Netgear SPH-101 WiFi Skype Phone review

11:47am 10th February 2009

I have recently purchased a Netgear SPH-101 WiFi Skype phone. Having previously owned a Netgear Skype Phone, the wired SPH-200D and having been pleased with it, I was expecting the newer WiFi version to be an improvement. Alas, I have to report that I am very disappointed with my experience thus far.

Before I launch into my whinings, I'll begin with the pros of the handset. After all, it's not all bad. Well, not quite, anyway. The handset is an attractive and simple design, making it accessible for non-techie users to approach without feeling intimidated. It feel reasonably sturdy in the hand. That's about all I can say to praise the unit. From here on, it's all bad.

Let me say right now that I do not recommend this phone. I had a far better experience with the SPH-200D, which gave far more reliable service and clearer connections. The 101 WiFi phone firstly seems to have a very poor WiFi chipset, as calls begin to garble as I walk away from my wireless access point. Ranges that are quite fine for my laptop cause the 101 to drop calls. This is my biggest gripe, as the 200D managed to get greater range from its base station than the 101 gets from the AP. There's not point in trading away the wired base station for WiFi connectivity if you're going to put a rubbish WiFi arrangement in the handset.

The other major problem I have with the phone is the software and CPU. While the software is familiar, essentially identical to the 200D with the exception that it cannot make calls from a normal landline (it has no base station to do this), the handset feels far more sluggish. The software is slow to respond to keypresses and takes upwards of a minute to boot from off. This is made all the more annoying by the fact that due to an abysmal battery life, the handset is almost always off when you want to use it, meaning your call becomes tethered to a charging cable.

Personally, had I a choice, I'd go back to the 200D. The ability to make normal landline calls, the far superior battery life, the greatly improved range and faster software performance far outweigh any benefit of having the handset WiFi enabled. Unless you plan on taking the handset traveling with you to hotspots elsewhere, this is not a benefit, and remember, it can only log onto hotspots where there is no authentication, only a simple WEP/WPA passphrase, making its usefulness even in this area severely limited.

In short, the SPH-101 is a poorly designed and badly thought out implementation of a Skype device. It is obvious to me that nobody from Netgear tested the device, as they would have discovered that its software speed is too slow to be considered tolerable. I will try to get my hands on a Belkin handset, and see if that is any better. When I have more information, I will report here. Watch this space!