We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve opened an Android app review with the phrase “already available on the iPhone” but over the past few months Google Phone users have gotten used to being treated like second-class citizens.
Slowly but surely, a drip-feed of iPhone games and apps are making the transition to Android, but the process isn’t anywhere near as swift as it should be – and Skype’s meandering journey from App Store to Android Market is evidence of this fact.
An official app appeared in the early days of Android, but it was limited to Wi-Fi calls only and was quickly withdrawn soon afterwards – apparently due to US network Verizon’s exclusivity arrangement. Since then it’s been a long a tortuous wait.
A more robust edition of Skype, which offers free calls over a data connection, has been available on the iPhone for ages. Based on the desktop client, the mobile apps allows you to avoid call charges by using your phone’s 3G or Wi-Fi connection to call other Skype users. All that is required is a simple sign-up process, and you can even establish a unique Skype number for people to ring.
The all-new Android version of Skype is very similar to the one produced for the iPhone. Once you’re signed in you can see which of your contacts is currently online, create a witty online status notification for yourself or send messages via the system’s communication service. Calls can be made over your standard 3G connection or Wi-Fi (North American users are confined to Wi-Fi only at present).
Over a network, call quality is surprisingly clear. There’s the odd weird moment where the connection jumps and the other person’s voice sounds like it’s coming from an advanced robot, but in general it’s an encouraging experience. Wi-Fi calls are just as pleasing, although they’re mercifully free of jumpy and corrupted speech.
Like the official Twitter and Facebook apps for Android, Skype has been developed in close conjunction with Google to work closely with your contacts list. When you first fire it up, you have the option of adding all your Skype contacts to your main address book. If you feel this is a little extreme you can opt to only sync those contacts which already exist (this basically means adding in their Skype details based on their email address) or decide to not perform any changes whatsoever.
In terms of presentation, Skype looks fantastic. Menus are sharp and colourful and navigation around the various sections is intuitive. Sadly, its overall performance needs attention. Moving between screens is sluggish, and when you’re attempting to make a call the app seems to move almost in slow-motion.
Skype is also a massive CPU-hog, slowing your phone down to a crawl. Clearly there’s a lot of processing power required here, but we tested it on a 2.2-packing Nexus One, which should be more than up to the task. It also takes up a lot of internal memory, and because it’s always running in the background, it can’t be moved to your SD card to free up space.
These issues aside, Skype for Android also seems to have a few bugs which need stamping out by the developer. It took us several attempts to sign in successfully, and when we signed-out and exited the application, it simply stalled when we tried to open it a second time.
Judging from the high volume of disgruntled comments on the Android Market, this is a common complaint and something that will need to be addressed quickly – most users won’t want Skype running constantly in the background, so the ability to close it down and fire it up when required is essential.
These unfortunate teething issues take the shine off what should be a very appealing Android download. Hopefully the developers can apply a bit of spit and polish to bring this up to the required standard, because the ability to sync Skype with your address book is brilliant, and the interface is pretty slick.
Of course, in this age of capped “unlimited” data plans one could argue that Skype on a mobile is less relevant – especially when many contracts offer you more free call minutes than you know what to do with – but Skype remains an enticing proposition, providing the aforementioned kinks can be ironed out. This much-anticipated Android iteration really needs to up its game, especially with challengers like Fring circling in the water.