If you were to glance at the Teco Skype Phone, you probably wouldn't think of it as unusual. It's a normal-looking telephone with a colour screen, buttons and a handset. The buttons are used for dialling numbers, and the handset is used for listening and speaking to. It's all frighteningly conventional.
What isn't conventional is that this phone uses your home network to place its calls, using Skype. That means you can pay for calls to landlines, mobile phones and other countries. It also means you get a phone number anyone can call you on. Basically, if you really wanted, this could replace your BT home phone. We should point out that Skype phones can't connect you to the emergency services though, which is important.
We were initially worried that entering letters and numbers on the keypad might be a pain. In fact, we didn't struggle with this at all -- it's certainly no worse than using a mobile phone to text people. We did get rather annoyed by the phone's menu system, which hides the 'change profile' option in the 'status' menu -- this really doesn't make much sense. Other than that though, it's pretty easy to use.
We do think there are a couple of missed opportunities here. For example, why not include standard phone functionality too, so you can use BT if it's cheaper for a particular call. We would also quite like to see a larger screen, and video calling. It's probably only because we grew up watching Tomorrow's World that we care about video calling, but they did promise.
The good news is that getting it working is a walk in the park. Even on our corporate network the phone was perfectly happy connecting to Skype's servers. Entering our username and password was easy enough too with the alphanumeric keypad. If you don't have a Skype account, the phone will guide you through the setup process. We warn you now though -- picking a unique username can be a challenge.
Although the phone is pretty easy to use, it does seem to inherit some of Skype's annoying qualities -- for example, the phone refused to accept our perfectly valid Skype contact. It only believed it was genuine when we called the phone from that account. Pricing for SkypeOut also strikes us as rather costly, considering most BT-to-BT calls are free these days. If only we weren't forced to have a BT line for broadband, the savings from line rental would pay for a decent amount of SkypeOut credit.
The Teco Skype phone is available via the Solwise Web site, or from other selected retailers, and costs about £85.