Eugene is a qualified control/instrumentation engineer Bsc (Eng) and has worked as a developer of electronics & software for SCADA systems.
What Is Skype?
Skype is a telecommunications application that allows you to make free voice and video calls and send text messages to another Skype user. You can use the Skype application on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, as can the other user.
Calls can also be made to landline and cell phone numbers from your computer or mobile device, and calls to international numbers cost about the same as a local call. This tutorial explains the basics of how to set up Skype on a laptop/desktop, add contacts and make calls.
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What Do You Need to Use Skype?
- A computer, tablet, or smartphone.
- A microphone or webcam if you want to make video calls from your computer. These can be external or you can use the integrated webcam that is practically standard on modern laptops/desktop computers. Smartphones of course have integrated cameras and microphones.
- The Skype software application which is free.
Step 1: Download and Install the Skype App
First, download and install Skype from www.skype.com. On an Android phone, install the Skype app from the Google Play Store.
Next, you need to set up an account and pick a username and password for yourself. Once you have done this and checked your microphone and speakers/headphones are functioning ok, you can start adding contacts.
Step 2: Set Up Your Microphone
Before you use Skype, you need to set up your microphone and webcam if you have one.
Setting up the microphone
- Click on the triple dot menu icon at the top of the screen.
- From the drop-down menu that appears, click "settings".
- On the settings dialog, click "Audio & Video"
- If your webcam is already enabled, you should see yourself in the webcam preview. Otherwise, click the down arrow on the right of the dialog and pick your camera from the list.
- If your microphone is working, you should see a dynamic display of sound level on the blue bar graph. If you don't, click on the arrow on the right of the dialog and pick your microphone from the list.
Step 3: Test Your Speakers
Test your speakers are working ok by clicking on the small play button triangle beside "Test audio". If you don't hear anything, click the down arrow to pick your sound output device from the list.
Step 4: Make a Call to the Echo/Sound Test Service
To finally make sure all your hardware is set up, make a call to the Echo/Sound Test Service. This is an automated contact that you can call and where you can leave a test audio recording.
- Click on the "contacts" icon at the top of the left side panel
- Select Echo/Sound Test Service from the contacts list
- Click the handset icon at the top right of the screen.
- A window appears showing the attempt to contact the service.
- Once the service answers, wait until prompted by the beep, then make your test recording.
- After speaking, wait for several seconds for the recording to end and if your microphone and speakers are set up and working correctly, you'll hear playback of your recording.
Step 5: Add Contacts
There are two types of contacts you can add, Skype contacts and landline/cellphone contacts. Skype contacts are other Skype users who have Skype installed on the computer or mobile device.
Adding a Skype contact
- Click on "New contact" in the left side panel
- In the dialog that appears, click in the "Find People" box and start typing the person's username if you know it. If the contact is not "ex-directory" with privacy settings turned on, suggestions will appear. Either pick the contact from the suggestions or continue typing their username.
Adding a landline/cellphone (mobile) contact
- Click on "Add a phone number"
- In the dialog that appears, enter the person's first and last names as you would like them to appear in your contact list.
- Under the "Phone" setting, click the down arrow, and select the country code from the list.
- Use the down arrow on the right to choose whether the phone number is "home", "mobile" or "office".
- Click to the right of the down arrow beside "Phone" and enter the area code followed by the phone number.
- Click "Save" in the top right corner of the dialog.
You can also request a person to join Skype and set up an account if they haven't got one already. To do this, click on "Invite to Skype" and send them a request via email or SMS.
Step 6: How to Call a Contact
- Click on "Contacts" at the top of the side panel on the left of the screen.
- Select a contact from the list.
- The symbol to the left of the person's name in the list indicates their online status. They can be online, offline when not signed into Skype, invisible when online but don't want anyone to know, away when they are not active on their computer for a set period of time. You can set your own online status by right-clicking the Skype icon on the taskbar.
- You can make a video call if you have a webcam by clicking on the video call icon which looks like a camera, alternatively, click on the handset icon to make a voice-only call.
- On the call window, you can mute your microphone or turn off your camera by clicking on the icons at the bottom of the screen.
Adding Skype Credit for Calling Landlines and Cell Phones
Calls to other Skype users are free, however, you can also make low-cost calls to cell phones and landlines. First, you need to put some credit into your Skype account.
- Click on the three-dot menu icon at the top of the screen and select "settings"
- Select "Account and Settings" from the dialog that appears
- Click on "Add funds" to the right of "Skype to Phone"
- You can use PayPal or a debit/credit card to buy credit. There are several different packages for calling different continents/countries.
Staying Private on Skype
Avoid unwanted calls from people who look up your username by turning on the settings feature "Only allow Skype calls from contacts to ring on this device".
Skype: The Facts
- Skype is a VOIP software program that stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol. Basically, a VOIP program converts audio and video during a call into data and sends it over the Internet. Since it is free to send data, (once you pay your broadband bill) Skype cashes in on this and allows calls between computers to be free.
This is in contrast to calls over the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) that are timed and for which there is a charge. There are other VOIP programs such as Gizmo and Google Talk, Whatsapp, and Facebook Messenger but the most well-known is Skype.
- There is no charge for voice or video calls between two computers: they are entirely free!
- You can call a regular landline or cell phone number using Skype. The call charge is made up of a fixed setup cost and a per-minute cost. For example, a call from the U.S. to the U.K. costs 4.9c to set up and 2.3c per minute. This makes Skype great for making international calls.
- Skype can be configured so that when you ring someone on their cellphone or landline, a chosen number appears on the callee's caller ID unit or phone. You could for instance pick your cell phone number. This lets the callee know who is calling.
- Another feature of Skype is "Skype to Go". This allows you to call a number from your landline or cell phone. This is useful if you want to call someone in another country, or even make nonlocal calls in the same country that might normally incur high call charges because of the distance.
To set this up, you submit the landline or cell phone number/numbers of the person you are calling to Skype on your account page. A local number is then generated that you call from your normal phone. A self-service menu allows you to pick the number you wish to contact. Since the number is local, it is charged at local rates.
This is useful if you wish to call someone abroad or if you are abroad yourself and want to call home. (You don't need to call from a device running Skype such as a computer or smartphone to use this feature, but you must have a Skype account)
- An "Online Number" makes it possible for people to call you on your computer or smartphone running Skype, from their landline or cell phone.
- To pay for calls to landlines and cell phones, you can choose a "pay as you go" prepaid option or pay a monthly subscription charge. The latter works out cheaper per call if you are a heavy user.
- You can make a video call if you have a web camera or webcam for short. You don't have to do this and can just make a voice call, if you don't want to be seen! Most new computers have an inbuilt webcam. Alternatively, you can buy one and plug it into a USB socket.
- A feature that can be useful is the share screen. If someone is helping you sort out a problem on your computer, this facility allows them to watch everything that is happening on the screen of your computer.
- It is possible to send files to the other computer and also SMS messages to cell phones.
- A disadvantage of Skype is that it often suffers from anomalies. For instance, the connection can drop or there can be short periods during a call when either party cannot hear each other. It sometimes happens that you get a "stuttering" effect where the last word that a person says is rapidly repeated.
Often, though, the sound quality can be excellent and much better than that achieved on a standard telephone handset, set to speaker/hands-free mode. This is because of the higher quality of microphones and loudspeakers in a computer.
Did You Find This Article Useful?
Was the info in this article useful and instructive? How can I improve it? Would you like to ask me any questions?
Please provide some feedback below, and also I would appreciate it if you could rate it and pin it on Facebook or Pinterest.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Is Skype the only way of making free calls?
Answer: No, there are several other apps. Whatsapp is one of the most well known apps. You can also use FaceTime on an iPad or iPhone. Both apps can be used for audio or video calls.
© 2012 Eugene Brennan
MIG on June 04, 2020:
Thank you, this was really helpful as I'm trying to skype a friend who doesn't know how to do it.
Julie on April 26, 2020:
Really informative and helpful guide .
Kristi on April 03, 2020:
Very helpful with a nice step by step guide! Thanks!
BChurchill on October 30, 2019:
Yes it was useful. Thank you so much for your information.