Asus Eee AiGuru SV1 Skype phone

We love Skype. There, it’s been said. With that in mind, we were pleased to see the slicky-named Asus Eee AiGuru SV1 arrive in the office. If you remember, this is the device that was launched and then retracted back in September 2008.

The Eee Asus AiGuru SV1 looks like something from the future, from a world where video calls are made all the time and you no longer need something as primitive as a handset. Ok, so not exactly the future as we’ve been doing this for years with Skype, and before that with the likes of Microsoft Netmeeting and other such applications. The SV1 takes out the computer, leaving you with a single application device.

With that in mind, you’ll find a 7-inch, 800 x 480-pixel, LCD screen on the front, with a 0.3-megapixel camera, microphone and status light in the bezel above. Below the screen you find two groups of button controls: on the left the volume and call accept/reject buttons; on the right you get a four-way navigation control with a central ok button. Flanking the controls you’ll also find a back button and a home button. In the bottom of the front panel is the speaker.

This whole lot sits on a base which houses the other connections and the battery. It is hinged, so you can angle the device up to about 45 degrees to line yourself up in the screen. It feels solidly constructed and is of a decent weight too (1.6kg), so it doesn’t look or feel like a gimmick. The silver-grey plastic that makes up the body looks futuristic enough to carry on the myth that this is something special.

The connections include 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks for those who might be using this is a busy environment or want a degree of privacy, a 10/100 Ethernet connection for a wired link into your network and the 12V DC input. In terms of connection you’ll also find b/g Wi-Fi on-board, so for those with a home Wi-Fi network, this may be the easiest option. The back also sees the power button, suggesting that this isn’t a device that Asus think you want to turn off.

As mentioned the base also houses the battery, which when combined with the Wi-Fi means that you are not tied to a desk. That degree of portability is appealing, meaning you can sit in the garden or wherever, and you don’t need any cables. Before you get too excited though, the battery really isn’t up to much as it will only give you about 20 minutes of talk time. We also found it didn’t hold charge, so even with the device off, the battery will just drain away – so if you want to go walkies, you’ll need to make sure you have the battery charged (2 hours) before you step away from the mains.

Power on and you launch into Skype. There are no options, nothing to select, you are just straight into it. Startup takes about 30 seconds from pressing the button, although on your first boot you do need to set everything up.

Using a simple menu-based system it will ask you for your Skype details, which you’ll have to enter via an onscreen keyboard and using that four-way controller. It is pretty fast, and once done it will remember your details and log-in automatically next time. Sadly it will only remember one set, so if you have more than one Skype user living in your house, you can’t log-in as yourself without entering the details every time. But that said, it is only the same as having one phone number for your home.

If you don’t have a Skype account, you can set one up via the device, although you will probably already be a Skype user if you are interesting in buying a dedicated Skype video phone.

The display then gives you nice, big, familiar icons running through Settings, Search, Add Contact, Call phones, Contacts, History, Status, See Myself and finally Account. All are self explanatory and pretty much replicate the functions you’ll find in the Skype application on your PC. The omission here, of course, is the chat function, which without a keyboard would be impossible to manage.

The great thing is that because this is linked into your Skype account, any details you change on the PC will also be reflected on the SV1, so if change your profile, those details will be carried across. This means you don’t have to fiddle around too much with that onscreen keyboard. Otherwise navigation is pretty simple: to make a call, go into your contacts list, find that person and then either pick the onscreen option, or press the call button.

When you are in a call you get a fullscreen video of your caller, plus a small preview video of yourself in the corner. As the video is restricted to those 7 inches of the screen, you don’t have that problem of going fullscreen on your PC and finding the quality is no good. That said, the quality you experience on video chats online depends on a number of things, including the quality of connection at both ends and in-between, as well as the webcam in use.

The quality is generally pretty good, although we found that this being dedicated video phoning device we concentrated on the picture more than we would on a PC, where other things tend to distract as you talk. Generally, however, we found the quality to be similar to our PC-based chats. It might be worth noting however, that whilst a 0.3MP webcam is pretty common in netbooks, the norm is moving towards 1.3MP, which is also the case for standalone webcams.

If anything, then we noticed that the frame rate sometimes suffered, although this could easily to be caused by problems in the network. You don't get the neat call quality information you'll find in the Skype application either.

Audio quality was good and there is also plenty of volume. Callers reported that they could hear us loud and clear and we also had no problems with group video calls, so callers could hear all the people in the room – great for conference calls or family chats!

Verdict

The great thing about Skype on the PC is that it is free and it is so simple. In the case of the SV1, you stil get all that Skype goodness: it is still simple to use, but you lose the free element. Yes, the service itself is free, but you’ll have to pay out a hefty £219.95 for the SV1.

And that sort of makes things pale a little, as you can get a netbook, with the same, if not better, specs for around the same amount – with the added advantage of having a fully operating PC. That would also give you a degree of future-proofing too.

But if you have the cash to spare, or are not interested in having a PC - or perhaps you want to add grandparents into the Skype mix, or leave a Skype box at home for the kids whilst you travel with your laptop - then the AiGuru SV1 offers all the advantages of Skype in a practical and easy to use package.

We loved the SV1 because you can just plug it in, turn it on, and start talking. But when all is said and done, the Asus Eee AiGuru SV1 is just too expensive.