Apple's iPhone 4 has arrived, and among the new features is FaceTime video calling. We went face to face with the new phone-o-vision feature.
Video calling has been around for donkey's yonks, but has never really taken off. The advent of VoIP and services such as Skype have made it more popular, but it's still far from mainstream.
Schedule some FaceTime
To make a FaceTime call, find the contact for the person you want to call and hit the FaceTime button. Your Wi-Fi needs to be on. It'll take a moment to connect to Wi-Fi, then your friend's face will fill your screen. The image you're sending to them also appears in an inset at the top of your display.
You can also switch a normal call to a FaceTime video chat at any time without hanging up: just move the phone away from your face so the menu appears, and tap the FaceTime icon.
FaceTime automatically puts the phone on speaker, or uses hands-free earphones if you've got them plugged in. Either party can turn the phone sideways to switch both phones to landscape orientation. You can mute the audio with an onscreen button, and pause the video too by pressing the home button to go to the home screen.
FaceTime is free time
The best part is that FaceTime is free. In fact, if you're on a normal call, burning through your minutes with the reckless abandon of a drunk toddler, switching to FaceTime means your call instantly becomes free.
Let me show you
The niftiest feature is the option to switch between the two cameras on the phone at the touch of a button. That means you can show the other person what you're looking at by simply switching to the front-facing camera. Handy if you want to show something, or simply want to spare your friend from looking up your hairy nose.
The biggest drawback is that FaceTime only works when calling another iPhone 4. If your social circle is stuffed full of hip young gunslingers all rockin' the latest tech, then you're laughing, but it's not much use if your mates have better things than a phone to spend a monkey on.
It also requires Wi-Fi, but as that means calls are free we don't see that as too much of a drawback. 3G FaceTime could be on the cards if Apple can work something out with the networks, but we can't see the providers being too keen on promoting a feature that cannibalises their voice calls business and puts more strain on their data infrastructure. Compatibility with Skype and other VoIP apps is also a possibility.
Face it: video calling is fun. Sure, FaceTime isn't revolutionary or even particularly useful. It's massively hamstrung by the restriction to calling other new-model iPhones, but then again it's also free. In our admittedly limited testing we didn't suffer from any dropped calls or glitches.
The option to flit between two cameras is neat, and we could see ourselves calling friends from a festival, party or holiday -- Wi-Fi permitting -- where they'd want to see what was going on rather than staring up our nose in uncomfortable close-up.
The video looks reasonable and is only a little choppy, but clearly isn't making the most of the high-resolution screen. FaceTime is limited, then, but good for a laugh.