A few days ago Skype, the most popular and reliable VoIP app in the world, was updated to version 5. I already had a sneak peek at the new version thanks to the beta released weeks ago, but Skype 5 Final brings more new features: a refreshed interface design that makes the program easier to use, and integration with your Facebook profile – though that might not be such a good idea after all.
After a fairly quick installation, you can login with your username and password, or create a new Skype user right on the spot. You’ll immediately notice the new interface with a cleaner, more streamlined design. The app feels clearer and easier to use.
The new Skype interface is divided into two main sections. The left sidebar displays your contacts and your most recent calls, while the area on the right is divided into several tabs: Skype Home (which is basically Skype advertising its own products), your Skype user profile and another tab to give feedback about the program.
And yes, there it is: the Facebook tab. Integration with Facebook is exactly one of the two new features in Skype 5. This integration means that you can now not only access your news feed (i.e., the “Wall”) from within Skype, but also call any of your friends who have their telephone number in their Facebook profile.
To phone a Facebook friend from Skype, simply click the green Call button and select the phone number you want to use. Of course, these calls require you to have Skype Credit so that you can phone landlines and mobile phones. But if those friends have also included their Skype usernames in their profiles, you can call them on Skype right away – for free.
With Facebook on Skype you can update your status, leave a comment on your friends’ posts and like updates and wall posts, all within the Skype interface. However, the moment you click on someone’s name to check their profile, you’ll need to open your web browser. The same happens when you want to update your information, search for something or someone on Facebook, check your private messages or keep track of notifications and friendship requests. So we could say the Facebook integration in Skype is some kind of watered down version of the real thing that, honestly, doesn’t add that much to the original app.
The other big improvement in Skype 5 is videoconferencing. Skype had already started focusing on video-calls in its previous version, with a totally revamped interface designed around this feature. The video-call window took almost the whole interface and became the most important function in the program. Skype 5 continues this trend with its new redesign and puts videoconferencing again on the spotlight.
Besides its growing importance, video-calls in Skype have now an added value: you can have a video-conference with up to 9 people (plus your own video stream) at the same time, which makes a total of ten different video screens on your monitor. I guess it can get pretty messy!
Being able to video-call two or three people simultaneously is great. But I think that going beyond that number makes the experience too complicated and confusing. In any case, this new group video calling feature may not last long in Skype 5 – at least for free. As we can read on Skype’s official blog, “With the new version of Skype, you’ll receive a free trial of group video calling in beta”. Notice the use of the word “free trial”. Also, be aware that this feature is only available on computers with new Intel processors: Intel Pentium D and Pentium Extreme processors on desktop machines, and Intel Centrino Duo on laptops.
Besides these two main features, Skype 5 doesn’t really include anything else worth mentioning. The app’s new look and feel makes its main functions (voice calls, video calls, IM and screen sharing) easier to use and more intuitive. But I must say I was a bit disappointed with Skype 5.
Don’t get me wrong here: there are great features in this new Skype, and the program still offers excellent sound and video quality in your calls. But somehow I expected something else. I was hoping for a bunch of outstanding changes, something you could expect from what is considered to be a major release. And an interface redesign and Facebook integration didn’t make up for it. Not to mention the fact that group video calls are available for free only for a limited period of time – 28 days, to be precise.
I’ll still use Skype though. It’s by far the best VoIP app I’ve tried so far, the most reliable and the one that offers the best sound and video quality. I’ll just hope for better versions – and try not to have such high expectations next time.