Both my home and office phones are actually Skype accounts. To make them work with real phones, we use SkypeIn (buying a phone number) and SkypeOut/SkypeUnlimited (calling regular phones). If you want to be able to receive calls from ordinary phones, you buy a SkypeIn number. In any area code you want, or even in any country they have support for. Then inbound calls to you at that number are free. As far as making calls, you can either pay per minute (about 2.5 cents per minute in the US, I believe), or you can do SkypeUnlimited, which lets you call anywhere in the US and Canada with no long distance charges. That's what I do -- I got it for some amazingly cheap price as a starter deal. But even at the "full" price of $29.95/year, that's still an amazing deal.
The adapter isn't necessary to use Skype. You can use a normal computer microphone and headset. If you have a laptop with a microphone and speakers built in, Skype will work like a speaker phone (which comes in handy for meetings at work). There are also various cordless and corded USB telephone handsets available (I'm quite fond of the IPEVO Free-1). But with this adapter, you can talk on Skype over a normal phone, and even use it to dial out (if calling a regular phone).
If you have an incoming call (from another Skype user or from a phone), the thing makes your phone ring. The inbound caller ID works as you'd expect, unless you get a call from another Skype user -- then the caller ID actually shows their user name. Pretty neat.
There's only a couple oddities about dialing this thing that make me wonder, what were they thinking? (Or that it wasn't designed in the US.)
- You need to dial 001 + (area code) + (phone number)
+ *. I assume 001 means US, then the area code and number are expected, but then you have to hit the asterisk. I know from a programming perspective, it would be very easy to set a "default" country, so you wouldn't have to dial the 001.
- And why do you have to tell it you're done dialing by hitting star? Can't it figure it out, say, if you've stopped hitting numbers for 2-3 seconds, then connect the call? Seems to be a no brainer.
- Out of the box, the thing plays a special information tone when connecting your call. You know, the three beeps you hear before a recorded voice tells you that you call cannot be completed? That's how the device tells you it's working. Very strange. Thankfully, upgrading the driver to the latest version (1.1 as of this writing) seems to address this.
Even with all of that, it's still pretty neat to be able to plug in a normal telephone. We'd been having problems with our previous Skype phone (not the IPEVO one) at home, so today we wandered down the street to our local neighborhood Radio Shack and picked up a cordless phone with two handsets to use as our new Skype-based home phone setup. Took only a few minutes to set up, and so far, it's working great.