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Linksys Cordless Internet Telephony Kit

 Author: Sean Michael Kerner
 Review Date: 11/22/2005

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Skype has been the talk among tech types for a few years, and it recently made headlines when eBay acquired it in a multi-billion dollar deal. But Skype is just for the techies and investor speculation. Thanks to an innovative cordless handset from Cisco Systems Linksys division, Skype can now be your kind of talk, too.

What It Is
The Linksys CIT200 carries the title of Cordless Internet Telephony Kit, but I prefer to think of it simply as the Skype phone.

Skype, as you probably know, is a PC-based voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) application that allows you to chat with other Skype users for free. With the SkypeIn or SkypeOut service, you can receive or place calls to regular phone numbers around the world. Until recently, the only way most people could use Skype was directly via their PCs, likely using some kind of plug-in headset (speakers/microphone).

The Linksys Skype phone allows you to use Skype (including SkypeIN/Out) on the included cordless handset much the same as you'd use any cordless phone in your office or home. The kit is actually made up of three core hardware components and includes an installation CD. The handset itself is a decent size (i.e., not too small, not too big) and has a nice subtle curve to it that makes is easier to hold against your ear than a typical telephone.

The base station is a USB device that lets you page the phone (funny how cordless phones never seem to be where you left them) as well as provides an in-use indicator. As opposed to a typical cordless phone base, the included base is not a charger. This is where the third hardware component comes in a charger for the handset. The charger itself isn't quite as substantive as I would have liked. It's a thin plastic structure that holds the phone in place. I purposely tried to be gentle with it to make sure that I didn't break anything during the testing, but I doubt it would have survived use by a family with small children (then again what does?).

The installation CD includes everything you need to get set up and running with Skype (that is, if you aren't already on Skype). It has the Skype application, a credit for SkypeOut minutes (allowing for Skype-to-regular-phone connections) and the Linksys Cordless Internet Telephony Kit driver application that binds Skype to the base station and, by extension, to the cordless handset.

Extending Skype
With the Skype application running on the PC with the Linksys CIT200 USB base station plugged in, the cordless handset becomes an extension of Skype. All your Skype contacts are listed, including both regular Skype users as well as SkypeOUT callers you may have dialed. For regular Skype contacts, just as on the desktop, presence is enabled and you can easily see who is online.

You can access Skype contacts easily by pressing the "Skype" button on the handset. When you place a call to regular phone lines (SkypeOut), the number can be automatically save by Skype, so you don't need to retype it later. Call records in the form of missed, dialed, received and call timers are also all stored by the cordless handset. The device also includes one-button mute and one-button keylock features, which are nice touches.

There is also a speakerphone in the cordless handset, but, unfortunately, it's not a one-button activation. Instead, the only way I could figure out how to use the speakerphone was to click the green handset button once, click options, click speaker and then OK.

The biggest potential drawback is that in order for Skype and the Linksys Skype phone to work, the PC must be on and Skype must be running. You still can't run Skype without running the desktop application, so if you're looking for a full cordless VoIP solution independent of a PC, this is not it.

That said, the call quality on the Linksys CIT200 is excellent among the best I've ever experienced on a cordless phone. Range on the cordless handset is also quite good, reaching up to 50 meters away from the base station.

Thanks to the DECT (Digital enhanced cordless telecommunications) standard used by the kit, interference with other wireless devices is a non-issue. I tested the Skype phone (which, of course, is wireless) while connected on a wireless LAN (802.11a/b and g) while working next to a regular 2.4 Ghz cordless phone and there was no interference or noticeable call degradation. The kit can also be expanded with additional handset to provide an office intercom handset-to-handset network as well.

For regular users of Skype that have grown accustomed to having to sit in front of their PCs to use VoIP, the Linksys CIT200 is a liberating device. What the CIT200 does from a functional point of view is make Skype portable and likely more usable for many people. In three weeks of testing, we found the Linksys CIT200 Cordless Internet Telephony Kit (the Skype phone) to be a reliable and enjoyable experience. At this point having experienced Skype on a cordless handset, I can hardly imagine using Skype without it.

Estimated Street Price: $129.99

Pros:

  • Excellent Call Quality
  • No interference with other wireless devices
  • Easy setup and usage
  • Integrates most of the desktop Skype features on the handset

Cons:

  • Separate charger and base station
  • Still requires that Skype be running on the PC

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