With the release of PSP firmware update 3.90 comes Skype, an internet telephone service that lets you make calls via a wi-fi connection. You're probably familiar with it because it's been around for a while on PCs. This week's launch simply extends the service to include PSP.
Sony's portable is geared specifically for gaming (as is our focus), so it's only natural to be a little skeptical about how such an application fares on the handheld. Despite these initial concerns though, we're eager to report that Skype is surprisingly easy to use and a great new addition to the multimedia functionality of PSP.
Skype software comes automatically packaged in the latest firmware at no charge, although you'll need a PSP Slim & Lite (PSP-2000) to use it as memory constraints on the first model sadly prevent the program from running on it.
Along with the Slim & Lite, two additional pieces of hardware are required: a PSP headset and headphones remote control unit. Be aware that you'll need a remote control compatible with Slim & Lite as there is a another set of headphones Sony sells that only work with the original PSP.
Getting all the accessories to run Skype is actually the most difficult part of the process. In the coming weeks, Sony has promised to release a special Skype pack that includes a headset and compatible remote control. For the time being however, you'll need to piece it together yourself.
Once you've acquired all the necessary components and installed the new firmware, you can begin using Skype. An icon for the program appears under the network category on the PSP's XMB (XrossMediaBar). Selecting this enables you to sign in or create a new Skype account if you haven't previously registered. You'll be prompted to connect to the internet via infrastructure mode for this.
Logging in takes you to a separate XMB menu exclusive to Skype, with options to set your profile, manage contacts, check your call history, dial in a call, and access an assortment of tools. Each user gets a unique Skype number, as well as profile that lists full name, country of origin, contact numbers and more. It's entirely optional, but a good way of relaying vital information to other Skype users when placing a call.
Making a call is incredibly easy once you're logged in. Either select a contact and instruct the PSP to dial or access the dial option and enter the number manually. It's important to be aware of where you're calling though, as the fees vary. Connecting to another Skype user is free, for example, but calls to LAN lines and mobiles come with at a price.
Subscriptions are offered for unlimited calls per month or year; alternatively, you can apply credit to your account and make calls with funds drawn from that credit. International rates are amazingly low (so for US correspondents reporting to their UK overlords, it's a viable option).
Ease of use gets Skype on PSP points, but the real test is in communication quality. Dialing a friend at their office, I found the quality on par with a mid- to low-range mobile device on my end. When questioned about the voice quality on the receiving end of the call, my friend stated it was about the same. Connection stability does factor into communication quality, so be aware that a weak wi-fi signal will translate into poor quality and potentially dropped calls.
Overall, Skype is an impressive addition to the PSP's slate of communication features. It obviously won't replace your mobile, but it can take a supplemental role to online-enabled games – dialing a friend prior to heading online in a game, for instance. Aside from the initial cost of the required accessories, there's almost no reason not to take advantage of the feature.