Linksys CIT200 cordless Skype handset
Talk while you walk
Review Skype may have given all the microphones built into desktop and notebook computers over the years a role in life, but making calls still feels more comfortable with a phone in your hand. Yes, if you don't fancy shouting at your computer, you can use a headset, but only if you don't mind feeling like you work in a call centre...
Linksys' offering is more like a cordless phone than a mobile, and indeed, it ties into the host computer using ye olde digital cordless system, DECT. Like most DECT phones, the CIT200 has borrowed some innovations from the mobile phone world, but remains locked in some pre-Nokia past where handsets are large, gently curved, clad in silvery plastic and sport a decidedly old-style user interface. In short, ladies and gentlemen, this does not feel like a modern phone.
The handset needs a base-station, this time a unit that hooks up to a PC's USB port - there's no Mac or Linux support here - and routes calls back and forth. To Windows, the base-station looks like any USB audio device, and software hooks it straight into the running Skype application.
The DECT support means you should be able to connect the CIT200 to a separate base-station, but I was unable to get it to see mine. My Panasonic may not support the General Access Protocol (GAP), which is required by the CIT200.
Setting it all up is easy enough - the hardest part is waiting the 14 hours for the pair of AAA-sized Nickel Hydride rechargeable batteries require to receive their initial charge. After that, run Skype, install the software, hook up the hardware and you're done.
The handset has a Skype menu which provides access to your Skype contacts list, culled from the host PC, user status information and - if you have it enabled - connection to your voicemail. The handset also sports a dedicated Skype button, located below the numeric keypad, that goes straight to the contacts list. Alongside the Skype button is an intercom button to talk to other handsets, and a button that calls up the call missed/received/dialled lists.
The Skype menu's user status option, incidentally, only lets you select whether you're displayed as online, offline, popped out, etc. It doesn't, for example, tell you how many SkypeOut minutes you have left - for that you need to return to your PC. Linksys bundles 60 minutes' SkypeOut calls with the package, by the way. You can't use the handset for instant messaging, despite the SMS-friendly keys.
The keypad itself comprises three rubber keys each mounted over three separate switches. They're well spaced and it's easy to use the keypad one-handed. There's a four-way navigation control, but for the life of me I can't find a place in the menu structure where you need to go left or right - it's all up and down.
You can store 100 individuals' contact information on the handset, with a further 20 that can be accessed by other handsets, but unless you're going to connect it to a separate Skype accounts or to a PSTN-connected base-station, what's the point? Most users will use the handset with a single Skype account running on one PC, I suspect, and rely on Skype to maintain their contact information.
The handset sports a small, five-line colour LCD, a speakerphone and an earphone port, though no such accessory is bundled in the box. It feels solid in the hand without being heavy, and it's certainly comfortable to use. There are 15 ringtones, three wallpaper images and three colour schemes, so the scope for handset customisation is limited. The UI is aesthetically crude - smart-phone users will feel it's a real step backwards - but it works. You can't assign ringtones to specific contacts or groups of them. The screen looks fine, but the colour is largely irrelevant.
Linksys provides a rather light recharge cradle. It may feel slightly flimsy, but it's well designed, providing a good stand for the handset, which fits onto it smoothly and flawlessly. However, it's for desk mounting only - you can't fit it to the wall as you might with a cordless phone's base-station. Linksys does bundle a belt clip, though.
Calling worked fine, the slight lag notwithstanding. Lag is part of the Skype process, of course, its effects depending on the quality of your broadband connection, how many folk are sharing it and the data's route out onto the net. Calls to other Skype users went through quickly and smoothly. Trying a SkypeOut contact number failed, generating an internal error, but keying the number in manually and pressing the handset's green call-make button connected me flawlessly. The speakerphone worked.
Linksys claims the CIT200 provides up to ten hours' talk time or 120 hours on stand-by.
High-activity Skype users will get more out the CIT200, particularly if you find you want to make calls and are getting fed up of going back to the computer. It's a pricey initial outlay, but with your desktop running all the time it's cheaper than, say, a Windows Mobile device that connects separately via Wi-Fi - unless you have one already, of course. Anyone who only Skypes while they're at their desk is probably better off with a cheaper USB-connected device or - my favourite - a Bluetooth headset.
Linksys' CIT200 works reasonably well when you're making Skype calls. It's limited to operating with a PC, though thanks to its use of DECT you may be able to use it to access a PSTN-connected cordless base-station if you have one, and talk to other handsets walkie-talkie fashion. That didn't work for me, but with its own base-station I could easily make and take calls, and walk around the office at the same time.
What it doesn't do is replace the Skype app - you still need to use your PC to check on your SkypeOut minutes, add new contacts, do instant messaging and so on. Until the CIT200 does all that too, for me it won't be a compelling purchase. ®