Hands-On With Skype’s Phone App for iPad

After giving the world a a brief tease Monday night, Skype for iPad is now (finally) live.

The tablet version of Skype’s app is crisp and seemingly bug-free on the iPad 2’s 1024-by-768-pixel display. You’ve got all the features of the iPhone app — voice and video calling over 3G or Wi-Fi (using the front- or rear-facing camera), the ability to make calls to landlines or receive calls using your Online Number, and instant messaging — but it’s now optimized for the iPad.

The Skype for iPhone app has supported 3G and video calling for a while now. Previously, iPad 2 owners could use the Skype iPhone app on their tablet, albeit in pixel-doubled mode. Skype prematurely launched its iPad-optimized product late yesterday evening and quickly removed it from the App Store, but now it’s available for good.

When you open up the app, it initially launches with its familiar robin’s egg blue log-in screen and then takes you to its main interface. Your contacts are displayed as a four by however-many grid of their profile photos, kind of like a yearbook page (but more sad looking, if most of your contacts don’t have profile photos, like mine). Clicking on a contact’s image pulls up a popover that gives you button options for video chatting, making a call, instant messaging, or sending them an SMS message, along with their profile information.

Unfortunately, I was only able to make voice and video chats with the app using Wi-Fi; the app was having trouble connecting to Verizon’s 3G network. I am not sure if this was due to general poor reception here in the Wired offices, or if Skype has some sort of threshold reception level that must be maintained in order to deliver calls across a 3G network.

You can make video calls in portrait or landscape orientation, and depending on the orientation of your and your caller’s devices, the onscreen layout varies to take advantage of that. The transition when switching orientations, for either my own or the contact I was chatting with, was automatic and smooth. The full width or full size video of your contact onscreen is a bit stretched out and pixelated — in my opinion, slightly worse quality than over FaceTime, but only just.

Voice chatting (again, over Wi-Fi only) was crystal clear, seemingly better quality than when I last used the desktop version to make a Skype call a week or two ago. But then again, my contact in this case was a co-worker on the other side of the office, not someone across the pond.

Instant-messaging conversations take up the full screen, unless you’re video chatting at the same time. In that case, you can tap to open up a small popover of your conversation in the corner.

Since I only played with the app for about half an hour, I did not get a good sense of how much the app drains your iPad’s battery in the long term, but after making a few 2-to-5 minute Skype-to-Skype voice and video calls and instant messaging, the damage was only a 1 or 2 percent battery level drop.

The entire app experience is polished and smooth, exactly what you’d hope to expect with Skype on the iPad.

Skype for iPad is compatible with iOS 4.0 or above. it is free and available for download in Apple’s App Store.

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