While the official name of this product is â€˜USB VoIP phone' this actually is sold as a Skype phone. While Skype is of course VoIP, it's actually a proprietary standard rather than being based on the open source SIP standard. However, the Jivo does sell itself as a Skype phone on the front of the box, if not in the title.
We've looked at Skype phones such as this effort from Trendnet and this from Netgear. However, both of these have been wireless and rather more expensive, while this handset from Jivo will set you back the princely sum of Â£17.99.
As you might expect the box and the packaging are simple and straightforward and the handset is small thin and lightweight. That, mind, sounds quite sexy but as you can see from the pictures it's unlikely to be mistaken for a Motorola RAZR anytime soon. The Jivo has a small three-line LCD screen with a dedicated button for browsing your contacts on the handset. There's a Call and Answer button and another selection button. In the centre of these is a rocker switch for moving up and down the menus. Essentially, it's like a basic mobile phone from the late nineties, only one that's tethered to a PC.
The phone is essentially just a USB soundcard in the shape of a mobile phone. If you just plug it into your PC, Windows will just pick it up and if you make calls from Skype on your PC as normal, the sound will simply be routed through the handset. Of course, what makes this more interesting is that you can browse through your contacts from the handset itself, though having said that, you are still tied to your PC, so perhaps it's not that interesting after all.
Either way, to get your contacts onto the blue backlit screen, you first have to install the software. The Jivo web site makes a big point on the phone being Vista compatible but even after installing the software that came on the CD the phone my contacts refused to show up. Some investigation revealed that an updated version of the bundled SkypeMate software had to be downloaded and installed. However, had I not had the number of the marketing department I doubt I ever would have discovered this.
The download was certainly well hidden. First, I had to go to the small Customer Care link at the bottom of the page. You are then invited to download software, only it's labelled as the â€˜product specification sheet' - even though it's not, which would probably be enough to throw most people off the scent. Even once I had downloaded it, after double clicking, nothing happened. On a hunch I manually added in the â€˜exe' extension, enabling the installer to launch. Simple huh?
All in all, getting the phone to work on Vista proved to be more challenging than any of the quests that Oblivion has thrown at me and almost as satisfying. I have been assured however, that all of this will be changed on the Jivo web site, so patching for Vista won't be quite so much of a dark art.
Once I'd got past this the phone lit up, with a blue backlight. Immediately it displayed the time and the rather friendly message' Let's Skype'. Ok. Pressing the Contacts button brought up my, er, contacts, and on screen icons show which are regular phone numbers and which are Skype Contacts, and if they are online or not.
The screen might not be high resolution but the text is fairly large, clear and easy to read, which will be important if your trying to get a more elderly person to get to grips with using a computer to make phone calls. A good touch is that you can use the letters on the keypad to quickly jump to contacts beginning with that letter, as you would on a mobile phone. And if you just want to dial a number that isn't in your contacts list you just start dialling and press Call.
Call quality was fine - I could be heard loud and clear and there were no comments about what I was phoning from. I did find the sound to be a touch shrill, but that's nitpicking. One issue I had though, was that the phone power just cut out in the middle of one call. I'm pretty sure that this is because I had the phone plugged into a USB dongle rather than directly to the PC, and the issue didn't occur again once I moved the plug. At least the cable is a decent length - 80cm when coiled and 200cm when fully stretched.
The Jivo is not the best looking most solidly made product I've used, but it does a decent job. If you want to make using Skype on a PC more comfortable, natural and more conventional then a phone like this is worth a punt at Â£17.99, though bear in mind that you'll still be tethered to your machine and you won't be able to make Skype video calls.