Skype recently announced the availability of a beta version of their latest application - their well-known Skype client for regular feature phones - no need for Wi-Fi, no need for smartphones - just plain old Java (J2ME). That announcement made us cheer - at least for a moment that is - then we went on and read the fine print.
Using Skype for chats
The new Java Skype client currently officially supports phones by four major manufacturers. If your phone is not in the supported list, there's no bad in trying out the application anyways - like we did. We downloaded the version for Nokia 6233 and installed it on a Nokia 6500 classic we had lying around (the only feature phone around the office really).
The new Skype client ran just fine - no glitches or lags whatsoever. It logged in to our test Skype account pretty fast - both on a 2G network and on a 3G one. Texting was flawless either - at least as much the 6500c keypad allowed it to be. Nice graphics and nice font rendering - it feels as natural as using the desktop version. The only bug we found here is changing the current status - it sometimes needed to be set twice in order to kick in.
We enjoyed having a text conversation over the desk and that's about it. Our hands itched for something more - after all Skype is meant to be used for calls as easily as texting is.
Using Skype for calls
Currently calls can be made only if you live in one of the supported countries - Brazil, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Poland, Sweden and UK. There's a specific reason for that, but more on that will be found in the next paragraph. You can of course enter a fake mobile number and fool Skype into thinking you are in the UK for example - without that the Call feature is not accessible.
Making VoIP calls over the underpowered feature phone hardware may seem a mystery at first. But when you go on and read the fine print on Skype's website it turns out it that calls are not made over the data connection established by the Java client as it's usual for VoIP calls. Instead the client prompts you to dial a local transfer number (gateway) based on your number you have entered (now you see why there is a list of supported countries).
The so-called VoIP calls are actually made through a dedicated Skype gateway set up in your home country specifically for that purpose. It seems fair enough if you can get that number in your special pricing group - otherwise you would have to pay for both the gateway call AND the data traffic AND SkypeOut credits (SkypeOut is charged for incoming calls too).
While it may sound like a rough deal, you can always choose not to opt for the call feature - the Java application still remains a great portable text messenger and you only have to pay for the data traffic (if you are not on a fixed-rate data plan that is).
You can download Skype from the official website.