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Hands-on with the Skype iPad app that came and went (and came back again)

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Update: The Skype iPad app is now available once again in the U.S. App Store, so if you like the looks of what you see below, go ahead and check it out for yourself.

Late Monday night, Skype for iPad finally arrived in the App Store (s aapl), after weeks of waiting. But don’t expect to find it there now; Skype pulled the app temporarily, saying it “went live prematurely.” We managed to grab the app before it disappeared (and it’s still available on some international stores), so here’s a look at what you can expect from it when it returns.

Skype might have had an issue with the timing of the release, or it might have just wanted to make sure it was completely polished before it hit the streets. I noticed some slightly buggy behavior, like pop-up menus that don’t rotate when the app does. But overall, the product is ready for active use, especially when it comes to core features like voice and video calling.

Over both Wi-Fi and 3G, video and voice calling worked well on the iPad when I tested it by calling my desktop installation of Skype on an iMac. I’d say video quality was at least comparable to what you can get with FaceTime. Plus, with the iPad, you can also talk to users on Android (s goog) and Windows (s msft) devices.

Skype also boasts a contact browser that would actually be pretty if any of my Skype contacts had user pictures. It sort of resembles Apple’s built-in Photos app, with your various contact sources (like your iPad contacts app, Skype, Online contacts, etc.) represented as stacks, which, when tapped, display contact images on a grid. Tapping any contact flips up the relevant card, giving you contact information and options to initiate a voice or video call, chat, or SMS (if you have enough Skype credit). The Skype for iPad app, like its iPhone sibling, also runs in the background, so you should never miss a call.

You can also call landlines and mobile phones from the iPad app, if you have Skype Out, and search and add people from the Skype directory. A nice feature also lets you save a phone number (without having to create an actual contact) for later use.

As someone who uses Skype as a home-phone replacement, I’m quite happy with the iPad iteration. You can receive calls to your Skype In number if you have one and make all the voice and video calls you want, right from the device that, for me, is most likely to be next to me on the couch on any given evening.

Skype may not yet think the iPad app is ready for public consumption, but based on my experience, it’s very close. You shouldn’t have to wait long to grab it, and considering it’s free, it’s well worth the wait.