Skype says that tens of millions of people around the world now use its software to make and take no-cost or low-cost phone calls over the internet. Most do so with no additional PC hardware other than a microphone headset. Yet there are alternatives that let you use a conventional phone or, better still, a DECT walkabout phone. Bob Crabtree goes cable-free investigating D-Link's highly-affordable Skype USB Phone Adapter, the DPH-50U, but is none too impressed.
[Please note that the original conclusions of this review have updated and appear on the last page - Final final thoughts - Aug 3 update]
At the tail-end of June, Skype brought together over a dozen of its hardware partner in London's West End for a product showcase of new kit. Our report highlighted the UK debut of Netgear's SPH101 - the world's first Skype WiFi phone.
However, as we said at the time, although the Netgear was the most revolutionary piece of kit at the show - and the undoubted star - it wasn't the only product to shine. A number of companies had notables, including US Robotics, Philips and D-Link, each with an alternative - and far cheaper way than Netgear's - of delivering cable-free Skyping.
Unlike the Netgear, which connects wirelessly to a network router, these work only via PCs to which their bridge boxes connect by USB. Even so, they're not expensive and, when paired with a DECT walkabout phone, one of these boxes lets you make and take Skype calls away from the PC. But, unlike the Netgear Skype WiFi phone, the computer does need to be running all the while.
Some USB adaptors are also intended to work with conventional landline phones but, from our perspective, that rather misses the point.
There's not a huge amount of difference between using a microphone headphone set and a conventional wired phone - each ties you down. And the same is true if opting to use a dedicate Skype telephone handset that connects by USB - you're still tied to the PC.
The beauty of a DECT phone is that you can use it anywhere within its wireless range. That will be especially welcome by people who spend most of their working lives in front of a PC and use phone calls as the excuse for take screen-breaks (yes, like yours truly).
The product we're looking at here is one such product that was showcased last month, D-Link's Skype USB Phone Adapter, the DPH-50U.
At well under £40, the D-Link is by far the cheapest of the three adaptors at the showcase - the USRobotics is somewhere under £60 and the Philips, which comes with a DECT phone, is nudging £80.
The best price we found for the D-Link on the net was an all-up £35.66, including VAT and delivery, from RL Supplies.
There were various prices above that - some considerably more once delivery charges had been factored in - but we would be tempted to pay the extra couple of quid being asked by one reseller - eXpansys - simply because it has an online support forum for the product.
Tempted, rather than convinced, however, is our current perspective because the forum's not particularly busy and, therefore, not terribly helpful.
Why the idea of extra support appeals is because we've had a number of problems with the D-Link box - problems we could envisage end-users having and which didn't all go away! D-Link does provide tech support for all its product but end-users won't necessarily receive quite the keen personal attention that D-Link provided to us, unless they, too, are reviewing product.
We'll go into detail about those problems a bit later. If you know all about Skype, dive straight over to page 3 because, right now, we're going to talk about the features and benefits that it offers...