Posted by Michael Li on 10. Jul 2009
You wouldn't believe how many times I hear the words, "哎呀, 用Skype多方便啊!" at work everyday.
Believe it or not, Skype ain't hype.
I myself have been a Skype user for about three years now, and this online calling service has become an integral part of my daily routine. Next to Old Spice and my G1, it's something that I use not only for getting through work, but also as a way to stay in touch with family and friends back home - dog included.
For some reason, fellow Beijingers here always like to pronounce it "Sky-pee," making it sound like the ice-cold beverage of various colors rather than an app that lets you to talk to anyone in the world (assuming they also have a Sky-pee account and mic)...all for free!
But that doesn't mean there aren't other choices out there for making online video calls, because competition is starting to heat up in this market.
Logitech recently announced their newest tech: the Logitech Vid.
Logitech touts the Vid as letting you make online video calls without requiring a third-party software download or having to come up with a screen name. Since Vid is designed to work exclusively with its own line of super-über webcams, it's a tech that's sure to raise some eyebrows for the masses of webcam users out there.
It's interesting to point out that Logitech frequently displays Skype branding on packaging for its line of headsets. I wonder if that'll continue now that they've got their own tech.
And just how good is it?
Already available back in the States, it's rumored to make a public launch into China late this month. When that time comes, I promise to take all of us through an in-depth review of Vid and give you my take on whether it's worth grabbing or not.
For now, check out Logitech's official press release on the Vid.
Then there is Google, of course, ready to pounce the market any day now with yet another app in its quest for global e-domination. Hey, if you've got billions and billions of dollars, you'd come out with an app for every thinkable and unthinkable use, right?
At this point, there's no news on when Google Voice will be ready to go public (it's currently only available through invite only), but I do hope it'll give Skype and Vid a good challenge.
For a sneak peek at Google Voice, Google's official overview is worth a look.
Since there's still about a month to go on Vid and since I've got five more long hours to kill on the CRT to Qingdao, I now give you my bottom line on Skype and why I think it's the best thing out there (at least for now) for making online video calls, and much, much more.
Skype: It's easy-to-use, loaded on functions, and works for iPhone and iPod Touch, too.
Setting up Skype on your computer is as easy as making 西红柿炒鸡蛋。Just go on the website, register and download.
Making a call is a no-brainer; once you've added a contact onto your friends list, just click the little green button with the phone icon to call someone.
Selecting the "Enable Skype Video" checkbox in Preferences will activate your webcam, giving you instant video on your calls. Calls are crisp, clear, and best of all, free. However, if you or the person whom you are calling happens to have a spotty connection, you might run into occasional disconnects and/or screen lag.
You can also start chatting it up with someone with your keyboard, just like any other instant messaging software out there. Skype, however, does gives you some flexibility with customizing your Skype ID: you can change your icon to one of Skype's many pre-made Skype icons (or use your own picture), or write random thoughts and ideas that appear next to your name for friends to see.
Besides being able to make calls and send IMs, Skype also has some other cool features, though they do come up with a price tag. You can subscribe to their short list of monthly calling plans, one of which lets you make unlimited calls to landlines and some mobile phones in up to 40 countries. I personally dish out the $12.95/month for this Unlimited World plan.
You might even think about getting an online Skype number.
Say you're from Alaska, and you decide that you want a number with an Alaska area code that you can carry with you wherever you go. With an online number, you can have your friends and co-workers from back home dial that number to reach you directly on Skype. I use it as a convenient way for others to reach me "locally in Atlanta" even though as we all know, I'm actually in Beijing.
Skype's interface tends to lean on the user-friendly side. A recent update gives a completely new look and feel for both Windows and Mac.
One gripe I do want to point out is how easy it can be for you to accidentally make a call to someone when your intention was to send an IM. Because Skype sets the default action to make a call when you double click on a name on your friends list, it can sometimes lead to an embarrassing moment or two, especially if the person you just happened to "accidentally" call has their sound on and is sitting in the middle of a board of directors meeting.
Oops. (By the way, you can change this action under Preferences.)
Overall, Skype ends up being an easy, convenient way to stay in touch with others wherever you are in the world. All you need is a computer (or iPhone/iPod Touch for a slightly vamped down version), an Internet connection, mic, and webcam (if you plan on making video calls) and you're G2G.
Check out all of Skype's other gadgets on their online store here.
Well, it's time for a quick nap. Stay tuned for live coverage from the 2009 SINOCES, the four-day technology trade show featuring over 500 global companies showcasing their latest innovative gizmos.
About the Writer
Michael Li is an American expat living in Chaoyang. A professional in the international logistics industry, Michael enjoys writing on the latest technology trends and gadgets from both the US and China. A native of Tianjin, Michael has lived in the US for over 20 years and speaks fluent English and Chinese. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, tennis and paintball. Michael holds a BBA in Marketing Management from Mercer University.
Emails are welcome. Michael can be reached at mike AT atlanta2china DOT com
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