Skype for iOS Hands-On: A Solid FaceTime Competitor

Early today, Skype entered the growing mobile video market with a new client for iOS devices, bringing a rival to Apple’s (s aapl) FaceTime video chat service. Although I carry a Google (s goog) Android phone, I still drink from the iOS fountain via the latest iPod touch and its two cameras, and I use FaceTime nearly every day with my son. He doesn’t live with me, so we share much of our daily lives through Facetime: him on an iPhone 4 and me on my iPod or a Mac.

This morning, I tested Skype’s new mobile video feature with good friend, Brad Linder, who writes the popular Mobiputing blog. Each of us used the latest iPod touch on our home Wi-Fi networks and here’s my early take on the experience:

  • Skype mobile video quality is quite good, but not as sharp what I’ve seen using FaceTime. I’d estimate Skype’s quality to be about 90 percent of Apple’s product.
  • Audio quality was superb; a testament to Skype’s development on audio codecs over the years.
  • Just as with FaceTime, the Skype client will automatically orient itself in portrait or landscape, based on how you hold the handset.
  • One minor advantage that Skype holds over FaceTime is a presence indicator, as you can see who’s signed in to Skype and thus, available to take a video or voice call. I often call my son on FaceTime, but he’s not on Wi-Fi and not available: I only know this after I try to make the FaceTime call.
  • Skype supports simple switching of cameras from front to rear and you can easily turn the camera off during a call as well.
  • You can see Brad’s thoughts on the video experience on his blog.

Overall, the Skype mobile video experience is pleasing so far. Over the long term, I’ll be curious to see how much the client drains the battery on iOS devices and how it works over 3G. Since I have a mobile broadband hotspot on both my Android phone and Galaxy Tab devices, I may tote the iPod touch and try a video call over 3G later today. Speaking of Android, my next question to Skype is: When do the other platforms gain this nifty video calling feature?

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