Want to make voice and video calls on your Windows 8 computer? A touchscreen version of Skype is available from Microsoft, but how does it compare to the desktop version?
Skype for Windows 8 Modern: Why?
One of the most surprising things about Windows 8 is that Skype isn’t pre-installed. Perhaps wary of previous decisions against them concerning the installation of browsers, Microsoft instead makes the touchscreen-friendly version of Skype available via the Windows Store.
Interestingly, the Modern interface version of Skype can be installed on the same system as the “classic” desktop version. This can lead to problems; more on that later on.
With Skype for Windows 8 Modern, you get a touch-friendly VoIP app, capable of instant messaging, file sharing, voice calls and video chat. Intended for Windows 8 “full” (that is, for devices with x86 or x64 processors) and Windows 8 RT (found on the low-price Microsoft Surface or devices such as the Nokia Lumia 2520), the app largely gives the same results as the desktop version, and feels more like Skype for mobiles.
The Modern Skype User Interface
As you might expect, this version of Skype is quite similar to the Windows Phone 8 version (although that itself isn’t too different from the Android and iOS releases).
Perfectly tailored to tapping numbers and finger-driven navigation of your contacts and the app menus, the thing that really sticks out is the poor use of digital real estate. Using the app in full screen mode seems like a huge waste of space but as you’ll notice from the accompanying image, reducing it in size to a third or even a quarter of the display is far more efficient.
If you’re new to Windows 8, meanwhile, you may be unaware of how the operating system hides menus in the Modern UI. Unfortunately there is little intuitive about this – you either get told or you find out by accident.
So we’ll tell you.
By swiping down from the top of the screen in the Skype Home view or right-clicking your mouse you will see options to add contact and save number. Across the top, you should also see all active instant message conversations, that is, ones with contacts who are online. You can tap these to resume them.
Finally, your profile details and settings and options can be found by swiping in from the right or hovering your mouse in the bottom-right corner to display the Charms bar, then selecting Settings.
Instant Messaging & File Sending On Skype For Windows 8
As well as facilitating voice and video calls, Skype is also an instant messaging service. Using Skype you can send text-based messages to your contacts via the message window. Note that beginning a conversation will take up the whole of the available screen area; you’ll need to tap the back arrow to return to the main screen in this version of Skype.
Sending a file is possible by tapping + in the message window and selecting send files. You will then be able to browse for a file to send using the Modern file browser; the search will commence in your SkyDrive folder for convenience.
Instant messaging is as simple and capable as you might expect from a service like Skype. One thing to note is that if you have call credit and your contact’s mobile numbers setup in the Windows 8 people screen, messages sent in Skype can also be sent via SMS.
Placing A Call With Skype Modern
Like many people, I use Skype desktop for the majority of my non-email online collaboration. With my Office 365 subscription, I get 60 minutes of free landline calls each month, so if I’m not making a Skype to Skype free call, I can communicate with other numbers. With pre-paid or subscription credit, of course, I’m also able to call mobiles.
Pressing the phone button on the main Skype screen will open the dial pad (this can also be opened within a call by pressing + and selecting dial pad – useful for navigating automated menus), where you will find details of recent calls and your PAYG or subscription details. If necessary (you may travel regularly) you can also change the region in which you are calling from via a drop down menu.
One somewhat ridiculous aspect of the Skype dial pad is that it doesn’t offer a backspace button or any option to delete the number. Instead, this must be done by tapping or clicking into the space where the number is dialed and using the hardware or touchscreen keyboard to backspace or delete.
Calling a contact on Skype will display their profile and a selection of buttons for opening camera, voice and accessing instant messaging and file sending modes. As with the standard desktop version, the software will attempt to retrieve calls when problems network or hardware problems cause the call to be dropped.
Video Calls Assessed With Skype Modern
Recently I reviewed the Windows Phone 8 version of Skype and was surprised to find the app lacking when it came to providing decent quality to the video calls. I put this problem down to the hardware rather than the mobile app – so how does Windows 8 fare?
I placed a call across my home network – PC connected via Ethernet, iPad close to the wireless router – and the results were good. Although there was a small amount of pixilation at the start of the call, things soon settled down.
Voice quality was also good (although a little washed out due to my computer’s microphone), making the app a good option for video calls. A second call using the desktop app revealed no difference.
Note that you can send video messages in this version of Skype, with good results!
What’s Wrong With Skype Modern
On a good day, Skype Modern works reasonably well. It tends to be hamstrung by various factors, however.
The simultaneous running of the desktop app, for instance, tends to leave its touchscreen sibling in the lurch when it comes to performance. Messages and incoming calls will be displayed in the classic version first, leaving you with lots of confused ringtones.
It’s also easier to edit a telephone number as it is entered on the desktop version.
The modern version of Skype also tends to vanish into the tombstone void all too often, leaving you and your contacts hanging when switching back to it. Let’s face it, this is an app that needs to be ready and waiting for you to use it, not go snoozing.
Finally, the lack of call recording and other fun tools that have been available for the desktop app for so long is unfortunate.
Skype Modern: Very Stylish, Quite Functional, Lacking In Extended Features
Ultimately, Skype for Windows 8 Modern looks nice, and with Windows 8.1 installed on your system it can be effectively resized to take up a reasonable amount of space instead of conquering your desktop real estate.
However, as pretty as the app is to look at, its problems with video calls and running in the background – coupled with the lack of call recording tools – means that most users will hurry to the desktop version.
More needs to be done in order to make this version of Skype a realistic alternative to the old favourite. As it is, Skype for Windows 8 is the best VoIP client for the modern interface (and as such appears in our Best Of Windows 8 Apps list) but it feels unfinished and unloved. Better is surely yet to come.
Image Credit: PlaceIt.net