Belkin Skype Wi-Fi Phone – disappointing results

I recently acquired one of Belkin’s new Skype Wi-Fi handsets and had an opportunity to conduct some testing. Overall, I am not happy with the results and have compiled a list of issues that I have identified.

  • many times there was either a time lag following depression of keys on the handset, and the phone recognizing that the key was pushed or the key was ignored and had to be pressed again
  • after a call is connected using SkypeOut, if any DTMF touchtones need to be sent, not all are properly sent. Although I could hear verification tones and can confirm that they key was recognized, the systems at the receiving end (and I tried a couple) missed about 30% of the keys. This makes it almost impossible to use voicemail systems or conferencing systemswhich require a user to input a PIN after they are connected. It also made it next to impossible to properly use any touchtone response system (such as systems that allow redirection of calls to specific extensions). Its unfortunate that there are no settings to tinker with the DTMF functionality – it could be that the tones are too short in duration, but that’s just my speculation.
  • while the phone connected well with wifi access points, an ability to define a connection to an “ad hoc” wifi network was greyed out. This should not be an issue for most users. It was for me because I was trying to use my laptop as a relay (so it could authenticate through a T-Mobile access point at Starbucks and then provide access to the handset)
  • sometimes the display would shut off after the specified timeout but would then immediately turn back on – draining the battery life. This did not happen all of the time but did happen often.
  • if there are multiple access points within range with the same SSID, it is not possible to select a specific AP
  • I am getting mixed results with sound quality on SkypeOut. Most of the time, the quality appeared to be equivalent to a cell phone. I suspect that a Skype-to-Skype call would provide superior results. When using SkypeOut, callers at the other end also appeared to be having a problem with echo (hearing their own voice). According to a review I located, the Netgear SPH101 does not have this same problem (and also has a speakerphone option).
  • the phone appears to have a feature that would allow it to update itself over the air but the feature did not appear to work. It also said that the phone was up-to-date even though Belkin had a firmware update posted on their site.
  • although common to all of the various Skype wifi handsets out there, the Belkin unit also does not contain a browser and therefore cannot be used with any access point that requires authentication or which requires users to acknowledge their agreement to the provider’s terms of use

    I found a firmware update on Belkin’s site and applied it, hoping it would solve at least some of these problems. Unfortunately, it did not. There was not any documentation on Belkin’s site to explain what the update was intended to address but from what I can tell, it appears to have only added support for accessing the Boingo network (which cut a special deal with Belkin for a reduce monthly fee). So I’m disappointed that Belkin choose to issue an update that adds support for Boingo (there’s probably a financial incentive for them) but did not fix the other outstanding problems. Of all of the problems, I think the echo and the DTMF problems are the most serious.

    Postscript: Another design issue concerns a feature that can automatically search for and connect to open networks. Great idea but the implementation needs work. While it does what it claims, it appears to lock on to an access point once it finds an unencrypted access point. What it should ideally do is test the connection to see if it can connect to the Skype server, and if not, disconnect and/or resume the scanning. The issue is that it may find an open access point that nevertheless requires a user to authenticate or to accept a terms of use. In other words, an access point that blocks internet access until the user does something on a redirection page. Another problem is that once it goes into the search for open access point mode, it does not actually reconnect to a preferred network even when it is returned to the coverage area of such a network. So, if your home network is set up as a preferred WEP encrypted network, and you roam around the city, it will not automatically reconnect when you return home.

    Postscript 2: During a call in the second day of testing, the phone shut off by itself in the middle of a call. The battery level was not low and I was able to restart it without problem. Hopefully, this is not something that will reoccur often.