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Skype 3.0 for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch finally lets you make video calls. Long one of Skype's most coveted features, video calling has been missing since the application's debut for iOS. Now video calls are finally here, and Skype 3.0 is the best overall mobile video calling applications out there.
Version 3.2 of Apple's iPhone SDK, released last February, removed restrictions on calling over 3G for third-party app developers. This paved the way for Skype 2.0 to unveil true 3G-based VoIP calls for iPhone users. That's unlike the original Skype for iPhone (Free, 4 stars), which worked over Wi-Fi only. Now, with 3.0, regular calls and video calls can be made over both Wi-Fi and 3G.
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New Features, Setup, and Making Calls
To grab the update, head to Skype's dedicated landing page, or download the app over the air from Apple's App Store. Skype 3.0 is a 11.9MB download. It can send and receive video with the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, and 4th generation iPod touch with iOS 4.0 or above. The iPad and 3rd generation iPod touch are able to receive, not send, video calls. You can create a new account right from the app; I used my existing account, which brought up all my Skype contacts within moments.

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In a series of tests, Wi-Fi calls sounded particularly good. The gain was somewhat lower than regular voice calls; I had to crank the iPhone's volume to max in order to hear the other caller. But once I did, it sounded great. There was virtually no delay between when I spoke and when the other caller heard it, unlike with AT&T's regular cell phone connection. This led to less frequent interruptions of the sort where one person begins to speak, only to hear a moment later that the other had already done so.
Receiving calls on Skype is now much easier than it has been in past iterations. Skype 2.0 required the app to be launched and running while you waited for a call to come in, which was incredibly inconvenient. Now that iOS 4 allows voice-over-IP apps to run in the background, you can receive a call at any time, provided you are logged into Skype. It works just the same as a standard phone call would, alerting you that you are receiving a call and giving you the option to answer it with video (if available) or voice.
3G Calls, Other Features, and Conclusions
I learned the hard way that while I may see three bars worth of 3G signal indoors, and experience reasonably fast Web page downloads, that's still not reliable enough for clear voice transmissions. VOIP doesn't need fast download speeds—it needs low latency and jitter, which are big problems on 3G networks. On my side, I could understand callers reasonably well. But several callers said I sounded robotic, completely unintelligible, or like a "creature from outer space." (Thanks, mom!) Once I stepped outside and into the street, my 3G signal strength improved; from there, callers said I sounded clear and crisp, and all the delays disappeared. When I headed back inside, call quality quickly degenerated once again.
But this update is really all about video calling, and Skype 3.0 does that very well. I tested it on an iPhone 4, a 4th generation iPod touch, and a desktop Mac, over both Wi-Fi and 3G networks. Some calls started quickly but others took upwards of 10 seconds to connect. Audio came through first with video appearing a second or two later. Audio and video quality started off somewhat jerky on each call, but they smoothed out within a few seconds.
Once fully connected and past the initial jerkiness, video calls were quite good. Audio was loud and clear, and video quality, though not fantastic, was smooth and constant. Using an iPhone 4, I was able to have a full, clear conversation with someone else using Skype 3.0 on a 4th generation iPod touch. I also had a conversation with someone using Skype on a desktop Mac that was every bit as smooth.
Skype says it makes calls in 320-by-240 resolution, at up to 15 frames per second, and it seemed to live up to its promises. But while video quality was mostly consistent throughout my test calls, the picture itself was always a bit blurry and unfocused, which is likely due to the low frame rate.
Video calls made over 3G were just as good as calls made over Wi-Fi. Of course, that quality will be dependent on your 3G connection.
As always, Skype is great for making free international calls to Skype contacts, and has reasonable rates to landline and cell numbers. The app also lets you send instant messages to your Skype contacts, either one at a time or to multiple people. If you need to add credit to your account, you can do it right from the app. Tapping the button brings you to a Web page for adding credit, which works fine once you zoom in.
Despite some issues with video quality, Skype 3.0 remains a must-download, and a step in the right direction for Skype, as well as for video calling in general. Skype 3.0 is currently the best available option for making video calls between devices running iOS and a desktop. Hopefully future updates will bring higher frame rates and sharper picture quality, but for now, stay near a Wi-Fi hotspot, and you can save plenty of money on calls—with or without video.