Android finally gets official Skype client

Been long coming, still not perfect

DESPITE THE CELLULAR network operator’s best efforts to control what their customers can and can’t do on the devices that they use with the various cellular services, the biggest bugbear of most network operators has been, and still seems to be, Skype. Today Skype announced its Android client software, something that is already causing quite a stir, especially as the software is limited to Wi-Fi networks only in the US, while in most other countries it can be used over the networks data service.

Skype might not be to everyone’s liking, but it’s hard to deny the impact that Skype has had on the telecommunications market. Not only is the software more or less banned in some countries, but restrictions have been imposed upon the company in parts of the world. So far only one network operator seems to have embraced Skype fully and that is 3, at least in the UK where just about all its handsets comes pre-load with Skype and you even get free calls via Skype as long as you have credit on your account if you use a pre-pay service.

The wait for Skype’s Android version has been long, but with today’s announcement Skype is finally available on Android, although with a few restrictions. For starters it will only work on handsets running Android 2.1 or later which means that it for example won’t work on Sony Ericsson’s Android handsets until the company releases its planned updates later this year. It also shuts out many Motorola users as well as those owning older HTC handsets. You’ll also need a 600MHz or faster CPU as well as a screen with at least 480×320 resolution and a lot of older Android handsets are out of the picture, as well as most entry level models such as HTC’s recent Wildfire.

It also seems like Skype has been having problems with some specific handsets, like the Samsung Galaxy S on which its Android client doesn’t work. Skype also only guarantees that its Android app works on HTC and Motorola handsets, as those are the only devices the company have tested the app on. It’s also a rather large piece of software in Android terms, as it weighs in at nearly 9MB which is a lot of space when you consider that many Android devices only have about 100MB free for user apps. What’s worse is that it doesn’t seem to support installation on an SD card, a feature that Android 2.2 offers for many apps.

The good news is that Skype for Android is fairly easy to use; although it has a couple of quirks such as each of the four panes have individual menus with various settings which isn’t obvious straight away. The call quality is very good on both Wi-Fi and 3G connections (yes, we tested it outside of the US) and it will even sync with your phone contacts if you tell it to. There’s support for chat as well as Skype Out, Skype In and call forwarding. So all in all, it’s pretty much a full desktop Skype client on your Android phone.

There’s no support for video calls at the moment, but this might be implemented in future versions. Hopefully Skype will also fix the fact that it’s impossible to just close the app, as it’ll continue to run in the background until you sign out, something that isn’t desirable both in terms of battery drain and data usage if you’re not on an unlimited data plan in countries where Skype works over the cellular network. We should also point out that the app is not available in Japan and China for whatever reason. At the end of the day, this is Skype’s first release of its new Android app and overall it does what it’s meant to do, but it’s in need of having a few things seen to.S|A

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