SMC WSKP100 review

I received my SMC WSKP100 WiFi Skype phone earlier this week, and I’ve had a chance to play around with it for a bit. Basically, it works as advertised, minus the battery life.

The package
After opening the package, the first I noticed was a big fat warning at the battery cover that the battery needs to be charged at least 8 hours before use. That’s the first time I’ve seen such a warning, but ok. I left it to charge overnight. While the phone was charging I ruffled though the box. It contains:

  • The phone (duh!)
  • A battery (3.7v, 1200mAh, NP60)
  • A charger
  • An USB cable
  • A headset (one of those earbud things, nothing fancy, but at least it’s there)
  • Three “quickstart guides”, one in english, one in german and one in french
  • A documentation CD with a single PDF on it…man, they might as well saved that $1 and just point to an URL
  • A voucher for 500 minutes of SkypeOut calls and a year worth of Skype voicemail

The phone
As can be seen from the picture, the phone is a reasonably sized device. It’s fairly thick with its about 20mm. To cell phone standards it’s fairly wide too, 50mm. And to top the numbers off, it’s 115mm high. Some have complained about these dimensions, but I personally don’t mind holding something solid. It doesn’t feel as flimsy as some of the GSM mobile phones I’ve held.

The keypad on the phone is one of its more outstanding features. It’s not a pad of those soft rubbery keys which you can only press if you have small fingers or sharpened nails. No, the keys are solid plastic, and when pressed they give a reassuring “click” to indicate they’re pressed. Call me oldfashioned, but I like that kind of feedback from a keypad. Of course the downside is that there’s likely dust to be found behind the keypad later in its life because there’s room between the keys for it to enter. Oh, and there’s a navigation joystick too,which seems to do its job well. Good feedback too.

The phone has an LCD display which is nice and bright. So bright I even configured it at its lowest setting, and it’s still quite bright. It’s not the largest display, but it does the job well. The Skype software on the device isn’t the most complicated or demanding in screen realestate, so it’s sufficient.

Initial configuration:
After charging, I turned the device on. I was greeted by a nice Skype logo, after which I got to choose the language to use. The only choice is English, so why it’s presented as a choice at all is beyond me. Maybe for future plans to offer localized firmware. Anyway, after the obligatory useless (because it doesn’t have any legal meaning in .nl) “Agreement” (which also mentions not being able to make emergency calls, etc, yadda, blah), the device starts to look for a wireless network. It found my access point pretty much right away (it’s in the same room), and connected to it. I run an unprotected wifi network (booh, bad!) so I don’t have to bother with keys and stuff. The last thing to do is to either create a new Skype account, or use an existing one. I opted for the latter, and after entering my Skype ID and password, I was good to go.

That’s basically all there was to it to start using Skype.

Addtional configuration
As I browsed through the pretty intuitive (if you’re used to mobile phones) menu structure, I’ve modified some settings here and there. First I set the clock to 24h display as opposed to the 12h one. Why people still use that terrible excuse for sane timekeeping is something I will never understand. I also don’t understand why everything (hardware/software) still defaults to that abomination. Secondly, I turned off beeps for “notification”, and changed the ringtune to the least idiotic one. But alas, there’s little choice, three tones and “silent”. And they’re not very good either. Oh well, it’ll do.

Usage
Basically, I bought this device to make cheap calls with Skype to regular landlines. I don’t use Skype at all on a regular basis. So the first thing I did was cash in the voucher for SkypeOut. This went painless (as opposed to buying credit, which apparently is a disaster if I’m to believe the users on the forum. After the credit was processed (which was quite quick), it appeared on the phone’s display too as “€8,40″. That kinda blows, as that means with the Skype pricing structure which is about to land on the Skype users it might mean I don’t actually have 500 minutes of free SkypeOut, but it suddenly depends on how much I’m charged for the connection fee. Oh well, still cheaper than calling from abroad with my mobile phone.

Anyway, the credit was processed and present, so I called out to my regular landline. I was quite disappointed by the quality of it all. Long delays and lots of loss of bits of the conversation. Then I realized I had a highspeed BitTorrent download going which basically drains all available bandwidth from my Chello Light subscription. So I stopped the BitTorrent client and tried again. This time the delay was quite tolerable, kind of the delay you get with calling abroad. And the quality was…, well, “crystal clear” describes it properly. I like it.

Little annoyances
Of course it’s not all happy songs and dance. There are little bits of annoyances too. First, even though I told the phone to STFU on notifications, it still beeps whenever connectivity is lost or established with the wireless network. That’s great to know, but not when I’m sleeping with the phone next to me. No idea how to turn that off. Second, and this has been mentioned on the forums and elsewhere…battery life. I know, (re)connecting to the wifi network takes power. I know, keeping communication going with Skype over that network constantly takes power. But…I mean, my LG KG320 cell phone manages to go 4 or 5 days on standby. This SMC doesn’t last two days (I don’t know how long for sure, it’s more than 24 hours, but less than 36, it ran out of juice when I was asleep). That’s a far cry from the 50 hours of standby and 3 hours of talk time which the manual claims. 1200mAh is a lot of capacity…what the hell is this phone doing which burns through it at that pace? Luckily this thing won’t spend much time away from desk, but if you think of taking it along on a long trip, be sure to calculate some charging time into the schedule.

Conclusion
It’s great sofar. Minor annoyances, but what doesn’t have those?

All it needs now is SIP support :)

Update1: Yay, first lockup of the phone. Cause: Unknown, as I didn’t do anything. Turning off and back on seems to have solved it.

Update2: For some reason the phone doesn’t synch time anymore. I guess it has something to do with the lockup from Update1. A user on the Skype hardware forum reports that this problem is solved by flashing the Belkin firmware. That sounds weird, but it turns out the Belkin Skype Phone is the same hardware…looks amazingly similar too :) I’ll update this evening and report back.

Update3: Well, I’ve upgraded the phone with the aforementioned Belkin firmware. It now lists “V1.1.0.10 R20″ as software version, as opposed to the previous “1.0.0.10″. The problem with the clock synch has been solved, as predicted, it’s now synched in a second or two. Second noticable thing: A “Boingo” entry in the menu which seems to allow me to log in to some hotspot network. Oh, and it starts up faster, too. Recommended update.

Update4: After the flash to the Belkin firmware there’s two things I noticed up to now: First, the phone has been on for about 32 hours, but the battery indicator still shows about 80% capacity. Either the indicator is wrong, or with the new firmware the power management has become lots better. The second thing I noticed that after being on for about 18 hours, all of a sudden the clock was 30 minutes ahead. And after 32 hours, 45 minutes. It seems the time synchronisation can mechanism could use some developer love.

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