Belkin Desktop Phone for Skype

Last year I purchased the SMC WiFi Phone for Skype and was extremely disappointed. Haunted by it would probably be a better phrase. A reader of this blog by the name of Wayne gifted the Belkin phone to me. Thankfully so, because I was still needing a phone to use with Skype since I use it as my main line. I was still struggling with the same problems I faced when I purchased the WiFi phone. That is, I was never able to quickly answer Skype when someone was calling.

I’ve had the phone for a couple of weeks now and have thoroughly tested it out. Fortunately, for the phone, I don’t feel like slamming it against the wall as I did with the SMC phone. With that said, it’s not perfect. However, it’s been a much more pleasurable experience than the SMC phone.

I think I’ll start this review off with reasons I like this model, problems I had with the phone and then we’ll get to my conclusion.

Reasons I like this model: When I was looking at this phone on the Skype Store, I really liked that it was a desktop form factor. I have saw others in the past but they didn’t have all the features that this phone has. I liked that you could plug it into the network with an ethernet cable. I thought the call quality would be much better because of this. Others that I have looked at require you to connect the phone to the computer via USB. I wanted something fully independent. There are times that I’m working on video and still want to be able to talk on Skype. I also liked the fact that it had a full color display and speaker phone.

  • Voicemail: I am really happy to report that voice mail works with this phone. That phone that I keep referring to, the one I hate so much, would never send a call to voice mail. This phone will send it to voice mail after four rings.
  • Speaker: Although I really don’t use the speaker that much it is nice to have. Sometimes I’ll use the speaker to listen to voice mails or to see if I’ll get a ring or busy signal to the person I’m calling.
  • Web Based Administration: The only thing you can do with the web based administration is upgrade the phone’s firmware. However, the geek in me thinks it’s really neat. For added security you’ll want to change the default password so others cannot gain access to the administration area.

One or the other! One of the biggest problems that I have faced while using the Belkin phone is that you can’t use Skype on the computer and the phone at the same time. Well, you can, but it causes a lot of problems.

  • Instance 1: I was using Skype on the computer to talk to someone and I had my web cam on. I was mentioning to them that I had got the phone and they wanted to see it. I unplugged the phone from the network (thinking it would be no big deal) and showed it to my friend on camera. I then plugged the phone back into the network and Skype on the computer completely crashed.
  • Instance 2: I was on a Skype call using the Belkin phone. I needed to grab a link that someone was trying to send to me in chat. So, I started Skype on the computer and the Belkin phone completely rebooted and updated it’s firmware.
  • Instance 3: I had been instant messaging with a friend and knew that they were going to call me. When I know I’m going to be on a call for a while I’d rather use Skype on the computer because it’s much more comfortable than holding the phone. When they called me I had answered the call on the computer but the Belkin phone continued to ring a few more times.

For the most part I’ve mostly been using Skype on the Belkin phone and not running Skype on the computer. This is annoying because when someone IM’s me I don’t know. Also, a lot of the people on my contact list don’t pay attention to the message that says “This user is using a version of Skype that does not support chat.” So a lot of them have been irritated with me for not responding, I apologize. Though, it does keep my computer from being overrun with more instant messages. 😉

Quiet calls. A couple of people have mentioned that when I am talking to them and pause, that there is no background noise. “Are you there?” tends to rear it’s ugly head several times during the conversation. Only a couple of people have mentioned this, though.

Call quality. The phone doesn’t have the absolute best call quality. Though, again, it’s definitely much better than the SMC phone. I have forwarded ports to the phone and it is directly connected to the DSL router (which has a firewall, if you were worried) to try and improve call quality. It’s not traditional telephone quality, it’s definitely not the quality you can get out of Skype on the computer, but, it’s not terrible.

Conclusion. I really like this phone. It works and operates as a phone should. Although I did have a few problems with this phone (as mentioned above), it’s a really great phone. I think it would make a great gift. Buy one, set up a Skype account, add yourself to the contact list and give it away. Just tell the recipient to plug and play.

I hope to see many software updates for this phone in the future. Hopefully, they’ll figure out a way to improve call quality. I would also like to see an addition to the embedded Skype software that makes it easy to silence the phone without going on “Do Not Disturb,” going through the settings and turning the ringer off or signing out of Skype on the phone. Signing back into Skype through the phone requires re-entering your password. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s possible to silence the phone and it’s pretty simple to do. It just requires more clicks than I think there should be.

Most importantly I would like to see an update that corrects the problem of using Skype on the computer and the phone at the same time.

In a future model of this phone I would like to see the ability to plug in a headset.

Would I recommend this phone? Most definitely. Like I said, it works as a phone should. If you’re looking for a desktop Skype phone, this is the one to get.

Belkin Desktop Phone for Skype

SMC WiFi Phone for Skype (WSKP100)

The Reason For Purchasing

A couple of years ago I had a no-contract cell phone and before then I had a pre-paid cell phone. I got rid of those in 2005. They were simply too expensive. Ever since then I’ve been using Skype, Gizmo or just using the house land-line to make telephone calls. I’ve recently started getting more calls on my SkypeIn number because that’s what I give to friends, clients, recruiters and potential employers. Lately though, I have not been able to get to the computer quick enough to answer Skype. The problem is I have to go to the computer, sometimes login (usually locked when I am away), un-mute the microphone in Windows volume control, un-mute the microphone on the headset cable, put the headset on and answer the call. Heaven forbid if I’ve been using a piece of software that change’s my Skype input/output devices because if that’s the case I have to change those, too!

So you see the problem! I needed to get something that I could answer very quickly. For a while I had been wanting to get a WiFi phone for Skype. The problem is that they were still really expensive. Most of them were between $150-200. I didn’t want to spend that much. I thought about getting one of the cordless dual-mode phones but the ones that were actually affordable required you to connect them to your computer. There are models that do not require you to connect them to your computer but they cost more than the WiFi phones. The problem for me is, if I’m still in bed and a potential employer calls I wouldn’t know it because I have been turning the computer off during the night because it’s really loud and of course, I’m in sleep land. Also, the idea solution was to get something that I could take with me if I were to go on a trip, interview, vacation (ha, ha, whatever) or somewhere that was out of the area and possibly had a WiFi Internet connection.

I got onto Skype’s website a couple of weeks ago and saw the SMC WiFi Phone for Skype for $99 which I thought was a great deal. Everywhere else has the exact same model for between $130-170. The Belkin model (which is exactly the same as the SMC model other than the color and branding, in my opinion) was more expensive. I pondered on purchasing the SMC model for about an hour and I went ahead and purchased it. I have been using the phone for a week now and although I have already wrote in length about why I purchased the phone, I have a lot more to say about the phone (features, likes, dislikes, etc).

Arrival, setup, included features

The phone was shipped quickly and arrived in packaging that reminds me of typical cell phone packaging. The box contained the SMC Skype WiFi Phone, earphone, power adapter, USB cable, battery and a CD containing the user manual (nothing else is on the CD), printed user manuals (in 3 languages). In the box there is also a gift of 120 SkypeOut minutes and 3 month’s free voicemail. I was pleased with this because with my SkypeIn number I get free voicemail. With the card I was able to extend my voicemail for 3 additional months and I had just extended it a few days prior to receiving the phone. So I won’t have to do that for 6 months which is very nice. Of course I also got the 120 SkypeOut minutes but for me I do not worry much with those as I paid for the entire year of Skype Unlimited. Regardless, it’s still very nice.

Before turning the phone on and setting it up it says to charge it for 8 full hours which is fairly a standard suggestion on almost all electronics. After the phone had been on charge for 3 hours it said that it was charged. I decided to keep my anxious fingers away from the phone for a few more hours and let it continue to charge for the full 8 hours even though it said it was charged. I’m not sure if the battery was charged partially from the factory or if there is a bug with the phone. More than likely it was charged partially from the factory.

Once the phone was charged setting it up was very easy although it did take me a couple of tries getting my password in. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out how to input upper case letters. The phone joined my wireless network without any issues and once I got the username and password into the phone it logged onto Skype without any issues. The phone said that it was downloading contacts for quite a long time. I turned the phone off after 30 minutes, turned it back on and my contacts were there. Other than getting my contacts to appear, set up was very simple.

What I dislike about the phone

The biggest complaint about the phone that I have is how it handles voicemails. The Skype website states: “Voicemail Support: With the purchase of Skype Voicemail, the SMC WiFi Phone will record a short voice message from the caller when your are away.” I assumed that the phone would work much like the Skype software. I assumed that if I did not answer the phone after a few rings the phone would send the caller to voicemail. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In my tests and when others have called me at no time does the call ever go to voicemail. If you let it ring long enough you will get a busy signal but no voicemail.

Although the phone interface is very easy to use, the actual buttons on the phone are very annoying. I find myself having to press the buttons harder than I should at times to make them work. Sometimes it seems as though there is a delay from the time you press the button until the action you desired happens.

The phone supposedly has the ability to update itself over WiFi. I have not been able to test this because the update that I installed when I got the phone enabled the feature and there have been no updates since I installed the latest firmware. When you first get this phone you will definitely want to update it. The phone I received had year old firmware installed. Unfortunately, if you do need to update the software you can only update it on Microsoft Windows with the included USB cable. I find this amusing considering the fact that the phone is running on an embedded Linux distribution.

The time on this phone is always incorrect. Every single time I go into the time settings and change them it will always go back one hour. No matter how many times I have updated the time on this phone it always goes back one hour. Speaking of time, whenever you hold the phone up to your ear you can hear a ticking sound. It sounds exactly like a ticking watch (and no, I do not wear a wristwatch!).

When you are holding the phone up to your ear, ticking is not the only noise you hear. If you are not in a call you can hear the phone making a continuous electronic noise. If you are listening to your voice messages and you have the phone to your ear you can hear the phone downloading each message one piece at a time onto the phone’s internal memory card.

I have made many calls to the Skype Lady (echo123) and whenever she starts speaking it’s really loud, then really quiet. Then when the bells dings for you to start or stop speaking they are really loud and can really hurt your ears. When I have made SkypeOut and calls to other Skype users it is really difficult to hear sometimes what the person is saying unless you hold the phone really close to your ear. Forget using the included earphone, it’s even worse.

The phone is awkward to hold. I really hate the back of the phone because when your run your fingers across it’s surface it sounds like sandpaper. Fortunately, it doesn’t feel like sandpaper! I wish the entire phone was as smooth as the front.

What I like about the phone

I know this is not the most important aspect of the phone but I am really pleased that it is running on a Linux distribution. I love Linux devices and love to see more and more products putting it to use.

I like the fact that this phone is upgradeable. I think that is extremely important in almost any device you purchase these days. I only hope that SMC will kick out some updates to make this phone even better.

I also love the fact that no PC is required in any aspect of setting up or using this phone (other than the initial update that I made). If I am to go on a vacation (unlikely) it will nice to be able to stay in touch using Skype.

Final thoughts and conclusion

Although the phone has it’s flaws I think the phone is a really great idea, especially for someone like me. My computer is really terrible at running Skype while it is running other applications. I normally have to close Skype if I am using Lightroom or Photoshop. For that alone it is worth it. It’s nice to be able to have a standalone device to be able to use as my phone.

It’s also a great concept for people who travel and need to stay in touch with their family, friends, etc. Skype is free for users calling each other and extremely affordable for calling out of the Skype network. When I am able to move into my own place I do plan on using Skype as my land-line alternative. I do plan on having something for emergency calls, though. Don’t forget that you cannot make emergency calls with this phone.

With all the above said I have hard time trying to decide whether I should keep the phone or smash it to pieces. The phone is useful to me in the fact that it does the primary task that I needed it for, that is to be able to answer it quickly when someone calls. However, the fact that it is very hard to hear, the people on the other end have a hard time hearing me and the problem with voice mail really makes me consider sending the phone back. I don’t want to send the phone back because I really love the concept. Regardless, I feel as though I paid for a device that in my opinion does not live up to my expectations.

Photos of the SMC WiFi Phone on Gizmodo
SMC WiFi Phone Homepage
SMC WiFi Phone Firmware Update Page
SMC WiFi Phone on Skype Store
My photos of the phone on Flickr

Article update: Thursday, September 11, 2008: I meant to update this article a long time ago but forgot to. I did send the phone back and received a refund. To my knowledge SMC has not updated the phone’s hardware. Skype has also jacked up the price of this phone from $99 when I bought it to $149. I would definitely stay away from this phone. It’s been almost a year now and I’m still bitter about this phone. I had such high hopes for it. Oh well, at least I got my money back.