Skype on the Nokia E71

As regular readers know, I use Skype a lot. I have family and friends scattered across the world, and it’s an essential part of keeping in touch with them. When Tehmina stayed in Rome for a two month research trip in 2005 Skype was our lifeline.

[Update] On 10th December 2009 Skype released the beta of an official Skype Symbian client. This is the best solution for serious Skype users on the Symbian S60 platform. Read my quick overview.

3Skypephone

When 3 launched their 3Skypephone at the end of 2007 we were amongst the first to get our hands on one. However, I found it an increasingly frustrating phone to use, mainly because of it’s poor text input capabilities (two separate dictionaries, no T9 word learning in the built-in Skype app, replacing words that were in the phonebook, etc). A few months ago, I replaced it with a Nokia E71, and haven’t looked back. Much.

The one (and in my opinion, only) good feature about the 3Skypephone was that Skype was built-in to the handset. It was always running, and I didn’t have to remember to launch the client. I was logged in to Skype 24/7. The one disadvantage of moving to the E71 has been working out the best strategy of running Skype, and indeed, which client to use.

3’s Symbian Skype Client

I bought my handset from 3, who offer a custom native S60 Skype client developed by iSkoot. Granted, it’s not built in, but it is supported by the network and I’m not charged to make outgoing Skype-to-Skype calls. Recently, 3 made the progressive move to allow international Skype Out calls via their updated client. Amazing. This means that I can select a contact and dial their landline, pay nothing for the network voice call into Skype’s servers, and have the international part of the call charge covered by my Skype subscription.

However, all good things come at a price. 3’s client doesn’t allow SkypeIn calls via my Online Number. And its implementation of chat is cludgy and awful. Yesterday, on a train journey home, I was trying to chat to Tehmina, but while she could receive my messages, I couldn’t see any of her replies. She had to call me and ask if I was receiving them! Other times, chats have come through, but 10 minutes after they were sent. It’s very frustrating. You also have to click a “write message” button every time (which isn’t natural “chat”) and type into a tiny box. It’s a very frustrating experience.

Fring

The other option is to use Fring. Fring can connect to Skype and allows both voice and chat. Fring doesn’t utilise the voice network to complete part of the bridge, and so is a true VOIP system. The downside is that you need a good (preferably 3G or WiFi) signal to use it. Chats come through instantly, there’s no ‘barrier’ for text entry, just a normal text entry field, SkypeIn and Out both work, and it allows attachments (e.g. photos etc) to be sent to the person you’re text chatting with on Skype. It’s rather marvellous.

3 Skype client vs Fring – some issues

However (and isn’t there always a ‘however’!), I’ve found that Fring doesn’t always connect in to the Skype network. Whilst on the train yesterday evening, I ran an experiment. I had both 3’s Skype client and Fring running simultaneously. Fring could not show any of my Skype contacts, only those logged in to Google Talk. It didn’t even show them all as offline, it simply couldn’t retrieve them from Skype’s servers. Granted, most of the time it does load them successfully, but it often incorrectly reports contacts as offline. This is especially true of contacts using a 3Skypephone (who are more often than not, always signed in). Sending them a message anyway often prompts Fring into consequently list them to ‘online’.  But if they’re not listed at all, then there’s not much you can do.

3’s Skype client took about 5 minutes to load in all my contacts (for a while, echo123 was the only contact), but eventually displayed all of the contacts that I expected, including my offline and phone-only contacts (for SkypeOut). However, sending text chats to anyone resulted in the virtual sound of tumbleweed. Replies were all lost in the cold ether of cyberspace.

Official Skype Mobile client

The third option that I have explored for Skype on my E71 has been the official Skype mobile client, which is currently in beta. However, the E71 is not listed as a supported handset. I’m not someone to let a minor detail like that stop me, so when I first got my E71, I went ahead and downloaded the Nokia N95 version, hoping that it would just work. While I could install it, the client wasn’t able to recognise the fact that I have a QWERTY keyboard. You had to pretend that you had a numeric keypad, and guess which letter corresponds with each number. Not good. So I uninstalled it and crossed it off the list.

Skype Mobile (version 0.9.26.0) running on a Nokia E71. Apologies about the poor pic - it's just a quick photo!That is until today. While looking through my copious selection of RSS feeds, I spotted a post on the official Skype blog from earlier this month announcing an updated version of the Skype Mobile client (version 0.9.26.0). Included in the list of supported handsets is the Nokia E61, the E71’s predecessor. This phone also has a QWERTY keyboard, so I thought that I would download and install it to see if it worked on my E71. It did.

Now, there are some limitations with this implementation. Receiving Skype to Skype or SkypeIn calls uses up your Skype credit. Essentially this means that if someone calls you on Skype, their server makes a voice call to your mobile, and the relevant cellphone charges are deducted from your Skype credit. If you want to make a Skype to Skype or SkypeOut call, your handset dials a geographic number in your country to route your voice onto the Skype network. If you have inclusive minutes, these are used to make this call (so it could be seen as ‘free’ if you have lots of inclusive minutes in your tariff). If you’re on Pay As You Go, you’ll be charged accordingly. Skype Chat uses up data, so it makes sense to have unlimited data included in your tariff of you’re going to use this regularly.

There’s a full explanation on the Skype for your mobile website.

So how well does it work? Skype chat works well. It connected into the Skype network very quickly, listing all of my contacts. I compared this with the client running on my Mac, and most (but not all) contacts who were online were also listed as online on the handset. Ironically, my colleague who sits behind me, who I wanted to send a test chat to, wasn’t listed online at first. I sent him a message anyway, and lo and behold, his status was changed to “online” straight away. Admittedly, I didn’t give the client any time at all to ‘bed in’ and synchronise all of my contacts’ status.

Messages sent between us were received instantly on the handset, so I’m very pleased with that. But there is still the usual ‘Java’ feel to the app. To type a new chat message you can press the centre nav button and you’re taken through to a blank text entry window that completely covers the Skype app. You then have to click “Send” to submit your message and return to your chat. On the E71, there is a delay of about a second after clicking send, which can make it feel as if it didn’t work. Clicking send a second time results in duplication of your chat entry, which is rather unfortunate. But, like many software niggles in the wider world, you get used to it.

Nimbuzz

It’s been pointed out in the comments that I ought to try out Nimbuzz as another option. And I’m glad that I have. Nimbuzz supports Skype, Google Talk, ICQ, MSN, etc.

Nimbuzz provide a native S60 client that runs nicely on my E71, and provides much the same functionality as Fring. Skype chat works very well indeed, much the same as it does on a desktop app, with no extra ‘text entry’ screens that act as a barrier to the natural flow of a chat. Sending of photos and files is built-in, and uses the Nimbuzz website as an intermediary instead of hooking in to Skype’s file attachment feature.

I was able to hold two chats simultaneously with my wife (on Skype) and my niece (on MSN) and without leaving the Nimbuzz app, take and send a photo. It was quite fun snapping away during a chat while I was out and about, so they could see where I was and what I was doing.

While Nimbuzz has a lovely interface and is very smooth in its operation, I have had some connection problems, which I intend to look into. If I go into a subway, for example, and lose mobile signal, Nimbuzz doesn’t automatically reconnect – instead it silently asks me which connection to use to reconnect, so I don’t notice that I’ve gone offline. Rather annoying, but I will look into the settings and on the Nimbuzz forums to see if I can resolve this. Fring works very well in this regard, relentlessly keeping whatever connection it can find.

It definitely shows promise!

Conclusion

The 3 Skype client is hands-down the best approach for Skype voice calls on the E71. Skype Mobile is the most reliable way of having a text chat. Fring is the best all-round compromise. There is no “holy grail” solution which works perfectly.

So which approach will I be using for my day-to-day mobile Skype use? Unfortunately I’m going to have to choose different clients depending on what I want to do. When I’m out and about, reliable Skype chat (and presence) has to be my priority. It’s an ideal alternative to SMS if chats are delivered in real-time. If I want to make a Skype call, I shall switch to the 3 Skype client. If I’m somewhere where there is excellent 3G coverage or Wifi, I will switch over to Fring.

I think that the Skype Mobile client will be what I will run most of the time. Most people I know will send me a message asking if it’s OK to call, allowing me to quickly switch clients (to avoid call charges) to 3’s client. In my current personal scenario, I think this will work, and given the relative low use of Skype voice calls when I’m mobile, a relatively low inconvenience.

If I find that mobile voice (especially via my Online Number) and chat gain equal importance, I would probably hope that Fring have sorted out any network interconnection issues or that 3 concentrate on making chat work properly on their client and allow SkypeIn (I would pay a small monthly fee for this feature – maybe a dedicated 3+Skype contract?).

Given that these are early days for VOIP services such as Skype entering the mobile market, I think that it’s reasonable to assume that many improvements are on the cards. Progressive mobile networks such as 3 are important drivers in this field. So let’s hope that this sector strengthens in the coming year, and smartphone users are offered a more complete Skype experience.

20 thoughts on “Skype on the Nokia E71

  1. hello,

    I have a little problem with my E71, maybe you can explain…as none of people at 3 cystomer services were able to come up with an answer!

    I have tried using Skype on it, by just clicking on the skype logo. I have never used skype before so didn’t know what kind of things to expect.

    It asked me to create an account, which I did successfully. Having no contacts yet, I decided to press on the ‘Skype test call’ to see what would be happening. The voice said I should contact 3 services as my phone didn’t enable the call. I did and technical services replied I would need an add-on (I am on a mix/match contract with max Internet add-on already) and then billing services told me I should be entitled to my free minutes and it should work – what a great help.
    I checked some of the options my phone’s skype and to my surprise it says I have a count of ‘0’ minutes.
    (?) Do you have any idea what I forgot to do or did wrong?

    Thank you so much,

    A

  2. Nice article.. i have you tried http://www.iskoot.com They are infact provide the skype client for the 3 phones.. but sometimes.. newer features are available on iskoot before they are available on the 3 version that comes with your phone.

    I was using iskoot, on my n73.. which let me make skypeout calls even when the 3 version of the skype client didn’t .. Just a thought . Great article by the way..

  3. Hi there,
    great article, I am just planning to install Skype on my E71. Unfortunately I can’t use Skype with my priceplan – as this is ruled out by the contract (T-mobile UK) Not really issue to use it from time to time but I want to use it on regular basis.

    For that reason I want to use it via wi-fi only. Is there any option in those clients above? I know that Skype client uses 3G for data and there is no way to change it.
    Fring should be better but I am not sure if it is possible to set up as default.
    Thank you!
    Peter

    1. Hi Peter,

      Thanks for your comment :-)

      Both Fring and Nimbuzz will work with wifi only. In both, you can set your preferred default gateway, and can specify them to always ask you which connection to use. You can also tell Fring to use wifi as your first connection preference.

      Good luck!

      Tom

  4. Both iskoot and skype mobile charge you (with a “local” call, but I’m redirected to an international call from Italy) for a skype to skype call.
    I cannot figure out where is the convenience :)
    Pasquale

    1. Hi Pasquale,

      I can only really comment for how this works in the UK. If I would like to call my sister in France from my mobile, it would cost me a lot of money per minute, since international calling from my mobile is expensive. However, my contract gives me 100 inclusive minutes to UK mobiles or landlines. So – using iSkoot or Mobile Skype with my Skype subscription (Unlimited Europe) allows me to call my sister via a local call that uses my inclusive minutes, and thus saves me money. Of course, if I were to travel abroad, then it wouldn’t be very effective, since I would be charged for an international call back to the UK.

      However, if I were to use Fring or Nimbuzz, I could connect to them via Wifi, and use my Skype subscription to make a completely free call to a landline, or a free Skype-to-Skype call.

      It’s worth pointing out that if you use the ‘3’ network then you can use their version of Skype (based on iSkoot) in the UK and Italy as if it were the same country with their “3 Like Home” policy, which is refreshing!

  5. Hi there,

    I recently purchased an e71 with the bright idea that I could use it for making skype calls, but now I am not so sure. Perhaps someone could help. I thought that since it had wi-fi, I would be able to download skype to the phone and be able to make call whenver I was connected to the internet.

    However, I have been unable to find the download specifically for wifi phones which makes me wonder if there is one, or if the way to get skype on my phone is to get a service provider and use skype mobile. But, I don’t plan to do that until my contract with verizon runs out.

    So, the question is: with this device, can I use skype (or any voip) to make cheap phone calls, without putting in a sim card and signing up with a provider??

    also, I am not a very techhie person. any help appreciated!

    Theresa

  6. Hi Theresa,

    Skype’s client does use the cellular network to place a call, so it makes a normal voice call to a server, which then turns your voice into digital data and puts it over the Skype network. This doesn’t sound what you would like to do, since you haven’t got a SIM in your E71.

    I would recommend downloading Nimbuzz, since the new version supports Skype Out calling, and can connect via Wifi. Nimbuzz isn’t a program that is made by Skype, but instead is written by a 3rd party, but works on Skype’s network.

    If you just want to do Skype to Skype calling over Wifi, then Fring will do it too (but at the time of writing, won’t let you do cheap calling as far as I know).

    Let me know how you get on!

  7. Hi Tom, thanks! I think I did somehow manage to download Nimbuzz to my phone, but how to make phone calls is a mystery to me, as is how to connect it to Skype. (??) I’ll keep at it, see if I can figure it out!

  8. hi Tom, me again, was able to chat with a skype contact through nimbuzz on the e71, but not make a phone call to the same person. when I tried, it asked for my mobile number, which I don’t have, since I have no sim card or provider! So it seems impossible to use voip on a, or maybe just this, wifi device, without also having a subscription with a service provider. Which to some extent defeats the purpose.

    I may try signing up for the cheapest plan possible, then seeing if it will work. once I have a sim card and all that, I think I could use skype directly and would not in that case need nimbuzz.

    But, signing up with a provider here will not be any help while I am in Europe this summer! I suppose I could try the same approach with a provider in spain, if they will let me do it for just 3 months, and then I could make calls back home or to other international locations.

    that is my report, probably more than you wanted to know! :-)

    1. Sorry Nimbuzz didn’t work – perhaps ask for tips on their forum?

      I think that perhaps the E71 was not the best choice if all you wanted was a wifi Skype phone. If you’re coming to Europe, then you may be able to get away with what we call a “Pay As You Go” or prepaid SIM. Otherwise, I think you’re probably better off with a netbook PC, or a dedicated wifi Skype phone such as those on the Skype store.

      Good luck!

  9. Dear all;

    Try the gizmo5.com. it will work on E71. you can even call skype user for free using your mobile gizmo. and call other VOIP for free. the downside is Skype user cannot call the Gizmo5 user. but i think this is the skype problem. one thing i like about gizmo is you can stay connected as long as you are within the wifi reach.

    Gizmo is pre loaded in E71 phone or you can download it using wifi.

  10. Hi,

    Quite interesting article.

    I’ve been trying to solve the problem with skype on the phone for my wife (who use a E71).

    I personally use an HTC with windows mobile and the version released by skype work 90% great (I hate the thing that the sound have to come through the speakerphone). But this version has been working perfectly for skype2skype and skypeout.

    But anyway… back to the E71… I installed the skype version first. Not good. Only the chat was enabled.

    Then I installed Fring. That one worked better. But for me, it worked only when I’m connected to 3G or GPRS and not to WIFI. Obviously, you want to use it more with WIFI as you don’t have to use data traffic that is expensive.

    Now I just downloaded the Nimbuzz. I will see if it can work better than Fring (specially connecting via WIFI).

  11. The full skype client beta is finally available for the E71. You can get it at the Skype development forum here:

    http://forum.skype.com/index.php?act=announce&f=249&id=341

    “This beta release of Skype for Symbian supports more than ten different handsets, with the production release planned to be compatible with even more phones.

    Skype for Symbian supports:
    * Free Skype-to-Skype calling
    * Call phones with Skype credits or subscription
    * Receive calls on your Online Number
    * Instant Messaging
    * Group conversations
    * File sending and receiving
    Skype for Symbian works over Wifi or 3G data connection. We recommend having a unlimited data plan when using 3G connection.

    We would like to get all your feedback on this beta release. Did you like it? Did we miss anything? Did you have any trouble using it? Did you have any technical issues?

    Let us know about it on our forums.

    Please remember that it is a beta release, which means that the quality is not up to our usual high standards. If you experience any bumps during the usage of the client then please let us know.”

    1. Thanks Joe, I spotted this yesterday and installed it – much better than anything we’ve had before! My only niggle is that text chat requires a click before entering text – if you just type a word, the first letter is missing as the first letter just triggers the text input box, so you have to double-type the first letter of a new chat entry. Otherwise, excellent. Full review coming soon…

  12. I just installed it yesterday myself. Over wi-fi the sound quality is magnificent. One very promising thing is that it appears that DTMF will be supported, although it seems this first beta doesn’t allow you to enter tones via the E71’s keypad. I have, however, verified that it recognizes DTMF tones if you hold another phone’s speaker to the mic and dial the DTMF tones externally. This is a huge breakthrough for me to check my cell’s voicemail without using minutes.

Comments are closed.