow calls to emergency services using Skype. So do your homework into these issues before ditching your landline.
As with any communication app of this kind, instant messaging comes as standard and is a pleasure to use. You can also send text messages (SMS) to cell phones (provided you have the necessary Skype credit) but sometimes these SMS messages are slightly delayed, so you should not rely on the service for any important time-sensitive messages.
With the new versions of Skype comes Facebook integration where you can view your Facebook News Feed in a separate window as well as being able to log into Facebook Chat. Another new feature is Skype Wi fi, which enables you to use your Skype credit to pay for wi fi hotspot access by downloading a smartphone app, logging into the provided hotspots, and paying for it with your Skype credit. You can also pin your most frequently used contacts to the top of your contact list for easy access.
For heavy users of the service, there is Skype Premium, or alternatively a subscription package where you can buy calling minutes to one pre-chosen country every month for a set price. Skype Premium on the other hand gives you group video chat and group screen sharing–-all for a price, of course.
But Premium allows you to buy a one-day temporary access so you can “try before you buy,” which is nice if you are hesitating to commit to any long-term financial arrangements.
This is one software app that everyone should have on their computer. It may have its small downsides, but it more than makes up for them in other areas.
Note: The “Try it for free” button on the Product Information page takes you to the vendor’s site, where you can download the latest version of the software.
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