TO SKYPE OR NOT TO SKYPE

Skype is the free phone call software. All right: It’s sometimes free, sometimes just real cheap. The point is, more people would probably use it if they could also use their regular phone, just like old times.

Viola, as we say in fractured French. Netgear has come out with a cordless phone that works both ways. It’s called the SPH200D Cordless Phone with Cordless phone with SkypeSkype (where do they come up with these catchy names?), and it was voted Best of Show at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It was voted Best of Show because unlike many products at computer shows, this one actually works.

The phone’s base station has to be connected to a regular phone line (for regular phone calls) and to the Internet (for making Skype calls). When you turn the phone on, a menu screen appears on the phone’s display, offering you the choice of making a regular phone call or a Skype call.

That is the really good part. Before, you had to have either one kind of phone or the other; now it’s just one phone.

The advantage of Skype calls, of course, is that they are free to any other phone that also uses Skype and is connected to the Internet. Calls to non-Skype phones anywhere in the world typically cost 2 or 3 cents a minute, or you can have unlimited service for $30 a year in the United States and Canada. Let’s face it: That’s cheap.

The Skype software itself is free. You can download it from Skype.com, or, in this case, it comes pre-loaded on the Netgear phone.

The downside of Skype calls is that you sometimes get poor connections. Of course, we have also had poor connections with our regular phone at times. On the whole, we thought our Skype calls to users on regular phones were the clearest we had ever experienced. In the past, there have always been echoes, static and other problems when we weren’t talking to fellow Skype users.

The phone lists for $200, but we found it for $130 after rebate at Amazon.com. You can get a lot more information about this phone and Skype use in general at www.Netgear.com.

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