Apr 27 2009
Combining your mini with a USB Skype handset and Skype’s cheap call-out service can turn your mini into a virtual land-line with long distance calling rates no traditional phone company can beat. Forget paying a monthly fee. For about $4/month you can even buy a phone number for your Skype account and have people call you from land-line phones. And with more than 40 million members, you’ll be able to talk to tons of Skype users for free.
One word of warning: the phone service described here should not be considered a full replacement for your traditional phone line – as it does NOT support 911 emergency calling.
- Mac mini (or any Mac with a USB port)
- A USB Skype Handset like Hawking Tech’s Net-Talk USB Phone or Ipevo’s Free-1. Prices range from $30-$75.
Contrary to what you may read, the Free-1 isn’t the only Mac-compatible Skype phone. For the purposes of this tutorial I went with the Net-Talk because it has a display on the unit that allow you to use it without interacting with your Mac.
- Skype for OS X and a Skype Account.
Skype is a free download, and your account is free to open. To call out to regular phones you will need to purchase SkypeOut credit (in increments of $10) and to purchase a phone number by which land-line callers can reach you, you’ll need to buy SkypeIn at $12/3 months or $35/year.
Now, to put it all together – with Skype installed you are ready to install the Net-Phone’s drivers. Once you have granted the Net-Phone access to the Skype API (in Skype) you are ready to make calls from your handset. From the Net-Phone you can start Skype and make calls.
From the Net-Phone you can navigate between Skype’s tabs, your contacts list and recent calls. Using the navigational wheel you can also view and select contacts and recent numbers and start calls. The handset can be used for free Skype-to-Skype calls as well as calls out to external numbers. Incoming calls from Skype users or external numbers via SkypeIn ring on the handset and can be answered just as you would your old analog phone (you must be logged in to your Skype account on your Mac to receive calls).
We should note that Skype requires an audio input – which out of the box the mini lacks. The Net-Phone satisfies this requirement and also makes up for this lack by including input and output jacks for microphones and headsets right on the unit. In addition to interfacing directly with Skype, the Net-Phone is recognized by the OS as an audio input and output. This means that while the dial pad may work only with Skype, the handset can be used with audio chat applications like iChat AV.
Hardware buttons for volume and mute are quite useful too. The Net-Phone complements new Mac silver-on-white hardware and the back-lit display is very readable. The handset makes Skype’s cheap calling easy and accessible. And, thanks to the power of VoIP you can take your Skype account anywhere and call from any Internet connection.
Please direct comments/corrections on the article to the author, brian AT macmerc DOT com.