Netgear SPH101 Skype WLAN Phone

by Volker Weber

On hour ago, the Netgear Skype phone finally arrived. It feels like I have been waiting for it a hundred days or so. Well, I actually did, because it was supposed to ship mid year. This is what you get: the phone, a charger and 30 minutes of SkypeOut. At 220 Euros, that is not a steal.

Paying for the phone is only a short pain, but the gain is quite rewarding. First thing you notice is that this looks pretty much like a SonyEricsson 810. It is a little bit thicker, but it feels rather nice when you hold it in your hand. They keyboard works well, and you will notice that it charges over a mini-USB plug. I connected it to my Mac and it started charging right away. Disclaimer: I have USB drivers for the Pearl installed, so it may or may not work out of the box. Here is a little side-by-side comparison with a Treo 750v and a BlackBerry Pearl:

Treo 750v, Netgear SPH101, BlackBerry 8100 Pearl

Installation was a breeze. When you switch it on, the phone looks for open networks. If it does not find any it asks you which encrypted network it should join. I entered my WPA key, and I was connected. Next step is to log into Skype. Enter user and password and it logs in. It will also download your contacts, and then you are ready to go.

Or so you think. Although the contacts show up immediately, it did not want to place a call, but was asking me to wait a few minutes until it downloaded all contacts. I have no idea what is going on, but there seems to be a substantial delay after login, where the phone is unable to place a call. If all else fails, read the manual. This happens only, if (a) the phone has been reset or (b) you have logged in as a different users.

My first call was with Ben for 15 minutes. Sound quality was identical if not better to a normal phone, but Ben was using a headset. It will be less ideal if the other person is just "talking to the computer". It feels much more natural if you hold a normal phone than if you are talking through your computers. The headsets gets a little bit warm, much like a mobile phone during conversation though.

The bad news is that I just had a crash when I pressed the left softkey to open the menu to check the call time with Ben. The screen went blank and the phone rebooted. It rejoined the WLAN, logged in automatically and played the loud Swooosh sound. Need to find out how to turn this off.

What you don't see in the pictures above is that the phone is quite chunky. I have another photo which shows all three of them from a side angle — yes I know, only the Netgear is in focus :-):

Treo 750v, Netgear SPH101, BlackBerry 8100 Pearl

Stay tuned. I will have more things to say about this gem.

Comments

"Paying for the phone is only a short pain"

You did not, did you? ;-)

Ragnar Schierholz, 2006-10-19

No, I did not. But it isn't mine.

Volker Weber, 2006-10-19

To clarify, I was talking through the microphone of my StinkPad, with some Apple earphones to avoid echo / loopback. The call quality was good from my end, although more “phone-like”, i.e. tinny, than when I’ve spoke to vowe before (when presumably he is using his Mac’s mic?)

Seems like a handy device, although I wonder how the business will pan out for vendors of such devices: it’s quite a lot of money for something that relies on a broadband network—if you have such a network chances are you already have the means to make Skype calls!

Ben Poole, 2006-10-19

Very good points. I have pondered this question for a while and I think this is targeted (for now) to the "leave at home" use case. You leave that phone at home when you travel. Then you can connect your PC through any network and call your loved ones without paying outrageous roaming charges on your mobile. I have always had the difficulty that I was well connected but could one reach out via POTS.

You will have a hard time travelling with the device, since you will need to find a WLAN, either open or with known encryption, which does not require a login. The phone does not have a browser, so you cannot login to Hotspots from T-Mobile/Vodafone or even Fonera.

Lotusphere does have an open WLAN, as many other conferences.

Volker Weber, 2006-10-19

I am just curious

what is the best Wifi device with thumb keyboard????

pierre

pierre kerchner, 2006-10-19

Volker, the "leave at home" use case might make sense somehow. But how is it better than other means to place/take Skype calls which you have at home already with way cheaper equipment. I would rather say, it's the telephone like feeling which is an advantage. I've used the Skype DualPhone for a while now at work and I do think it feels a lot better with a real handset. But is that worth €200+? If I'd have to pay if out of my own pockets, I'd say no, it is not.

Ragnar Schierholz, 2006-10-19

It seems to me the real advantage of this phone is to allow you to make Skype calls without a computer. It allows you to use Skype like your normal telephone service.

Belkin is apparently coming out with a similar phone, it actually looks nearly identical, but in black. And its significantly cheaper.

Cheers,
Josh

Josh Estelle, 2006-10-20

I have also this SkypePhone device, which is really really cool! I love this device. IMHO this should be included in the BlackBerry. ;-)

cheers marco

marco foellmer, 2006-10-20

the real advantage of this phone is to allow you to make Skype calls without a computer

Of course, Josh. I thought this was a given.

Volker Weber, 2006-10-20

Belkin is apparently coming out with a similar phone, it actually looks nearly identical, but in black. And its significantly cheaper.

I did a little research on that. What I hear is that there will actually be two almost identical devices from Belkin and SMC. One is black, the other one white. They have a different screen and no speaker phone. Rumor has it that they are being built by the company who made the first batch of Netgear phones. The one that they would not let me have. :-)

Volker Weber, 2006-10-20

Hallo Volker,

sind bei dir die Advanced Settings für den Proxy und Skype Ports auch ausgegraut?

Meins kommt nicht raus. (Wahrscheinlich wg. dem Proxy, obwohl Skype vom Mac rausgeht)

Yves

Yves Luther, 2006-10-20

Yes, those settings are not available on my phone either. The proxy is mentioned in this otherwise pretty useless knowledge base article but I cannot select either setting.

Volker Weber, 2006-10-20

Thanx

Yves Luther, 2006-10-20

I have been thinking exactly on the "leave at home" feature, as I expect the WAF to be quite high when it is not required to fiddle around with a PC. It´s no issue for me to use the PC while on the road, but my family may have a challenge with that. However, the price tag is not yet compelling. Let´s see what happens when a) competition increases and b) Rev. 2 is out.

Armin Auth, 2006-10-20

See www.fon.com. I think these two; WLAN phone and a free to use WLAN service are quite a fascinating combination.

No need to pay for IP calls anymore assuming that there is a FON access point available :)

Tero Ahola, 2006-12-01

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