The era of multi-use phones is seeing the personal digital assistant (PDA) either acquiring phone capability or phones adding PDA-like features. Count me in the ranks of the academically underfunded, though; the bleeding-edge gadgetry simply isn’t in my budget. Earlier this summer, though, I was able to score a used PDA cheap off of eBay. I got a Dell Axim x50v PDA. It was cheap because its main battery doesn’t hold much charge and its charger had a bad connection to the PDA. Once the internal back-up battery drains, the PDA won’t launch no matter how well-charged the main battery is. I got a larger-capacity main battery and a three-function cable for it (charger, USB, and VGA out). My main goal was to have a WiFi-capable PDA to check out website accessibility for mobile users. However, I recently discovered a different use: telephone via Skype.
Skype has a Pocket PC version of their voice-over-IP application. I downloaded that to my Windows laptop and ran the install; it loaded on the x50v without incident. I’ve used it for a couple of long calls so far. Diane and I never bothered to get a landline here. We rely on our cell phones instead. So anything that could help us stay within our regular minutes on the cell phone plan, or enable us to drop down to a less costly plan, is all to the good.
I’ve had one bad consequence of running Skype so far: while Skype is active, the PDA does not time-out for power-down. I put the PDA in my vest the other day, and though I had hit the power-off button, it must have gotten pressed accidentally sometime. When I pulled the PDA out and tried to turn it on, I got nothing. The battery had run down completely. Simply recharging was not enough, the x50v would not load its WiFi drivers afterward. I had to do a hard reset and reinstall applications. If I had been relying on the x50v for the usual PDA connectivity, I would have been pretty put out. So for traveling, I need to turn off and then also remember to set the lock button so it won’t turn on accidentally again.
Otherwise, the unit seems pretty decent for phone communication. A headset for listening helps. The built-in microphone is the only thing going there, though I haven’t checked to see whether it can be paired with a Bluetooth headset/microphone combination. Fortunately, the built-in microphone seems sufficiently sensitive for my purposes.
I’d like to hear from others who are using PDAs or other mobile devices with Skype, and especially about Skype features I haven’t tried yet: SkypeOut for calling standard phones, and setting a phone number via Skype for SkypeIn. I have to be budget-conscious, so I’d like to know how those work out in practice.