November 20, 2012
The newest version of Skype for Android comes closer than ever to the desktop version, both in features and audio quality.
More evidence of Microsoft's integration with Skype is showing up with each revision of the program. Now when you set up Skype for Android, you can sign in with either an existing Skype account, or a Microsoft account -- the latter of which can be used to also merge in any contacts from Microsoft Messenger. This is the same account you use to log into Windows 8, so expect Microsoft to ask you for this account a lot in the future. On the same subject, Microsoft has announced that Messenger has been end-of-lifed and that Skype will be the future consumer solution for text chat.
Users of the desktop edition of Skype shouldn't have trouble navigating or using the Android edition. Obviously the interface has been simplified a great deal, but all the important stuff -- your contact list, the recent call list, the phone dialer, and your profile -- are all quickly accessible from the home screen. Skype also keeps a status icon in the system tray whenever you're signed in.
The audio quality of Skype calls, at its best, is better than anything I've been able to get from a cell phone or a land line, thanks to Skype's proprietary SILK audio codec. Those who have used Skype on a good connection and have heard how much better it is than the tinny, compressed quality of a phone call will know what I'm talking about. Obviously the quality is determined in great part by the connection speed and the hardware in use on either end, but my connections to other users all sounded excellent, with only minimal glitches (probably due more to overzealous noise cancellation than connection issues).
Video calling didn't work as well. The picture quality was meager to begin with, and will also vary widely depending on the connection and the camera hardware. My test phone, the Motorola Droid Razr M, was able to use both front- and back-facing cameras without a hitch. One minor issue, which Skype's engineers are looking into, was the way Skype couldn't access the speaker on that particular model of phone; it would only route audio over the headset or earpiece. This might be a problem specific to this phone.
Another thing to be careful of is battery consumption. Depending on the device and the network connection type, you might see Skype eating into your battery life fairly quickly -- another reason why it doesn't always work as a substitute for regular voice calling.
Aside from the usual text-chat functions, Skype for Android also lets you send and receive files, with no restrictions on file type or size. The whole process works about the same as with the desktop app, so again there are few surprises. The only exception might be if you receive a type of file you don't have a handler for on your Android device.
One major missing feature is group video chat. Talking with up to 10 people at once with live video connections is only available in the desktop version of Skype, and requires at least one paid Skype user on the call. That said, the amount of processing power needed for group calls means this function isn't likely to show up in any mobile version of the program for a while, at least not until the hardware becomes powerful enough to support it. Another widely-cited missing feature is support for portrait-mode orientation on tablets, although it works fine on the phone I tested with.
Skype for Android 3.0 requires a device with at least Android 2.1, 27 MB of free memory, and 800 MHz or better processing power. Video calls require Android 2.2 or better, and of course a device with a camera. It doesn't have to be a front-facing camera, although obviously that helps.
Name: Skype for Android 3.0
The latest version of Skype for Android improves voice quality and adds new tablet-specific features, but requires the latest hardware and Android platform for the best results.
Price: Free. (Certain Skype services are for-pay.)
Excellent audio quality.
Also supports text chat and file transfers.
Mediocre picture quality.
No support for group video chat.
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