Linksys CIT200 Skype phone review

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Randy Savicky
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Linksys CIT200 Skype phone review

Linksys CIT 200 phone

Linksys CIT 200 'Skype' Phone

Linksys has partnered with Skype to offer a cordless DECT 1.8-1.9Ghz phone complete with a backlit color display, backlit keyboard, and other features, called the Linksys CIT200 Cordless Internet Telephony Kit. The Linksys CIT200 is tightly integrated with Skype utilizing the Skype API for not just making and receiving calls but also accessing your Skype contacts and profiles. At some point today (Tuesday), Skype and Linksys will officially announce their partnership and the official launch of the Linksys CIT200.

A USB base station acts as the "go between" communicating with both the PC (running Skype) via USB and with the CIT200 using the DECT standard. Linksys gave me an exclusive first look at the Linksys CIT200 and I have to say the Linksys CIT200 is probably one of the coolest if not the coolest product that works in conjunction with Skype. One of the coolest features is that you can scroll through your Skype contacts using the Linksys CIT200's color display and you can see their current Skype presence (online, offline, etc.). Then using the arrows on the phone you simply highlight the Skype contact and dial.

The CIT200 actually supports multiple handsets, up to a maximum of four and you simply use one base station to communicate with all 4 phones. Each handset can be assigned a unique extension thus enabling handset-to-handset dialing. Also, the base station has a single button which if you press will page the CIT200 handsets - perfect for when the phone slips down into the sofa and you can't seem to find it anywhere. The CIT200 recharges via a stand-up cradle and sports 120 hrs standby and 10 hrs of talk time using standard rechargeable AA batteries. I should also mention that the CIT200 sports a belt clip and a 2.5mm headset jack.
Linksys CIT 200 with USB base station

Linksys CIT 200 on cradle, with USB base station and A/C adaptor



The Linksys CIT200 currently only works with Windows (sorry Mac and Linux fans). I asked Linksys if a Mac or Linux version was in the works and they said that they don't have plans at this time to support either.

Installation
Installing the CIT200 was a breeze as are most USB products these days. You do need to install a bit of software which provides the integration with Skype and which runs in the background. The CIT200.exe process takes up 3296K of PC memory. The CD also includes the Skype client in case you didn't install Skype already, although it isn't the latest 1.4 version. One really nice feature is that the CIT200 comes with 60 free SkypeOut minutes using a coupon code that you enter on Skype's website to credit your Skype account. This is great for Skype users that typically only make Skype-to-Skype calls and
Linksys CIT 200 Disassembled

Linksys CIT 200 Disassembled

just didn't want to be bothered to give their credit card or Paypal information to Skype in order to purchase SkypeOut minutes. This lets users test SkypeOut, get addicted, and then pay for SkypeOut minutes later on. No doubt this is why Skype, the "masters of marketing", chose to partner with Linksys and offer a coupon code with every Linksys CIT200 sold.

Here are some thumbnail images of the various menu screens on the Linksys CIT 200.


Documentation
The documentation was pretty good and includes a quick start guide. Additionally, on the CD you will find a 100 page PDF document. When I first opened it and saw it was 100 pages, I scoffed and thought to myself, "How could a product so small and so simple to use require 100 pages?" But actually, the documentation goes into great detail on some advanced features of the phone that users probably wouldn't be able to easily figure out on their own, such as how the private and shared phonebooks work. I decided to skip reading the manual for now and start playing with the phone.

So now the good stuff... testing the Linksys CIT200
After installing the software I then proceeded to make my first Skype call from the CIT200 - the warning to charge the CIT200 for 14 hours before use be damned! (see yellow sticker in photo above) I tried dialing 203-852-6800, TMC's corporate HQ but the call wouldn't go through. It was then that I remembered that Skype requires a "+" sign before a phone number followed by the country code.
Skype main menu

Skype main menu

I was hoping the Linksys software would detect my PC's local region and area code set within the Windows XP operating system and then automatically add the "+" sign for me and perhaps even pre-pend my country code to the dial string (1 for U.S.). Alas, this was not to be. (This would be a great future feature).

So then I looked at the phone to see if there was a "+" sign somewhere. Indeed, there was. You have to hold the 0 key down for about a second and a "+" sign will then appear on the phone's color screen. So I finished my dial string (+12038526800) and clicked the handset icon to initiate dialing. Immediately, I could hear simulated dialtone on the phone's handset receiver followed by a series of slow-playing DTMF digits, then a slight pause followed by a series of fast-playing DTMF digits. I'm assuming the digits are getting passed to the Skype client, but I would think that it only needs to be sent one time. Perhaps the digits only gets sent the second time around but the first time is designed to simulate a "real phone experience" by adding simulated dialtone followed by the dialing. Just a theory.

In any event, the call connected to our corporate PBX and I then entered in an extension of a co-worker who then answered and we proceeded to talk to test the voice quality. The voice quality was excellent and in fact when I walked around the entire office I couldn't get the sound quality to degrade. Apparently, the range on the CIT200 is so good I needed to walk outside just to reach its wireless range limit. Linksys claims a 300m outdoor range and a 50m indoor range. In other words, you probably won't have a distance issue even if you decide to lounge by your backyard pool with the CIT200. My first test SkypeOut phone call to a PSTN number via the Linksys CIT200 performed flawlessly and again, it bears repeating that the sound quality was excellent.

Skype Contacts with Presence

Skype Contacts with Skype Presence status

Next, I proceeded to make a Skype-to-Skype call by scrolling through my list of Skype contacts on the phone. As I previously stated, this is one of the cooler aspects of the phone, since unlike competing USB-based Skype products you do not need to be chained to your PC to make calls to your Skype contacts. I made one final type of call and that's an inbound call to the Linksys CIT200. The phone rang using a high quality melody you typically find on cellphones. In fact, the phone supports up to 15 melodic ringtones to choose from. During this second test call I turned on the speakerphone, which had decent quality. I was able to press the up or down arrows to adjust the speakerphone volume while on the call.

While I was on this call, I was able to make a second outgoing call by pressing the Talk & Recall button. A dial tone is heard and the first call is put on hold. You can dial either a normal phone number or a Skype contact. After the second call is connected, you can simply press the Talk & Recall button to return to the first call or to toggle between calls. Similarly, Call Waiting is supported to enable you to take an incoming call while you are on a call. A call-waiting tone is played and you can press the Talk & Recall button to take the second call, and once again you can press this button to toggle between the two calls.

Update: I just tested the conferencing capabilities, and unfortunately you can only conference with another Linksys CIT200 handset from the CIT200. You can of course initiate a conference call from the Skype client (clicking the Conference button) and it will work on the CIT200, but that defeats the whole purpose of being able to be away from your PC while dialing.

Linksys CIT200 Profile

Linksys CIT200 profile compared with a Motorola cell phone

The CIT200 features a Call Log recording the last 10 contacts or numbers you have dialed. The most recent call is stored at the top of the list. The private phonebook can store 100 records, and the shared phonebook can store 20 records. The information in your private phonebook is stored in your handset; therefore, if you have more than one handset, each handset has its own phonebook. The information in your shared phonebook is stored in the USB base unit; therefore, the information can be shared by all the handsets. Each record can store a name with up to 10 characters and a number with up to 20 digits and pauses are supported. Also, when a contact is highlighted, if you press DETAILS it allows you to view the contact's Skype profile including full name, home/mobile/office phone number, language, address, and online status.

Additionally, you can assign a VIP melody, a "unique" ringtone for the record to help identify who is calling. One other notable feature is that you can convert any record in your Call Log into a Phonebook entry. On a related note you can have up to 10 speed-dials each linked to a specific contact by assigning them to the 1-9 keys. I was concerned that the phone book entries would be lost if I changed the batteries, so I took them out and left them out for 5 minutes just to test. When I re-inserted the batteries, all my phonebook entries and speed dials were still there. I asked Linksys about this and they confirmed they are using NVRAM (non-volatile RAM).

Room for Improvement
If you want the device to be your default USB audio device, you cannot listen to any music, sounds, etc. that the PC plays. Of course, you can set just the Skype client to use the phone and not be the default Windows audio device. However, it would be nice if from the phone you could listen to streaming radio, MP3 files, or any sounds played by your PC from the phone. A certain unique keypress or series of keypresses could indicate that instead of making a Skype call, you want to "tap into" the USB audio class for any PC application currently playing audio. Thus, the CIT200 will only work with the Skype client and in fact, it won't even work with other VoIP clients unless someone hacks the software.

The transmitter is powered via USB, but the phone itself uses an A/C adaptor for recharging on its stand-up cradle. I'd like to see the phone recharge via USB, but I suppose utilizing two USB ports for one product may be a bit too much.

One other minor feature request would be if the USB base station had an analog FXO port for connecting to your home analog phone line so you could make/receive phone calls on that phone line as well. The analog phone line could even be the analog output coming from your ATA (analog telephone adaptor) which terminates with a VoIP broadband provider such as Vonage.

Conclusion
Overall, the Linksys CIT200 is a great wireless Skype solution that is a perfect alternative to your typical Skype headset solution. It has excellent range, very good battery life, and most importantly you can access your Skype contacts from the phone itself so you're not chained to the PC for dialing or taking calls. It's worth mentioning that most people are not using Skype as a landline replacement though many are using broadband VoIP providers such as Vonage to replace their landline. Part of the reason is that Skype requires your PC to be on all the time and you have to be at your PC to initiate dialing. However, if you take the Linksys CIT200 and add in a SkypeIn PSTN number along with pay-as-you-go SkypeOut minutes, and the ability to make outbound dialing away from the PC, then the CIT200 could be the perfect home landline replacement.

The Linksys CIT200 Cordless Internet Telephony kit has a suggested retail of $129.99 but you can probably find one for $49.99 Retailers carrying the product include Radio Shack, Staples, Amazon, Fry's, Newegg.com, and others. Amazon has the best price I have seen - only $49.99 on Amazon.com.

Update!
Linksys now has a similar product that instead of Skype works with Yahoo Messenger with Voice. Check out my full review of the Linksys CIT310


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