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Review: Netgear's Skype Phone Keeps You Connected

Even though the Skype Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service lets you talk to other people just like you would on the telephone, it still requires a computer to make it work. However, a new generation of Skype handsets is changing all that. The Netgear Skype WiFi Phone gets you off your computer entirely: If you've got a WiFi network and this handset, you've got all the equipment you need.

Netgear's handset, dubbed Model SPH101, is a sleek little handful in the candy-bar form factor currently favored by cellphone providers for their low-end free phones. It's a basic instrument -- headset jack but no Bluetooth, camera, games, alarm clock, text messaging, or other frippery.

You likely won't miss those features, though. Even though the WiFi phone looks like a cell phone, you'll use it more like a cordless phone: There aren't any wires, but you're tethered to the wireless network -- or networks. The handset will store connection information for multiple WiFi networks and connect you automatically when you come into range. (Unfortunately, there's no built-in browser, so you can't connect to networks that require you to enter authentication or payment data or accept terms of service.)

There is actually no install. The package includes a CD-ROM and the instructions for getting started tell you to update the application software installed on the phone, but it's not necessary, and I'd advise you to skip it.

I confess: I had a . . . philosophical issue with the update process. The software update isn't read off the disk -- it's downloaded across the Internet. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be), my firewall did not think it was a very good idea to let a program with a totally generic name like autorun.exe drag anything it wanted to onto my PC. I agreed. No software updates are available yet -- I later determined the version number of the available update was the same as the version installed on my phone -- and when an update is necessary, Netgear needs to provide a separate app with a more descriptive name like skypeupdate.exe to manage it.

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