Product Review: Edge-Core WM4201 Wi-Fi Skype phone

20 Jun 2007

In an ideal world of complete wireless penetration this phone would be perfect. It is Wi-Fi enabled and runs on Skype software. In other words, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls can be made independent of your computer, depending on a decent wireless signal.

The Edge-Core WM4201 was the first Skype-certified Wi-Fi phone to arrive in Ireland and because the interface is purely Skype it is limited to this. You must have a Skype account to use it, which is not problematic given that it is free to sign up.

The handset itself looks slightly blocky and dated compared to the design-savvy mobile phones available now, but it did win a product design award in 2006.

It is lightweight enough to stick in your pocket, unlike the type of Skype phone that needs to be connected to your computer to work, with a 1.8-inch colour display.

I had to power up the handset for the required eight hours before turning it on. It searches for surrounding wireless networks straight away but asks your permission before joining one, a good thing considering you could be connecting to an unsecured network.

I tried it out in a friend’s house and it picked up the Eircom wireless signal immediately. Then I was prompted to enter my Skype username and password. I did that and up popped all my Skype contacts as I have them on my computer.

Great, I thought: free Skype calls while I’m walking around the house. This is where I ran into problems. When I tried to ring any of my contacts, nothing happened. I couldn’t even connect to the Skype test number. After numerous attempts I gave up.

In theory this phone is a fantastic idea but due to either a fault in the phone, some unfathomable security setting on my wireless network or perhaps a weak signal it was a no-go for me.

Although I was unable to make any calls on my handset, thus preventing me from checking all the functions, the manufacturer claims that this phone offers the same functionality as you get in the full Skype installed on your computer.

I still have faith in this product but I didn’t bring it in to the electronics store to troubleshoot because Wi-Fi coverage in the surrounding area is patchy and unreliable.

Maybe dual-mode phones are the best solution for uneven Wi-Fi coverage. When the wireless connection fades or dies, the mobile network kicks in.

Obviously, like Skype on PC, Skype-to-Skype user calls are free, but Skype credit will need to be purchased in order to call other numbers.

As it stands, many cafes around the country have wireless connections. Some connections are open, although many require you to buy an hour or so credit. So you can stroll in, have a coffee and chat to friends for free (check for a listing of free Wi-Fi hotspots around Ireland).

I feel, though, that the potential for Wi-Fi phones is great. Imagine bringing this phone to European countries where wireless broadband coverage is significantly superior to ours and calling home with absolutely no roaming charges. If only I could get it to work!

Price: €199 from Cantec

Pros: Free Skype-to-Skype calls on the move
Cons: Device failed to make calls on wireless networks we tried

By Marie Boran