Skype is the department store of communication software. Do you need group video calling? Check. Rich text messaging? Check. Calling to standard phones? Check. An actual public phone number, Wi-Fi hotspots, live translation, and apps for every major platform? Skype has you covered there, too. Artificial intelligence, in the form of chat bots, now joins the long list of Skype capabilities. While Microsoft is still finalizing its Windows 10 Skype strategy, with both a Preview and a released version available at the same time, the service still offers more than any competitor, and earns a PCMag Editors’ Choice award for personal VoIP and video calling.
You can take advantage of Skype whether you’re an Apple, Android, or Windows user. In fact, clients are even available for Linux, Xbox, Blackberry, Apple Watch, and Android Wear. A Web-based service now makes platform even less of an issue. There’s no application required. Across the board, Skype works with good voice and video quality, in sleek, modern interfaces. For this review, I tested the released desktop version on Windows 10, though I also ran the Preview version when testing the new bots.
To get started with Skype, simply head to skype.com and click the Download button in the middle of the page. After downloading and running the small setup file, select your language from the 39 available (including many with non-Latin characters). The next option is to choose whether you want to install Click-to-Call in your Web browsers; this lets you make a call from any webpage displaying a phone number.
Skype has tweaked its interface over the years. The current version is clean and simple, with your user picture and a search box at top left. Below these are four buttons for Home, Call Phones, Create Conversation, and a new one for Add Bots. Below that is your contact list, with Favorites on top. You can handily switch to show recent conversations, and you can choose to show only those currently online. Clicking anything in the list opens the most recent activity for the contact or group in the large central area of the window. This changes to a keypad when you tap the Call Phones button. Home view simply shows the most recent profile and status updates from your contacts.
You can set your status from your user pic: Choices include Online, Away, Do Not Disturb, Invisible, and Offline. Skype installs an icon in Window’s notification area (formerly called the system tray) from which you can set your status, open the app, or sign off. This icon shows a number if you have unanswered calls. It also pops up notifications when contacts come online or for other events you can choose in Settings. Skype offers nice integration with Windows 10’s Action Center notifications: You can even reply to messages inside the notification– something not possible with Hangouts, though Viber does offer this ability.
Video calling is Skype’s bread and butter. It’s what people usually mean when they say they’re going to Skype you. The service has offered good voice and video quality for many years, using proprietary codecs for increased clarity. As with any IP audio and video communication, though, your call quality depends on both parties’ Internet connection speeds, so you may experience occasional frame drops or voice glitches, as we did during testing. In general, Skype looks and sounds as good as you can get from IP communication, though Apple’s FaceTime usually looks better. Google Hangouts seems to have equaled Skype, though I have yet to test that with more than a one-to-one video call.
Skype lets any user conduct video sessions with up to ten participants– free. Google Hangouts matches that, but some traditional VoIP players like RingCentral require paid accounts, costing $24.99 per user per month for just four participants in RingCentral’s case. Others, like Vonage, don’t offer any video calling. Facebook Messenger also offers voice and video calling in some of its apps, though you can’t call regular phones with it and video calls are only one-to-one.
You can set your group video call to Dynamic View, so that the person speaking gets the largest video window, but even if you show everyone all the time, the current speaker’s window is highlighted. That’s a helpful visual clue. You can add participants from both Skype and the telephone system for a group call (of course, the latter will be voice-only).
Skype for Web
If your intended party isn’t answering, Skype lets you send them a video message or voice message. And you can do either of those things from menu choices, without having to even make a call. During a call, you can send files, share contacts, add callers, and share your screen. Skype even handles multiple monitors. You can decide which screen to share if you have a multiple monitor setup. After a call, you often see a panel that lets you rate the quality of audio and video, and describe any problems so the company can address them.
Skype has improved its chat experience. In fact, many people aren’t aware that it can be used as a messaging app. Skype now lets you send photos, files, and videos in messages, and engage in group messaging. Most recently, Skype has added Mojis, which are similar to Facebook Messenger and Viber’s Stickers. There’s an extensive selection of these chat enhancers, but not as many as you get with Facebook Messenger’s sticker store. Group chatting can include up to a whopping 300 participants! You can also send a link participants can use to join.
There are two ways to pay for calls to standard telephones– both are inexpensive. You can pay as you go with Skype Credit or get a subscription. Using pay-as-you-go costs 2.3 cents per minute in the US, and a $2.99-per-month subscription gets you unlimited US calling. You can buy Skype Credit in $10 chunks, and you can set it to auto-reload for when you run out. Unlimited World calling costs $13.99 per month, but you can try it free for the first month. Having either credit or a subscription make call forwarding an option– if someone calls you on Skype, you can answer on your mobile or home phone.
While you’re calling phones, you can minimize the main interface, which gets you a small control panel from which you can mute yourself, chat, or hang up. When you do hang up, the main window shows the call time and duration. During a call, your music is turned down automatically.
Voice call quality, like video call quality, is largely dependent on your Internet connection. Skype voice quality has improved greatly over the past few years, and even if the video stutters, you’ll usually get a steady sound stream. It’s at least as good as Viber’s, though dedicated VoIP systems such as Ooma Telo sound a little better.
If you’re using Skype as a total phone replacement, there’s one downside: You don’t get local emergency calling service, except in Australia, Denmark, Finland and the United Kingdom. SMS messaging is also sort of a weak point for Skype. Texts cost 11.2 cents per message, and they are outbound only– your recipient can’t reply to you unless you associate your mobile number with your Skype account.
Skype on the Web
For a long time, you’ve been able to integrate Skype into Web browsers with the Click-to-Call plug-in that makes any phone number on any webpage dial-able. And a Skype plug-in lets you call from the Outlook.com website. Skype for Web makes installation a thing of the past. Just sign into your account at web.skype.com, and you’ll see a very familiar interface. From the Web, you can do nearly everything you can in the installed application, including calling phones, videoconferencing, and even sharing your screen. You can even send a link to someone without a Skype account so they can join a call.
Along with bots, Skype’s other most technologically impressive feature is Skype Translate. This started out as just a text-chat feature, but now you can hear real-time spoken interpretations in nine languages, including Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese. Don’t expect flawless, Tower of Babel service, but the tool can usually get your meaning across enough for understanding. When you speak, after a slight delay, you hear the other language being spoken to the other party, along with text in the other language. No other service offers anything like this live translation.
Lots of Bots
The new Bot button on the Skype interface looks like a goofy robot head. Click it to see a list of chat bots, including those for travel services, ticket sales, games, and just wacky stuff like Your Face, which tells you things about your countenance; and Spock, which lets you chat to get the Vulcan perspective on life. You also find productivity tools such as FreeBusy, Ava Zoom (an AI assistant for enterprises), and IFTTT.
There are currently 30 bots at the time of this writing. Bots have hexagonal, rather than circular, user pictures. Note that some bot features only work with the Preview version of Skype on Windows 10, and that bots that use those features don’t appear in the current released version.
Skype Chat Bot
All you have to do to get going with any of these chat bots is add them to your contacts. Once you do this, you get an introductory message stating what the bot will do for you and how to set up and interact with it. The FreeBusy bot told me I had to link my online calendar, and then I could say things like “Check if I’m available tomorrow at 1 p.m.,” or “schedule an event for Wednesday.”
I also played Blackjack with a bot. Having the other player as a chat partner made it more like I was playing a person than a standard video game would, and the images and buttons for choosing whether to stay or hit made the game snappier than having to enter text. But I have to say, the house often seemed to get 20 or 21, and it didn’t bust nearly as often as I did.
Facebook released an API for bots in its Messenger platform, and you can already try them if you can find them– there’s not yet an explicit place for recruiting bots. As with translation, Skype is first to formally release this futuristic technology.
Skype Number and Skype To Go
One of the cooler Skype features is the ability to set up a Skype Number. This is really no different from a regular phone number. People can call it from their mobiles and landlines, but you answer in Skype, whether it’s running on the desktop or a mobile app. Skype really isn’t a full-fledged VoIP service unless you activate this feature. Another advantage is that Skype numbers are much cheaper than getting a number from the phone company. It costs $18 for 3 months or $60 for a year, which works out to just 5 dollars a month. For comparison, Verizon charges $60 a month for a landline with unlimited local and long distance.
Another benefit is that you can choose a local number in any of 24 countries, so even if you’re in the US, you can get a UK number that would be a local call to a Londoner. It’s also a great way for people to call you when you’re traveling. Keep in mind that a few countries have residency requirements to get a phone number, however.
A similar cost-saving feature is Skype To Go. This is a service that lets you make international calls at low Skype rates from any phone you’re at. You can either get a gateway access number to the service, or set up a direct, dedicated number for often-called parties.
Say you’re at an airport in a foreign city. You need to contact someone, but you don’t have cell service, and the Wi-Fi hotspot is pricey, or you can only buy a full day pass. Skype Wi-Fi lets you tap into that hotspot at a low by-the-minute rate. Of course, you’ll need Skype Credit, but I ‘d much rather pay a $1.50 to check my email than a $25 per day rate for a hotspot.
A separate business-specific version of Skype is available, and it works with the Surface Hub conferencing screen. Read our business team’s full review of Skype for Business. That product’s Skype Manager and Skype Connect tools let you manage multiple sub-accounts, set feature and usage restrictions, and integrate Skype into your existing SIP-enabled PBX and desk phones.
Skyping, Then and Now
Skype continues to evolve, with frequent update releases and a major new version for Windows 10 on the way. It’s already a highly polished, hugely functional service that runs on every platform you can think of and offers more communication options than any of its competitors. Its unique translation and bot capabilities set it apart from the rest. For all that, along with its good audio and video quality, Skype remains a top pick for video calling and VoIP services.
Source : Skype For Windows 2017