Voice-over-IP (VoIP) phones have been around for some time now, but they're really not that much different from your standard PSTN phone. They look and work like any cordless home phone except for the added network functionality for VoIP services. Panasonic's latest KX-WP1050E Skype phone on the other hand, is anything but basic in aspect, as we recently discovered.
Unlike most VoIP phone systems with a PSTN fall back, the KX-WP1050E relies solely on its network capabilities, with its base unit doubling up as the phone's network router. This turns the KX-WP1050E into a versatile mobile unit capable of accessing the network via LAN/WAN or WiFi.
More importantly, Panasonic manages to package the phone, router, its adapter and a bunch of cables neatly in a compact zip case no larger than your standard shaving kit, which should appeal to travelers. Each part is segmented into its own precise tailored compartments, but the compact packaging may turn out against it though, as it'll require some clever management to pack everything back in place later.
Aesthetic-wise, the KX-WP1050E won't garner high scores for style, though it is definitely sleeker than offerings by Siemens and Philips. Overall, the KX-WP1050E is given a slightly dated look with its plain silver front coupled with shiny transparent plastic buttons for its number pad. Responsiveness of its keys were much better than previous phones we've tested, and is quite friendly on larger fingers.
Starting up the KX-WP1050E is a quick affair, taking a little more than 30 seconds with a responsive interface akin to other phones running version 184.108.40.206 of the Skype interface. We started our tests with the included router, and managed to maintain a clear, strong signal up to 20m as long as we maintained a straight line of sight with the router. The effective distance however, was reduced around half when we moved around the office, testing the wireless connectivity around obstacles such as cubicle partitions and walls. Granted, if you were to stay within a practical range, the voice clarity on the KX-WP1050E was impeccable, but it suffered a drop in quality once its signal strength dipped below two bars as indicated on the phone's status screen.
If anything, our only gripe with the phone was its battery charging time, which took an average of four hours to complete charging. Nonetheless, with a full charge, you'll get the KX-WP1050E running for up to two days on standby, slightly less with moderate usage.
With an initial cost of S$399 for the product itself, casual users may find the KX-WP1050E to be a heavy investment for a VoIP phone. At the end of the day, Panasonic's KX-WP1050E WiFi phone is a product that suits travelers and executives who make a good number of calls during their business trips, giving them a great bargain by saving up on the sometimes insane prices that a GSM roaming/long distance call can incur.