Wondering what the best headset for Skype is, how to record your Skype calls, and how to use Skype while you're on the road — not just at your computer? We have the answers.
The best headset for Skype
Relying on the inbuilt microphone in your laptop is a recipe for echoey calls, as the microphone may pick up the sound of the other person speaking. A better option is to use headphones with a microphone built in.
The best travel headsets for Skype are wired ones — wireless Bluetooth headsets can be a world of pain in terms of battery life, difficulties connecting them to your laptop, and rough sound quality. Wired headsets with USB connectors should also be avoided, as any wobbles in the USB connection can cause sound drop-outs. The most reliable ones are simple earbuds with a microphone built into the headphone cord.
PC users will need to buy one with two plugs at the end — one for the laptop's headphone socket, and one for the microphone socket. An inexpensive option is Sennheiser's PC100 earbuds for around $30 (pictured below), while a better option with a microphone designed to cut background noise is the PC300 in-ear buds for around $115.
For Mac users, the most convenient headset is the standard Apple iPhone/iPod earbuds with inline microphone (pictured below). If you don't have an iPhone, you can buy them for $39. These can be plugged into the headphone socket of any MacBook made since the introduction of "unibody" models in 2008, and both the sound output and microphone input are connected through a single port. They add practically no extra bulk to your cabin baggage, and their simple design means they get less tangled than more involved headsets.
How to record your Skype calls
Keeping a recording of all calls you make through Skype can be an extremely useful reference. (Under Australian law, you have to advise the caller that the call is being recorded and get their permission.)
For PC, CallBurner (pictured below) does the job well and works with Skype 5.1, the newest version at the time of writing. It records Skype-to-Skype calls free of charge, and if you want to be able to record Skype-to-phone calls, it costs $US49.95. As a bonus, it's made by an Australian developer.
For Mac, eCamm Skype Call Recorder (pictured right) is exceptionally easy to use, and even works with the latest version of Skype — 5.0 at the time of writing. It has a time limited free demo and then costs $US19.95 to keep using. Once installed, you'll find a new panel in Skype preferences for recording, where you can set your preferences for recording, including saving audio to space-efficient AAC files.
Use Skype to avoid global roaming fees
Most travellers are aware that using Skype on a laptop using a hotel room internet connection is the best way to avoid long distance phone call charges.
However, some people still don't know that Skype is available for quite a few smartphones, including the iPhone, Nokia handsets that run the Symbian OS and Android phones. (It has also been built for Blackberry devices, but US telco Verizon has snapped up a worldwide exclusive deal on that with an unknown end date.)
Coupled with a SIM card that provides cheap internet access while roaming like Tru (USA/UK only) or Bridge AsiaRoam DataSIM (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand or India) you can make ultra-cheap Skype phone calls even while out and about on a compatible smartphone.
We've also previously covered a special trick for using Skype in the USA which lets people call you for free.
How to avoid hotels sabotaging Skype connections
Some hotels (and governments) deliberately mess with Skype data in the hope of forcing travellers to use standard phones. (This is not a paranoid suspicion — Australian Business Traveller has seen clear evidence of this, especially in China.)
The easiest way to ensure a hotel can't do this is to run a VPN service on your laptop. This encrypts all your data so the hotel can't see what you're doing, and you'll often be able to make a call with crystal-clear quality on Skype through a VPN, even if it is breaking up and dropping out on the hotel's standard internet connection.
We've published a step-by-step article: how to set up a VPN on your laptop, in relation to watching Australian TV from overseas. The steps for setting it up to use Skype are exactly the same.
Help other people call you
Not everyone is comfortable with using Skype — on some PCs, especially desktop computers without microphones, it can be a hassle to get set up. You can make it easier for other people to reach you by setting up a Skype Online Number for your account, so they can call you with their regular phone.
However, Skype has also released a handy feature that lets you get a number in the country of your choice that connects to any other number in the world, at Skype's low calling rates. So, for example, if you were travelling to the USA for a couple of weeks, you could buy a prepaid USA SIM card with thousands of calling minutes, and set up a US Skype to Go number for your wife's mobile in Australia.
As a result, you'd be able to use your American SIM card to call an American number given to you by Skype, which would connect through to your wife's mobile in Australia, and you'd only pay 31c per minute, which would come off your Skype credit. If you also subscribe to one of the Skype monthly plans, the calls could be free, or at a much reduced per-minute rate.
You could do the same thing for your boss's work landline phone number — you'd get a US phone number that would connect through to your boss's desk for 3c a minute (as landlines are cheaper to call than mobiles). If you have signed up to a Skype Unlimited deal,
We've covered this trick in more depth here: New Skype to Go is a boon for business travellers.
Your Skype tips
If you've got any tips for saving money by using Skype when travelling, please let us know in the comments below.
Dan is a tech enthusiast who frequently qualifies for enhanced airport security screening due to the number of cords and gadgets stuffed into his cabin bag.