Fring Turns Your iPhone Into a Free Skype Phone
Back when the iPhone SDK was first announced, one of the most wanted apps was a VOIP client, so we could free ourselves from the tyranny of AT&T’s per-minute calling plans. While Apple nixed that idea very early on, saying that VOIP over AT&T’s Edge or 3-G networks would be against the terms of service, it did say that a VOIP app that only ran over wi-fi would be just fine.
That’s exactly what the new application, Fring, allows you to do make VOIP calls whenever your iPhone/iPod Touch is connected to wi-fi. Fring works with Skype, MSN Messenger, ICQ, Google Talk, Twitter, AIM and Yahoo buddy lists.
Of course Fring is not the first app to bring VOIP to the iPhone. Truphone gets that honor, but because Truphone doesn’t support Skype undoubtedly the most popular VOIP service its usefulness is somewhat limited. Fring on the other hand supports Skype, though of course to call non-Skype phones, you’ll need to purchase SkypeOut/SIP credits.
In addition to the VOIP aspect, Fring also allows for IM conversations over all the networks mentioned above, making it a kind of Adium for the iPhone.
Fring is free and you can grab a copy from the iTunes App Store. Although the app’s VOIP service will work with Edge/3-G on other phones, the iPhone app’s VOIP capabilities are limited to wi-fi, something that isn’t entirely clear when reading through Fring’s site.
Update: Now that we’ve had a chance to test Fring, we can tell you that, well, it’s a mixed bag. We tested Fring on both an original and second-gen iPhone and it does work. Call quality is about what you get with the desktop version of Skype — there’s definitely an echo and a bit of voice distortion, but calls are still understandable. The Unofficial Apple Weblog also did some hands on testing and reported that call quality is “slightly echo-y, but perfectly audible.”
There are also hundreds of reviews on the App Store which confirm that Fring does in fact work, but many users are also having problems. It took us quite a while to get the app set up, and Fring’s 4-character password limit is worst idea we’ve seen in some time. The Fring user interface could also be improved; for instance, we were able to add contacts, but then the contacts failed to show up in our Fring buddy list.
But the real problem with Fring is the iPhone itself. The iPhone automatically falls back to 3-G or Edge when wi-fi cuts out, and the device gives no warning. So, your Fring-based calls will just cut out. In other words, while Fring might work around the house where you have a stable wi-fi connection, we don’t suggest relying on it in the wi-fi soup of your local coffee shop. Also be aware that your iPhone is never going to ring the way the desktop Skype client does (unless you leave Fring open and running at all times), so it’s pretty much an outgoing-only solution.
Still, despite being a bit rough around the edges, Fring has promise. And even if you don’t use the VOIP options, it’s still a very nice multi-protocol chat client.