June 4, 2005 In the year since Skype officially launched its free P2P telephone service, the service has been growing like wildfire. Add to this a broadening of features such as SkypeOut and SkypeIn, their outbound and inbound bridges to traditional phone service, and Skype Voicemail and it's starting to look like Skype can take on the entire telecom industry all by itself. Fortunately for Skype, they don't have to conquer the world alone. They have a strong ally in RTX, and specifically their Olympia DualPhone product.
RTX is a company that's been developing custom DECT chipsets for over a decade, and has recently started offering the DualPhone handset product as it's first direct to consumer product. DECT is an acronym for Digital Enhanced Cordless Technologies, and is well known worldwide (at least outside the United States) by the technically-inclined consumer as the best technology for cordless phones.
In the US, the main frequency range used for DECT has required an expensive license, so the technology hasn't been deployed. Fortunately for America, this licensing requirement ended on May 1, 2005, so expect to see a lot of new high quality cordless phones coming out soon, including RTX's new hybrid Skype/POTS device.
What RTX has done is to combine the best features of Skype with the best features of a standard cordless handset. For the first time Skype users can make calls in the same convenient fashion that we've had available with standard phone service for the last 50 years. Better, in fact, since the DualPhone allows incoming POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) calls to be placed on hold when a Skype call comes in, and vice versa. Sort of like uber-call waiting that works across both services.
The DualPhone also supports SkypeOut and SkypeIn, so you can save money on your international calling without having to suffer through a painful session listen through your PC's speakers and screaming into the microphone. Each DualPhone base station can support up to 4 handsets, so you can litter the things around your home or office. We tested two devices and they worked flawlessly. In fact it's possible to have one caller on a Skype call and another on a POTS call simultaneously, and transfer the calls between handsets at will. Definitely some advanced calling features that we didn't expect in a modestly priced phone.
It isn't all roses though, since Skype is an evolving product, there's alway the risk that a version change or an added feature won't work as expected or at all with third party devices like the DualPhone. In fact this is the case with the latest version of Skype that includes their new Skype Voicemail service. RTX will be offering a software update soon to allow voicemail playback from the DualPhone handset and to support more countries for SkypeIn calling.
What we liked:
1 The best feature of this device is that it works at all
2 Simultaneous Skype/POTS call handling
3 Long cordless range and excellent call quality for both Skype and POTS calls
4 Support for new Skype features like SkypeOut and SkypeIn calling
5 Support for multiple handsets with independent charging bases
What we didn't like:
We wish the handset had a speakerphone. With customer service hold queue times on the rise, it's becoming increasingly important to be able to put the phone down while waiting. An integrated speakerphone is an important feature.
Only one Skype account is supported at a time, so if you're a 2 PC household and you and your spouse have different Skype accounts, you'll need multiple DualPhones. The way the device connects to your PC (via USB) and how it uses an actual version of Skype running on your PC limits it to only supporting calling features that Skype supports itself. So for now, until the Windows version of Skype allows you to monitor more than one account at a time, you can't listen for calls from two Skpe accounts simultaneously.
There's no Macintosh support. Currently the DualPhone only works with the Windows version of Skype, so if you're using Skype on your Macintosh, your currently out of luck. RTX has indicated that they may support OSX in the future, but haven't set a release date, so don't hold your breathe while waiting.
We like the DualPhone. The device is well designed, and does it's job very well. There's no doubt that this is a first generation device, but for 135 Euros, it's practically a no-brainer to buy one for the serious Skype user.
We're going to keep a close eye on RTX. Their first collaboration with Skype looks like a winner, and we can't wait to see what they come up with next.