9 'Hidden' extras in Skype

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There’s more to Skype than just free calls.

Everyone knows that you can make free computer-to-computer calls via Skype, but there are plenty of other, hidden, Skype options. Some are free, others will save you money.

There’s one free feature that Microsoft tries to trick you into paying for – and we’ll show you how to save money with Skype.

Instant Messaging

To use Instant Messaging (IM), open up a contact and type in the texting pane at the bottom

Make sure the ‘via’ option is set to ‘Skype’. You can exchange text messages with any Skype contact.

Text and talk

You can send IM messages while talking on Skype to someone on another computer. That might seem like a strange thing to do, but can be very useful.

Click on the IM button on the bottom row of a call window.

Instant Messaging is also handy when the audio on a Skype call isn’t working. You can text things like “I can see you but not hear you” etc.

Screen Sharing

Screen sharing is a great feature that’s handy for informal tech support and help as well as photo or even PowerPoint presentations.

This feature is still free. Microsoft changed the software so it looks like you have to buy a subscription for screen sharing. In a video call, select screen sharing and you’ll get a message suggesting that you buy Skype Premium. What you’re NOT told is that you can screen share for free IF you turn off the video feed first.

Make a Skype voice call (computer to computer, obviously) then click the + button and choose ‘Share Screen’.

In the above example, you can see that the other person on this call is already sharing their browser screen.

If you’re on a Skype video call, click the camera icon to disable video then screen sharing will become available.

Most people only share a specific window because it’s less cluttered for the viewer. The shared application window will have a red border around it.

File Transfer

For simple person-to-person private file transfers, you can use Skype. File transfers are an extension of the Instant Messaging feature.

Send a file

To send, drag a file over the Instant Messaging pane; where you type a Skype IM. Or right-click in Explorer Send to | Skype then choose the contact.

You can send a file even if the contact is offline. The next time your copy of Skype and contact’s Skype is online at the same time, the file will be sent.

Receiving a file

When someone sends you a file, Skype brings up a message in the Instant Messaging part of the contact window:

Click Save As to accept the file. There’s a virus warning that shows up regardless of the file, tick the box to stop it appearing again.

The file transfer is reasonably fast and worth keeping in mind. However file transfers via cloud storage like Onedrive or Dropbox might be more appropriate for larger files.

Voice messaging

Skype can record voice messages for calls that you don’t answer. You can record your own greeting message. We’d love Skype voice messaging to forward messages as attachments via email … alas no.

Pay Features

Some Skype features require payment but are often cheaper than the alternatives. When travelling we keep a minimum balance (say US$10 or 20) in our Skype account for use when necessary.

Cheaper Calls to phones

Many people don’t realize they can use Skype to call standard phone numbers – landline or mobile/wireless anywhere in the world.

The rates are often cheaper than normal phone-to-phone rates – especially when travelling.

Any computer/device with Skype can make calls to standard phones.

From a smartphone, you can use a Skype app to call a phone number anywhere in the world using the cheaper Skype rates. The device uses the mobile broadband connection to contact Skype so you’re not using ‘wireless minutes’. If the mobile broadband is decent (3G is usually enough for voice), you can get good call quality for a few cents per minute. We’ve made calls this way from remote places like rural Rwanda and not so remote places like London.

Skype call charges vary with a base rate of US 2.3 cents per minute common for landline calls. Calls to ‘toll-free’ numbers in other countries are usually free except, perhaps, for a small connection charge. Travelers often use this to bypass expensive hotel charges to call home or other businesses (banks, airlines etc).

Office 365 Home Premium subscribers get 60 minutes per month of free calls to some phones across the globe.

Skype includes a ‘dial pad’ that you can use to navigate a phone menu system (e.g. ‘Press 1 for tech support’).

Our travel tip is to keep a small balance in Skype (say US$10-20) ready for use when you need it.

Cheap SMS Text messages

Skype can also send short text/SMS messages to mobile phones. This works a little like Instant Messaging.

From the contact pane for Instant Messaging, choose ‘SMS’ instead of ‘Skype’. If the contact doesn’t have a mobile phone number recorded you’ll be prompted for one.

You can link your mobile phone number to Skype so SMS messages appear to come from your mobile phone. That also means any Skype SMS replies will go to your mobile phone.

Just like voice calls, Skype is best for overseas texts where the cost is probably cheaper than sending the same text from your mobile phone.

Skype Wifi

We’ve never had to use Skype Wifi but it’s worth keeping in mind. Skype has arrangements with various Wifi pay gateways that lets you use Skype credit to pay instead of messing with your credit card or vouchers. Always compare the direct pay price compared to Skype credit price.

Subscription features

Over the last few years, Skype has introduced ‘subscriptions’ as well. These are monthly or annual fees that give you a package of benefits.

The main package is Skype Premium which can be bought yearly (the cheapest rate), monthly or as a day pass.

There are also call packages which vary according to the country/region you want to call (not where you are) but usually include:

  • A block of minutes (e.g. 60, 120 or 400 minutes) to be used over a month
  • ‘Unlimited’ to a country or region (US, UK, Europe etc.)
  • ‘Unlimited World’ which gives calls to landlines and some mobile numbers in a wide range (but not all) countries.

The ‘Unlimited’ packages can be a good deal but be careful about the phone numbers you call. Calls to mobile phones are not always included in the so-called ‘Unlimited’ package. In most countries (unlike in the USA) mobile phones have different prefixes to landline numbers.

For occasional users, the ‘pay as you go’ rates are good enough.  Certainly the Skype call/text prices are cheaper than most options when travelling.

Group calls

Skype Premium is required to have calls with three or more people – these can be video calls or screen sharing. Only one person needs the Premium package to allow many non-Premium contacts to join the call.

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