The key feature of the Philips VOIP841 is that it is a standalone Skype phone that doesn't require a PC running the Skype software. All of the Skype software runs on the Philips base unit and the phone. I should mention that there are several standalone Skype phones such as the Linksys CIT400, the RTX DUALphone 3088 Cordless Skype Phone, and the Netgear SPH200D Dual Mode Cordless Skype Phone.
The Philips VOIP841 uses the Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) frequency, a 1.8GHz band which provides for better security and better battery life than other cordless frequencies. It isn't WiFi though, so don't expect to just carry the handset to a hotspot. Personally, I prefer DECT since it has better battery life than WiFi, less interference with microwaves causing the voice quality to suffer, and DECT usually has better range as well. But if you insist on a WiFi Skype phone, you can check out the Netgear Skype WiFi Phone SPH101.
In any event, the VOIP841 base station lets you plug in an analog PSTN landline connection as well as your Ethernet broadband connection. This means that in addition to making calls via Skype, you can also make/receive calls using your traditional house phone line. Some call this "dual mode", but not to be confused with "dual mode" cell phones which are Wi-Fi and CDMA or GSM. When I first installed the Philips VOIP841, I connected the base unit to a NETGEAR FE108 Ethernet hub. When I attempted to connect to Skype from the handset, it wouldn't connect. I thought it might be a DHCP issue or a problem with the firewall, so I check both and they seemed fine. I did notice that the MAC address of the Philips VOIP841 was nowhere to be found on the DHCP server.
I then noticed that the base unit has 2 LEDs that are supposed to illuminate - one when connected and the other when transmitting/receiving data but neither LED was on. Faulty network cable? I changed network cables and still no dice. At this point I thought the review unit was DOA. However, as a last resort, I connected the base unit to a 3Com 10/100/1000 networking switch in the lab and the LEDs lit up! I was able to connect to Skype successfully. Woohoo! After my initial excitement, I wanted to know why the base unit wouldn't work with the NETGEAR. Surely, NETGEAR, which makes competing Skype products wouldn't detect and block the Philips Skype phone, would they? Turns out the NETGEAR FE108 is one of the rare pieces of networking equipment in my lab that isn't dual-speed (10/100Mbps) and apparently the Philips VoIP841 shaved some pennies on cost by installing a 10Mbps networking interface (non-dual speed). Mystery solved! Once connected to the network, it acquired an IP address, the handset synched with the base unit, I entered in my Skype credentials (username/password), it connected to Skype across the Internet and away we go!
Now onto the fun stuff - playing with and using the Philips VOIP841. I should mention that the base station is running Linux with a 168-MHz ARM9 CPU. The handset comes with 2 provided NiMH AAA batteries that they recommend you charge overnight. Using the handset for the first time I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to navigate. From the first screen you have 2 options - Menu for configuring or viewing various options, and a Contacts option which lets you quickly call one of your Skype contacts without going into the Contacts submenu option via the Menu option. When you choose the the Menu option you can view Contacts, History (call history), Status, Add Contact, Search, Services, and Settings. Each of these options have submenus for performing various actions.
For instance, within the History option you can view history for All Calls, Missed Calls, Incoming, Outgoing, Voicemails, and even New Contact/Request where you can Accept, Decline, Decline & block. The Status option obviously lets you change your Status, sign out, as well as view your profile. The Search option is more limited than the search feature when using Skype PC/Mac/Linux software. You can only search by name or email address and NOT by country, city, state, language, age, or gender. A bit limiting, but not a major feature I missed. Under the Settings menu you can change your password, whether to auto-sign in, and your call settings (i.e. call forwarding)
Importantly, you can set your ringtones by call type - Skype, SkypeIn, landline, or intercom to help differentiate the call type. You also have 15 ringtones available to choose from. The intercom feature lets you call up to 4 other Philips handsets since this is a multi-handset DECT device. Technically, you can also connect up to 4 base units, each supporting up to 4 handsets for a total of 16 handsets, though I doubt anyone would get that crazy. You might see some people with 2 base units though since each base unit can only register with 1 Skype account at a time. With 2 base units, that'll allow 2 different Skype accounts.
When navigating into deeper submenus you can easily back out one level by pressing the Back button, which is nice. The 4-way directional pad features quick shortcut "jump" features that activate when viewing the main menu. When you press the up arrow you can change your status, down arrow lists your contacts, and both the left and right arrow are unused. Surprisingly, I couldn't find a redial button - I tried the # key, pressing the Talk button after just finishing a call, but no dice. What? No Redial? Reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons - 1951's Chow Hound where a muscular dog exploits a cat and a mouse for food, but the cat keeps forgetting to bring him gravy. This results in the dog saying "What? No gravy?" followed by a whoopin of the cat & mouse. Don't worry, the mouse and cat have their revenge, as seen here: (click for the YouTube video. Fun trivia - this cartoon was banned for being 'politically incorrect', though I just watched it and I don't see what the problem is.)
One of the unused directional keys (left / right) could be used for the missing redial. Food (gravy?) for thought Philips
The handset features speakerphone mode for handsfree communication. The speaker is on the back, so you actually have to place the phone sideways or LCD face down and not flat on its back if you want to hear the caller clearly. One of my pet-peeves with VoIP products I test is that they don't have an off button to save on battery life when I know I'm not going to be using it for awhile. The only thing I can infer from the lack of an "off" button is they just assume their product is the greatest thing since sliced bread, so why would you want to turn it off? Thankfully, the VOIP841 doesn't suffer from this egolomaniac complex - it does have an off button.
Speaking of turning off the power to save on battery juice, the backlight turns off after one minute to conserve the battery. You can change this setting to 2, 3, 4, or 5 minutes. After a couple of minutes the handset will go into sleep mode until you receive a call, hit a button, or put it back in the cradle.
I tested some calls to my Skype contacts and they all said the quality on their end was excellent. Similarly, I thought the voice quality on my end was excellent. I also made some PSTN/landline calls - both inbound & outbound - and the quality was typical of any traditional PSTN landline - it was very good. You might be curious to know if the Linux-based base unit acts as a Skype supernode. Well, it doesn't - curiosity satisfied.
- One handset (can purchase more separately)
- Two NiMH (750mAh) AAA-size rechargeable batteries
- Small charging cradle for the phone plus AC adapter
- A base station that connects to the phone line and your network plus AC adapter
- An Ethernet and phone cable
- Quick-start guide
- CD with PDF manuals
- Voucher giving you 120-minutes of free SkypeOut calls and 12 months free Skype voice-mail
- Backlight : yes
- Backlight colour : White
- Display colours : 65000
- Main display resolution : 128x128 pixel
- Main display technology : CSTN
- Handset ringers : Polyphonic
- Handset Volume Control : 5-level earpiece and loudspeaker volume control
- Number of melodies : 5 Std and 10 polyphonic
- Ring profiles : Landline/Internet distinction
- Backlit keypad : Yes (green)
- Base station keys : Paging key
- Call management : Call on hold, Call Transfer, Call waiting, Caller ID, Message Waiting, Microphone mute
- Ease of Use : Graphical user interface, Keypad lock, Menu control
- Handset keys : Two softkeys, Four-way navigation key, Dialing keypad, Hang-up, Line, Loudspeaker
- Multi base capability : Up to 4 bases
- Multi handset capability : Up to 4 handsets
- Signal strength indication : yes
- Speakerphone-Talk hands-free : Yes
- User interface : Skype on LED
- Headset : Via Jack Connector (Handset)
- Name & number phonebook : 500 Skype entries
- Antenna : Integrated on base, Integrated on handset
- Dialling : Pulse, Tone
- Battery capacity : 750 mAh
- Battery type : AAA NiMH
- Battery type : Rechargeable
- Mains power : AC 220-240V - 50Hz
- Number of batteries : 2
- Standby time : Up to 120 hours
- Talk time : Up to 12 hours
Overall, I was very happy with the Philips VOIP841 and those not experienced in VoIP will find installation a snap (unless they have a 100Mbps-only hub like I did). I liked its impressive 'claimed' standby time of up to 120 hours and its talk time of 12 hours. Although I didn't actually test/review these battery time claims to the max, I did find the battery life was quite good. Like I said, this is one of the few VoIP products that stays on my desk. If you are looking for a standalone "PC free" Skype phone then the Philips VOIP841 certainly has all the features you are looking for (minus the redial). If you want to buy the Philips VOIP841, Amazon currently has it listed for steal price of under $99.