Skylook 1.0.3

Reviewed by: Sallie Goetsch, October 2005
Published by: Netralia Pty Ltd.
Requires: Windows 2000/XP/2003, Microsoft Outlook 2000/XP/2003, Skype 1.2 or later
MSRP: US$25.00 (home license), $35.00 (business), $15.00 (academic)

I first heard about Skylook before I even started using Skype, on a Venture Voice interview with Netralia founder Jeremy Hague about Australian entrepreneurial culture. I'd been hearing about Skype for a while, particularly from Podcasters, but I hadn't yet taken the plunge. For the uninitiated, Skype is voice communication software which allows you to use your PC to directly call other Skype users or anyone in the world with standard telephone service.

Interestingly (though perhaps not surprisingly, given how expensive it is to call to or from Australia via old-fashioned PTSN lines), it was another Australian, Alan Stewart of The Marketer's Podcast who convinced me to try Skype. I downloaded the program and bought a headset from Radio Shack. Remembering what I'd heard about Skylook, I downloaded that too, and my free 14-day trial had almost expired when I got the opportunity to write this review. (Translation: I pestered Kickstartnews Managing Editor Howard Carson for a review copy)!

One of the interesting features of Skylook is that it acts as a plug-in for two separate programs: Microsoft Outlook and Skype. Once installed, it adds a new toolbar to Outlook with the following menu options: Skype Text Chat, Skype Voice Chat (which means a Skype-to-Skype call), Skype Phone Call (meaning SkypeOut), with a drop-down selection of business, home, and cell numbers, status icons for your Skype contacts, Import Contacts from Skype, Help, and Skylook Options.

If you select Import Contacts from Skype, Skylook will create a new user-defined Skype Name field in Outlook. Perhaps the next version of Outlook will have a field for Skype names or at least one for VoIP IDs, as it does for instant messaging. Skylook is not quite clever enough to automatically merge those contacts with existing Outlook entries for those people, and Outlook doesn't pop up its usual dialog box about "Do you want to update new information in this contact to the existing one?" But now my Contacts folder has a Skype Name field in which I can manually enter any new Skype names I pick up. I hope a future version of Skylook will do a better job of merging contacts.

Skylook inserts an abbreviated version of its toolbar into individual Outlook e-mail messages and contact cards. I needed to drag the bottom edge of the card window down to keep the Categories field from being cut off, but once I'd done that with one card, the others resized automatically.

What really got me interested in Skylook was its recording function. It's easy to record PTSN or cell phone interviews into Audacity, but not so for Skype, at least not in Windows XP. There are rumors of greater audio flexibility to come in Windows Vista, but the new operating system is still a year away from public release. I was seriously underwhelmed, and in fact generally annoyed, by HotRecorder, which several podcasters recommend. Once you turn on Skylook recording (with the option to record only your own voice or all voices on the call, and a warning that doing the latter may be illegal), Skylook records your Skype calls to 32 Kbps MP3 files from the minute you dial, popping up a small dialogue to let you know it's doing so. At present there appears to be no way to stop recording while staying on the call, or to re-start recording if it gets cut off, as it will if Outlook closes during your recording session. MP3 files are saved into a Skylook subfolder in My Documents.

Skylook also tracks your text chats via Skype, and collects all of your communications and appointments via either Skype or Outlook. Select View Mail and Conversations from the menu under the contact's name in the Activities tab of Outlook contact cards. This creates an equivalent to the History function in ACT!, which is one reason some of my clients prefer ACT! to Outlook.

When Skylook records a voice or text conversation via Skype, it stores it as an e-mail message in a new Outlook folder called Skylook Conversations, with text chats in the message body and the MP3 voice recordings linked as attachments. That means there are two copies of each MP3, one with your other Outlook attachments and one in the Skylook\Recorded Calls folder. At 32 Kbps these are fairly compact MP3s, but you may find you want to delete one copy to save storage space.

The quality of the recordings is impressively good. For my own purposes, and certainly for uploading and downloading, 32 Kbps is definitely good enough for voice recordings, though I've heard that it doesn't work well for streaming media. I want MP3 recordings primarily to listen to and definitely not (at least so far) to stream, so that's not an issue for me. Variable bit rate MP3 recording might be a nice feature for Netralia to include in future versions of Skylook.

The only real down side to Skylook from my point of view is the inability to mute the microphone during recording. This is inconvenient for inveterate multitaskers and those in noisy locations. I hope Netralia will address the issue in its next release. According to the Help file, they're already working on getting around the requirement to have Outlook running in order to record Skype conversations.

I definitely recommend Skylook to anyone who needs to record telephone interviews for podcasts or other purposes, and if the interview blog recently proposed to me ever gets off the ground, I know I'll rely on Skylook even more heavily than I do now.

(Reviewer Sallie Goetsch has extensive experience in computer troubleshooting, basic web site design, presentation design, research and writing. You can contact Sallie through her FileSlinger web site.)

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