This review appears in the July issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents.

Only on the internet is it feasible to get something for nothing. VoIP (voice over IP) is the latest craze, promising free phone calls over the web. Now USR (US Robotics) has put the full weight of its experience into harnessing Skype's VoIP potential.

You simply go to Skype's website, download the software and register. If any of your contacts are already registered with Skype, you can add them to your contacts list by searching for their email addresses or account names.

By attaching this compatible handset – or a suitable microphone – to your PC, you can then phone any of the people on your contacts list free of charge, provided they have their PCs switched on and connected.

You can chat to people on certain land lines, too. You'll be charged, but the costs amount to just 1.2p to 1.4p a minute. There isn't much point phoning anyone in Britain via the service – although Skype claims that you'll still make significant savings over a normal phone call.

But for calling abroad it's an excellent option. The list of supported countries includes much of Europe and North America, Australia, China and Hong Kong. However, even in supported countries some phone numbers simply don't work. You can check this on the website.

While you can piece together a complete Skype system for less than the USR's £19 asking price, nothing compares to the simplicity of this package.

The handset is quite cute, although the short USB cable means you're permanently tethered to your PC. And if you plug the phone in during a session, general Windows sound can be redirected from your main speaker system to the phone. We're not totally convinced by the sound quality as we heard crackling and hissing sounds.

US Robotics USR809600: Specs

  • Skype handset
  • USB 1.1/2.0
  • echo canceller
  • LCD screen
  • minimum system requirements: 400MHz Intel Pentium II, Windows 2000/XP and CD-ROM drive
  • 45x24x123mm
  • 100g
  • Skype handset
  • USB 1.1/2.0
  • echo canceller
  • LCD screen
  • minimum system requirements: 400MHz Intel Pentium II, Windows 2000/XP and CD-ROM drive
  • 45x24x123mm
  • 100g

OUR VERDICT

The cost savings are enough to make using Skype beneficial – and if you're looking for a quick introduction, you won't find a simpler package.

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