"Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after."

This passage from the novel Gift from the Sea by acclaimed writer and aviation pioneer Anne Morrow Lindbergh stirred our thoughts on the many different ways we communicate. While nothing compares to or conveys thoughts or true expressions like face to face communication, it was the telephone that revolutionized our ability to communicate with each other from just about anyplace at anytime. Yes, the printed word, television, and the internet have also revolutionized the means by which we communicate but none of them are as quick or convenient as picking up the ubiquitous telephone.

While we are reviewing the ASUS AiGuru S1 WiFi Skype phone today we will first give a brief overview of Skype's capabilities for our readers who are unfamiliar with the program, as this VoIP phone is designed expressly for the Skype user. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a technology that lets you make or receive a telephone call over an IP based network instead of the traditional analog phone line utilizing your computer, a dedicated VoIP phone, or your traditional phone with an adapter. In its simplest form VoIP utilizes IP addresses in place of phone numbers and a broadband internet connection in place of analog phone wire.

Skype is a proprietary peer-to-peer Internet telephony (VoIP) network system that is the brainchild of Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, the creators of KaZaA, and is now owned by eBay. Skype is one of the largest VoIP providers in the world with over 100 million subscribers currently. The program is available in 27 different languages and runs on Windows, MAC OS X, and Linux platforms. Skype offers free voice, video conferencing, file transfers, and chat capabilities between Skype users. The software is free and can be downloaded from Skype's website.

Skype differs from other VoIP clients in that it operates on a peer-to-peer model instead of the more traditional server-client model. The Skype user directory is decentralized and distributed among the nodes in the network, which means the network can scale very easily without the cost and complexity of a centralized infrastructure. The program has the ability to route calls through other Skype peers on the network, and this allows it to work behind the majority of firewalls and gateways. Skype's encryption system actively encodes all calls, file transfers, and instant messages end-to-end with either 1536-bit or 2048-bit (subscription services) RSA. Encryption is necessary since all calls or transfers are routed through the public Internet. Further information about Skype's P2P telephony capabilities is available if you'd like to know more.

SkypeOut provides inexpensive per minute subscription charges to users with landline or mobile telephones, although users can make free calls within the US and Canada to both landline and mobile phones until the end of 2006 at this time. SkypeIn allows you to purchase your own regular phone number. This concept allows to you have a local number that anyone can call and you answer in Skype no matter where you are located at the time. If you choose a number in New York City but are staying in London then anyone who is in the same area code that calls your number will not have to pay long distance charges. Anyone outside of your area code (unless they have unlimited long distance service) will still pay for long distance charges to your New York City area code but not to London. You can purchase up to 10 numbers with locations just about anywhere in the world.

Other services include Skype Voicemail, Skype SMS, and Skype Zones (allows Skype communications from supported WiFi hot spots). Note that Skype is not considered a true telephony system and therefore lacks 911 call capability. Also, although the program and usage is free between users, you will need a good microphone, headset, and/or supported VoIP phone before using the service. We have found users with desktop or monitor microphones often have audio feedback issues due to speaker placement, making them a less than ideal solution. Headsets generally work the best although your mileage varies based upon their quality, and Skype specific VoIP phones are now being introduced into the market in volume.

Now let's take a closer look at the basic features of Skype and the performance of the ASUS AiGuru S1 phone.

Basic Features: Skype
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  • PokerGuy - Tuesday, July 18, 2006 - link

    Thanks for the article, I'm glad to see this kind of review on my favorite tech site. There's a lot of interest in VoIP and Skype and lots of products are hitting the market now: we need AT to help us figure out what's junk and what really works.

    Also, another product that you might want to review is the Vosky Call Center (from Actiontec). It's basically a little box that plugs into the USB port on the PC and allows you to simply plug your own analog cordless phone (5.8ghz, 2.4ghz or 900mhz) into the box. That way, you use a 'regular' phone with skype, and you can make calls uing both skype or your regular landline with a single cordless phone anywhere in the house. Very convenient.
  • jamawass - Wednesday, July 12, 2006 - link

    The review doesn't address whether you can do all skype functionality with the phone. ie do all skype contacts appear in the phone's address book, does skype to skype calling function the same way as skypeout? Can one chat with this phone? Also do all the pc sounds go through this phone? One problem I have with skype is that I can't listen or watch anything else on my pc as all the sounds are transmitted over line. Does the phone have this problem?
  • budsan - Wednesday, July 12, 2006 - link

    This was the most comprehensive and fascinating article on Skype and this new phone by ASUS. I am looking forward to more reviews from you on other Wifi phones. For those that are unfamiliar with VOIP technology, you made it a pleasure to read!
  • soydios - Tuesday, July 11, 2006 - link

    "We might have been able to go further but did not trust our ability to outrun the person who kept a keen eye on our notebook while inching closer to our table during extended distance testing."


    Good article, especially for people like me who haven't looked much into Skype.
  • Schugy - Tuesday, July 11, 2006 - link

    I would call these things Peripherals.

    I think a phone is something like the Siemens C450 IP (+Router) or the AVM FT 7150 D.

    Then you don't need a PC, save 150W energy and you have talk times between 10 and 17 hours.
  • JNo - Wednesday, July 12, 2006 - link

    unfortunately, Skype uses proprietary protocol, not VOIP SIPs like other providers, and so wouldn't work with the Siemens C450 IP etc as it only supports VOIP SIPS
  • Schugy - Wednesday, July 12, 2006 - link

    But using SIPS is one of the biggest advantages. If your provider has problems or bad support you can easily change it. There's maximum competition.

    But what is when Skype makes trouble and you have paid 300$ for a phone (this isn't a PC independent phone anyway) that you can't use with others? Well, I prefer throwing a 300$ phone out of the window over being locked into skype.

  • heulenwolf - Tuesday, July 11, 2006 - link

    I'm a bit confused about the wireless connection. Does the USB dongle connect to the phone over its own, separate 802.11g connection? Living in a densely populated neighborhood, there are already more 802.11g networks in my area than there are non-interfering channels and interference is a significant problem. Would the phone-computer connection add yet another wireless network to the mix or would it work over my pre-existing 802.11g network? When testing the phone, how many pre-existing wireless networks were there?
  • Gary Key - Tuesday, July 11, 2006 - link

    The USB Wireless Link from Asus is a separate 802.11G connection. It will not work over an existing wireless network as the interface between the phone and the wireless link dongle is proprietary. In regards to the testing, there was an active 802.11G network via our DSL modem, an active Draft-N wireless network being tested, and a wireless 802.11G network in the building next door. We did not experience any cross-talk or interference during testing with the other networks. I will retest tomorrow with two active 802.11G routers in the same room.
  • Gigahertz19 - Tuesday, July 11, 2006 - link

    Glad to see a review like this, I'm moving into a new house this Thursday and have to set up a phone service. Not sure to go with Skype or Vonage, no more standard expensive phone service for me. So Gary could you see this phone replace your landline as a permanent solution?

    Only thing I wish they could somehow do is find a way to still use Skype on your phone without your computer always turned on. That's why Vonage might be a little more attractive as a permanent solution. They need to come out with a adapter to plug into your router or something for Skype, that would be nice.

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