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Netgear's Wi-Fi Skype Phone: Closer, but no cigar

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Introduction

At a Glance
Product Netgear Skype Wi-Fi Phone (SPH101)
Summary Self-contained Skype phone that connects via 802.11b/g WLAN
Pros • Doesn't need a computer running Skype
• Better, but inconsistent battery life than SMC/Accton phone
• Intuitive, attractive interface
• Good wireless range
• Buggy speakerphone
Cons • No Skype text chat
• No browser-based authentication
• Buggy speakerphone

Netgear SPH101 Wi-Fi Skype Phone

While Netgear was the first to announce its Wi-Fi Skype phone with much hoopla at this January's Consumer Electronics Show, it wasn't able to get me a phone for test until after SMC's phone had been and gone [reviewed here]. So since the products are so similar, this review is going to concentrate primarily on the differences between the products.

After spending a week or so with light use of the phone, my bottom line is that while the SPH101 comes across as a bit more mature in implementation, it doesn't provide a totally trouble-free Wi-Fi Skype phone experience.

At first glance, the SPH101 looks like a virtual clone of the Accton design (or vice-versa). But upon closer inspection, there are a few subtle and one major difference. Figure 1 shows that the phone is also a "candy-bar" design of virtually the same size, shape and color as the Accton design. Minor differences are that the headphone connector is on the side vs. the bottom of the phone and the separate On/Off button on the top of the phone instead of using the "Hang Up" key to serve double duty.

SPH101 Controls

Figure 1: SHP101 Controls

The big difference is that the SPH101 has the speaker phone option that seems oddly missing from the Accton design. But as you'll see shortly, the speakerphone implementation results in a less-than-satisfactory user experience.

The keypad design uses a black character with greenish backlight scheme that is clearly visible under both lighted and dark conditions. But I found myself still needing to dial carefully so that my thumb didn't slip off the smooth, slightly-domed keys. The Scroll key is a 4-way joystick with push-to-select for moving around the various menus that thankfully has the hold-to-scroll feature missing from the Accton phone.

Hinged soft-plastic plugs cover the USB/Power Charge Port and Headset Jack The jack is supposed to accept any single-plug earphone / mic, but I had to futz with the one I tried, pulling it out slightly from its fully-engaged position. Unlike SMC, Netgear doesn't throw in even a cheapo earpiece / mic.

Netgear also doesn't include a USB cable for charging the phone and its charger, while small, accepts only 100-120 VAC. The cover on the USB port feels like it will tear right off, probably because of the very thin "hinge" section of the flap. The phone has two contacts on the bottom sides for mating to an as yet nonexistent charging cradle. Finally, you won't find a protective case in the attractive, petite product box either.




Related Items:

Belkin's Wi-Fi Phone for Skype Breaks Out of the Pack
Belkin adds desktop Skype phone
Linksys Prepping Wi-Fi Skype Phone?
Netgear intros standalone Skype / PSTN DECT phone
First Test: SMC's WiFi Skype Phone

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