Skype – an early review

I have a few friends living overseas. Calling them long-distance ain’t cheap. So I installed Skype today. And guess what? It works. I talked to a friend of mine in France and although there was a slight delay in the signal, it was negligible. We started with a regular audio call, no video feed. The sound was just as good as any telephone and there was no delay. The slight delay only kicked in after we switched to video.

For those not-in-the-know, here’s the Wikipedia entry for Skype:

Skype is software that allows users to make telephone calls over the Internet. Calls to other users of the service and to free-of-charge numbers are free, while calls to other landlines and mobile phones can be made for a fee. Additional features include instant messaging, file transfer and video conferencing.

First I installed an old webcam that’s been gathering dust for the past couple years. (Mac users don’t have to worry about this. Macs come with built-in webcams these days, right?) I had to install it on my XP machine because it wasn’t compatible with Vista (no surprise there). Then I did a quick download and install of the free Skype software. It took about a minute to test it with my webcam. It worked immediately, so I didn’t have configure anything.

I used the Skype search function to find my friend in France, added him to my contact list, clicked the call button and he answered right away. He used a headset the whole time. I had to use the webcam mic and my PC speakers, which means my mic picked up everything that was coming through the speakers, creating a slight echo for him, but it wasn’t too bad. Next time I’ll plug in some headphones. I got uncomfortable after we switched to video because I’m never too fond of being in front of a camera. Otherwise, it was just like talking on the phone. And it’s a free service.

I’ll update this post as I continue to use Skype. My initial impression, though: it sure beats paying for a long-distance call. Back when I first got my webcam, I tried instant video messengers from Yahoo, MSN, etc., and they were all junk compared to what I’ve seen of Skype so far. I’m pleasantly surprised.

I tried it out with my mother who doesn’t live nearly as far away as my friend in France, and it was garbage. Nothing else to say. It was crap. I would never bother with Skype if it was always like that. My mother might not have high-speed. I’m not sure what the problem was. I’ll look into it. But it was a waste of time.

My friend in France said, “Skype isn’t always perfect. But I would say most of the time it works quite smoothly. Network traffic will influence your experience, the speed of your internet connection (on both ends), and the speed of your computer… When I’m using Skype I generally close out most/all other programs. Definitely anything that uses the network connection, or anything that uses much processor power. Try that and let me know.” I will.

UPDATE #3: Skype is working fine. No complaints. I eventually bought a new webcam with a USB 2.0 plug (the old webcam was USB 1.0 and sucked), not too expensive and supposedly guaranteed to work with Vista and Skype. The install was easy, but every time I want to use Skype, I have to re-configure my Realtek HD Audio Manager (which may be the worst sound card ever created). Once the sound card enables the webcam, there’s no problem. I’ve Skyped with my friend in France and with a friend who uses the Mac’s built-in webcam. Clear sound, clear picture for both. A Skype session with my mother still isn’t too hot. She has a slow computer, a close connection and an old webcam. Otherwise, I don’t mind Skype at all. It’s going to save me plenty of cash on long-distance calls. It’s strange to have something work the way it’s supposed to on Vista.

UPDATE #4: Don’t even bother with Skype if you don’t have USB 2.0 connections on your computer or webcam. They look exactly that same as USB 1.0 connections, but they’re not. All the crappy connections I’ve experienced are with people using a USB 1.0 connection for their webcam. All the USB 2.0 connections — perfect.

UPDATE #5: I took a break from Skype because no one I really wanted to talk to had a fast enough connection to make it worthwhile. I forgot how to configure my Realtek sound card for Skype. I will never buy a PC with a Realtek sound card again. Anyway, I had Stereo Mix enabled on my sound card, but to make it work with Skype, I have to disable the Stereo Mix. To do that, I followed the instructions from this post, went down to the “Stereo Mix” option, right-clicked and selected “Disable.” I also had to make sure the webcam mic, which should also appear in the list, was enabled in the same way. Now when I record the test message on Skype, my message is actually played back. I have to reconfigure the sound card every time I switch from a Stereo Mix function to Skype and vice-versa. Stupid Realtek. What a pain. But it works.

About Phillip

Phillip Cairns is a beekeeper in St. John's, Newfoundland, who writes about beekeeping at

2 Replies to “Skype – an early review”

  1. I have installed skype on my laptop and desktop. Michelle has it on her laptop. I have had business calls with people in UK, Germany, Moncton, and Saint John. The 4 way call went on for 1.5 hours without a hitch. Recently, I have used it to chat with my relatives in Greece. It’s a fantastic tool.

  2. I just made my final update to this post. The verdict: Skype works! Vista I could do without. A Realtek sound card I could do without. But Skype does what it supposed to do, so that’s good (a rare thing in Vista world).

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