Thanks to an array of new mobile applications, making Skype calls away from your home computer has never been easier. Yet none of these apps can boast a user experience as seamless as last year’s Skypephone S1 handset from 3.

The China-made mobile let people with Skyped-up friends and relations in other hemispheres make free calls for nowt. The only problem was that the phone was, well, a bit simple. Luckily, that all looks set to change with its successor, the S2, which boasts a 3.2megapixel camera, faster 3.6Mbps-flavoured HSDPA speeds and a sharper QVGA display.

Compact and user-friendly

The S2 features a much more fetching design than the original Skypephone, with the new mirrored finish and metallic battery cover cunningly distracting you from its pre-pay ranking. The keypad has been nicely revamped too, but remains thumb-friendly and perfect for fast texting when chatting over Skype’s IM client or Windows Live Messenger.

But it’s the new UI that really impresses. The homescreen features a carousel of icons not unlike that seen on the Mac OS that can be scrolled through with ease and customised with up to five applications or direct web links.

Better still, if you activate its one touch mode and use the dedicated side switcher key, you can skim through the carousel one-handed. Your chosen shortcut will neatly automatically activate after a few seconds.

The VoIP echo

The Skype function couldn’t be simpler to use and its functionality mirrors its desktop counterpart. Existing users can just sign in and get their Skype contacts automatically downloaded – these are also neatly integrated into the main phonebook – while Skype virgins can easily set-up an account on the handset from scratch.

The faster HSDPA speeds should also ensure call quality is superior but, while our conversations with our friends over in Rome were highly discernible, the audio performance was still blighted by inevitable echo and crackle. That said, when it’s free, these minor gripes don’t seem so irritating, though you’re naturally forced to use 3’s mobile network to make standard non-Skype calls.

Modem mate

Hook the S2 up to your PC or Mac via Bluetooth or USB and it doubles has a 3G modem. If you’re outside of Wi-Fi range and dongle-less this is great back up for emergency internet access and, with the software drivers built-in, it couldn’t be simpler to get browsing. Naturally, signal quality dictates the download speeds and you need to make sure you have an all-you-can-eat data tariff to avoid bill shock.

While the 3.2MP snapper is vast improvement on its predecessors feeble 2MP offering, the lack of autofocus, flash and any photographic modes means it’s woefully short on quality. Similarly, the QVGA-quality video capture at 8fps is riddled with judder and digital noise.

But in today’s credit crunch climate, £70 on prepay plus free calls and chat to other Skype users anytime anywhere, especially to those based abroad, makes the S2 deal too tasty to overlook.

Buying info: You can pre-order the 3 Skypephone S2 from 18th August 2008 from your local store or online at Three.


Stuff says... 

3 Skypephone S2 review

A classy, easy to use and affordable handset for serial Skypers, but the camera lets it down