Let's face it, iPad 2 fans. Your Apple tablet's front facing camera is pretty useless unless you literally spend FaceTime with other iPad 2/iPhone 4/Mac owners or if you're a narcissist addictively ensconced in Photo Booth.
But now iPad 2 owners can visually communicate with the rest of the non-Apple computing world thanks to the new Skype for iPad app.
Yes, Skype can already be used with the iPad 2. But the "Skype for iPhone" app was the iPhone version, which means it had to be blown up, and the resulting blown-up video was hardly impressive.
The full iPad app doesn't really need iPad's additional screen real estate for basic operations (unless you have a lot of Skype contacts you don't like scrolling through), but it does wonders for the video of your co-conversationalist.
Skype for iPad offers several huge advantages over FaceTime.
Front and center, literally and figuratively, is Skype's ability to communicate with any PC, smart phone, tablet or even HDTV equipped with Skype and a Web cam – in other words, everyone. Skype software is available for every major operating system including Windows, Android, Linux and on select HDTVs and Blu-ray players from Panasonic, Samsung and Sony.
Second, Skype works using either Wi-Fi or 3G, FaceTime only Wi-Fi. My iPad 2 doesn't have 3G so I couldn't test the connection or subsequent video quality, but just knowing you don't need Wi-Fi to make a video call makes Skype far more flexible.
Third, you have to ask someone if they have a FaceTime-compatible device and make sure they have Wi-Fi turned on and are in a Wi-Fi zone before you can call them or convert a voice call into a FaceTime call. Setting up a FaceTime call is sometimes like making a doctor's appointment.
With Skype, just conduct a search among the more than 660 million Skype subscribers and ring them up, because…
FaceTime automatically assumes both you and your caller desire a video connection. Skype gives you the option of answering an Skype call voice-only if you're, shall we say, unpresentable, or via video. In either event, your iPad 2 serves as a voice or video phone, regardless of what gear your caller has.
How do I look?
Because Apple can control the video quality at both ends of a FaceTime call (since FaceTime is iPhone 4, iPad 2 and Mac-only), and since FaceTime is Wi-Fi only, FaceTime video is slightly cleaner and brighter than Skype – if you're working with top-notch Web cam gear at both ends of the call. With the same gear, Skype video leaned a little to the grainier side.
But, it takes a lot of digital bits to achieve FaceTime's slightly higher video quality. The tradeoff is slightly herkier-jerkier video compared to Skype, and often resulted in audio dropouts.
But not everyone's Web cam is as top-notch as on the iPad 2, the iPhone 4 or a modern Mac. Connecting with the great unwashed in the PC and Android universe will likely result in some spectacularly lousy video.
Audio-wise, both allowed a certain amount of cross-talk (known as "full-duplex"), but Skype seemed a bit more forgiving (even though I got some complaints about a lack of voice/visual syncing from my iPad 2 end) when you and your caller talk over each other.
But even if FaceTime offered far superior video and audio quality, these advantages shrink to mere annoyances considering the now wide universe of available video conversationalists.
So, if you haven't used your iPad 2 as a video phone because you didn't know anyone to call – now you do.