Skype Android app review

An official Skype Android app has been a long time coming, but starting today, you can finally start making all those free calls home from the hotel WiFi with your Google handset of choice. An exclusive to US network Verizon for sometime, it’s now hitting the Android Market for all and sundry today, but we’ve been testing it out over the last week ahead of release to find out what it’s like. Is Android’s open platform the perfect vehicle for tight Skype integration, or is this the same as every other port so far? Read on and find out in our full Skype Android app review.

We’ve been able to try out the full Skype Android app over the last few days on an Android 2.1 Motorola Milestone here in the UK, and you’ll be pleased to know that it works pretty seamlessly. However, Android really seems like the platform Skype should have used to go to town, free from the petty and arbitrary stipulations of say, Apple, and show just how great mobile VoIP can be.

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To the pros first. Set up is really quite simple: log in once, and up pop your Skype contacts, ready for you to call. You can also hunt out who in your Google contacts is connected to Skype and have their usernames drop right in too.

Visually, it looks just like Skype, with the bright background and clunky but perfectly functional answer/reject buttons and so forth, and the UI makes clear sense. You’ll find four tabs on the top of the Skype Android app: contacts, calls, My Info and events (You can add credit from My Info), and a long press of a contact brings up options for Call Skype, Call Mobile, Chat, Show Profile and Add To Favourites.

Skype text chat works flawlessly, with new messages appearing in the notification bar, though there’s no video chat, and the Skype app isn’t a deadly battery drainer: it ran in the background of our Motorola Milestone without any visible detriment to battery life, springing back to life to receive incoming Skype calls.

Over WiFi, the call quality on the Skype Android app is nothing short of phenomenal, and certainly vastly superior to ol’ fashioned GSM calls. Talking to people on Skype laptops was a joy, though of course helped by the Motorola Milestone’s impressive speaker.

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But (here come the cons) things still go horribly wrong in the way only Skype calls can when reception is less than stellar. Calls made over 3G were passable, but more worrying is the ability to make and receive calls in areas of just GPRS reception. Our call recipients all reported us sounding like we were underwater, trying to do an impression of an Oxide and Neutrino record, and conversations were completely impossible. As much controversy as there was around Skype for iPhone originally only running over WiFi, there’s something to be said for Skype blocking calls in 2G areas at least: it’s futile even trying.

This we’re pretty much used to over Skype on mobiles, but more disappointing are the bugs and slight lack of ambition Skype has shown with the Skype Android app. The company’s overlooked a few glaring bugs in the Skype Android app, including a glitch which doesn’t let you trigger an email for a forgotten password from the app itself, despite there being an option to – because the Android browser isn’t supported. Whoops.

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And more disappointingly, the Skype Android app doesn’t weave itself into the fabric of Android like we hoped. You can’t place a Skype contact on your Android desktop, and Skype calls don’t appear in the native Android call log. And while you can call out to a mobile number from the Skype app, we’d love to be able to call out to a Skype contact from a regular contact too.

Skype says contact syncing support is included, and as you can see from these screenshots, the option does indeed appear in the Android settings: however, we found that logging in led to a screen with Skype’s logo and nothing more, where it hangs, and nothing happens. Skype says it’s considering adding a “Loading” warning to the screen, and it certainly should, though we’re not convinced that that was indeed the problem: we left it for a long time, and still saw nothing change.

Ultimately, the Skype Android app delivers the experience you’d expect, on another platform. For making international calls, it’s a no brainer, but we do think that the app needs a few bug tweaks. Hopefully Skype should deliver them promptly, then begin tighter integration with the Android dialler. We’re waiting patiently for someone to come along and remove phone numbers – rather than names – from our phonebook altogether, but judging from this, that day is still a long way off. Care to step in, Facebook?

The Skype Android app is available free on the market today for Android 2.1 phones and above – however, we have not yet confirmed if QVGA support is provided. Let us know in the comments if you’re seeing it.

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