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Review: Netgear's elegant VoIP/land-line hybrid phone

Combines Skype and traditional landline calling

By Peter Smith
January 29, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - When used on a desktop computer, Skype's peer-to-peer, voice-over-IP (VoIP) client is similar to an instant messaging program but provides clear voice communications. However, until recently, you were tied to your computer if you use Skype and couldn't wander around the house or office.

That’s changing, however, as products such as Netgear’s SPH200D Cordless Internet Phone with Skype appear. This clever cordless handset combines traditional landline telephony with Skype, enabling you to talk using either technology while roaming around your home or office.

This "Skype-certified" device is missing the "Oh my gosh, is this person actually in the room with me?" sound clarity that you get when using Skype on PC. But its voice quality is still good, and it adds a lot of flexibility that many Skype users have longed for.

Out of the box

NetGear's dual-mode cordless phone with Skype
NetGear's dual-mode cordless phone with Skype
The SPH200D is initially a bit daunting because it has more parts than you might expect. Besides the handset, there is a handset charger and a base unit, each of which has a AC adapter power brick. Also included are an Ethernet cable, a phone cord, a set of rechargeable batteries and a CD.

Still, setup was a breeze. You snap the batteries into the handset and place it in the charger, plug the charger into a wall socket and let the handset charge (each charge is rated for 12 hours of talk time). Then you connect the base unit to a router using the Ethernet cable and to a phone jack with the included phone cord and plug that unit into a wall socket. Once connected to your router, the base station will configure itself and pair up with the handset, although advanced users can manually configure network settings via the handset or the base unit’s browser interface. There are no drivers or other software to worry about.

Once the hardware is set up, you must enter a few bits of data into the phone: your country code (001 for the U.S.), area code, language, Skype name and password. You can use the phone to sign up for a Skype account if you don’t have one, although it would be easier to do this part at your computer with a large screen and proper keyboard. Assuming you do have a Skype account, after a few moments, your contacts will be downloaded to the phone. If you have any credit with Skype, your balance will also appear on the handset.

I did have mixed feelings about Netgear's decision to have the charger and the base unit as two separate bits of hardware. After all, who wants to find room for not just one, but two fat AC adapters on our already crowded power strips? On the other hand, this setup does offer flexibility. You need to set up the base unit in your home office or wherever your cable or Digital Subscriber Line modem is, but that might not be the most convenient place for the phone. Still, in a perfect world, the base unit would have had a charger built in, and a second, stand-alone charger would be included.

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