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ChatTime offers handset alternative to Skype for International calls

If you place a lot of international calls, the ChatTime service may help you save money over Skype. You install a free application on your iPhone handset, purchase credit, and initially place the call from the application.

The application sets up the call for you, and then you use the standard iOS Phone app to call a local number to the ChatTime exchange. ChatTime negotiates the overseas portion of the call, and debits your account based on the type and destination of your call.

For example, a call to a UK cell phone costs roughly ten times as much as one to a land line. A ChatTime spokesman told us, "Rates for mobile phones are often higher due to carrier rates from telecom companies. You will find this rate difference between mobile and landlines to be consistent across all VoIP providers, Skype included "

TUAW tested out the app, calling overseas to the UK and to Switzerland. We found the audio quality to be marginal at worst and acceptable at best. Lags were quite significant ranging from about 1 (landline) to 2.5 (cell connection) seconds.

Most importantly, we experienced audio dropouts during our tests (mostly consisting of trying to count rhythmically, as the connecting party repeated the numbers synchronously.)

One of our testers commented, "I noticed during the counting that sometimes the numbers would cut out. So I think I heard her go from 5 to 7 without hearing 6". Another tester said the dropouts were noticeable but so long as the conversation was continuous, you could pick up the context.

If you're looking for inexpensive overseas solutions, there's a lot to be said for ChatTime. A 7-minute call to a Switzerland landline charged out at $0.13. Not too shabby, that, especially considering that the local airtime for the AT&T PAYG account used for testing concurrently charged $0.70 for the same call.

The handset integration was quite well done, and felt a lot more native to the iPhone than Skype calls. Plus, you can use this service without Wi-Fi access, since it uses your normal minutes instead of the Internet.

We also liked how the application showed you the local time of the destination you were calling before you finished placing the call, and the always-shown credit balance helps you know exactly how well you are doing in your call budget.

For these reasons, ChatTime seems to offer a good budget-minded alternative to international Skyping. It doesn't provide the quality audio experience you get when going through traditional telephony, but its pricing plan and ease of use offer good selling points for the product.

We weren't blown away by ChatTime in our tests but we can see where this can offer an inexpensive calling solution that many overseas-callers will find valuable.