• Free Skype to Skype calls and video calls
• Instant messaging
• Low cost calls to mobiles and landlines
• Useful calling features
• Need to be connected to the internet to call
• No telephone support
While you are mainly tied to your computer or a mobile device with an internet connection to make calls, Skype is easy to use and offers free calls to others on the network. You don’t need to make any financial commitment and there are lots of features included – ideal for travelers, students and anyone who lives or works abroad.
Possibly the best known in the VOIP business – “to Skype” someone has become common vocabulary today – Skype offers VOIP services for free and for low prices. We checked out the features to see what this VOIP provider gives you.
To set up Skype you need a computer with a microphone and speakers (or a headset), and an internet connection. Downloading the Skype system is free and you don’t need to sign up for any plans or make any financial commitment. From the Skype website, download the program to your PC or mobile device. You will be prompted to set up your calling system with a user name and check that your computer speakers and microphone are properly configured. There are no extra gadgets or handsets – calling takes place through your computer or from your regular phone through a plan linked to your Skype account. In order to call landlines and mobile phones you need to set up a Skype account, which requires you to input billing details.
Calling Skype to Skype is free- meaning, if the person you are calling also has Skype installed on their computer and is using it to receive your call. But you can also call landlines and mobiles when the person is not on Skype, although this costs money. Skype is pretty simple when it comes to calling plans. Basically, you have two options – pay as you go and a subscription.
Pay as you go comes in the form of Skype Credit. Add credit to your account using a credit or debit card and you can use this money to pay for the calls you make to mobiles and landlines around the world. You can also use Skype credit to send text messages. The credit has no expiry date and you can set up an automatic renewal system that takes money from your card every time your balance slips below a certain level, so you won’t ever get cut off during a call.
A subscription saves you money if you call a lot of landlines and mobiles. You sign up for unlimited calls to a certain country or countries, or pay for a bundle of minutes per month, and you can take advantage of the lowest calling rates. There are no long-term commitments involved as you can sign up for one month only if you wish. Check that the country you want to call is on the plan before you sign up. Subscriptions are good value when calling abroad – you will save a lot of money compared to the price of a regular call or a calling card.
Premium Accounts give you unlimited calls to a country of your choice as well as a few other extra benefits. Group video calls are only available with the Premium Account, and you can also share your screen as well as see what other people are doing. There’s no advertising and you also get live chat customer support.
The main selling point in Skype’s favour is the free calls to anyone on the Skype network, wherever they are. This also applies to free video calls when you both have a webcam enabled. This works well for anyone travelling or living abroad, or just doing business with people across the globe. Low calling rates and no peak hours make calling landlines or mobiles a good proposition, too. Skype provides for group calls of up to 25 people on the Skype network or landlines using Skype credit. Instant messaging is free and convenient to others on the Skype network, and you can send texts from Skype (charged) although people can’t text you back.
The Skype Number is available in certain countries. You sign up for a unique number that people use to call you from their phones, and you pick up the call on Skype (meaning they don’t need to be on Skype.) You can set your number from a variety of international codes so family and friends will pay the same as a local call, even if you are abroad.
Forward calls that come through Skype to a mobile or landline at a small cost. If you are away from your computer you can still receive the Skype calls that you would otherwise have missed and the person calling doesn’t pay any extra. There is also a Caller ID feature which allows you to enter your mobile number into the system and when you call from Skype your number is displayed.
Skype To Go is useful for calling from your mobile or landline to another mobile or landline while still paying low Skype rates. Unfortunately the Skype to Go number is not available in all countries but where it is, you set up the number you want to call and Skype provides a new number that you dial direct from your phone, calling phone to phone while using Skype’s pricing structure.
You’ll see Skype Click to Call on some webpages linked to local businesses and many calls are free. In these cases you can call the business by clicking on the link and the call goes through Skype.
Other features available from Skype include a free voice messaging service, file sending over Skype during a call (good for photos and documents), and screen sharing. Skype also links to Facebook and you can access Skype online through WiFi hotspots.
Ease of use
Skype is easy to set up; simply download the latest version from the website. The program is also easy to use, with a clear and straightforward dashboard where you click on contacts to call them via Skype, or use a keypad on the screen to dial landline numbers. If you’re having problems with a call there are a number of tests you can do to see if your microphone or speakers are working properly. The system is meant for calling from your computer, however, so you can’t just pick up your regular phone and make a call (unless you’ve set up the specific Skype plan for this purpose.) As with other VOIP systems, the quality of the call often depends on the speed of your internet connection and network availability so if you have a slow computer you’ll experience some frustration.
Help & support
There is no telephone support offered by the people at Skype and only with the Premium Plan can you get live chat support. However, there are guides, FAQs, news and features and the website. You can ask questions on the Facebook page or in the Skype community forum, and there's a YouTube channel that demonstrates some of the features.
Skype is great for people who spend a lot of time on the computer and are willing and able to make calls directly from the PC – free Skype to Skype calls is excellent value and the subscription plans save you money, too. If you can get Skype to Go or the Skype number you get a lot more freedom to make calls without a direct internet connection.
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