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20 Skype Tips for Cheap and Easy Chats

Everyone knows what it means to "skype"—it's the modern verb for internet phone calls and video conferencing, all on the cheap (sometimes even when you're not using the Skype service itself). No matter the mobile or desktop OS you use, there's a version of Skype that can connect you to friends, loved ones, and business associates far and wide.

Skype arrived in Europe in 2003, the brainchild of the guys who once ran file-sharing service Kazaa. It has since been owned by investor groups and eBay; it's been in Microsoft's hands since 2011.

As a result, Skype is obviously available on Windows and Microsoft's Xbox, but competing platforms aren't left out. Get Skype on the web, Mac, Linux, and apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Kindle Fire, and even BlackBerry and smartwatches. One place you won't find Skype much anymore is smart TVs—you may still find it on older models, but after 2016 Microsoft pulled the plug on further development there.

Skype is always free to get, and free for calls between Skype users—you don't pay until you layer in extras, some of which are particularly powerful for business users.

With such ubiquity, Skype once accounted for close to 40 percent of all of the international telecommunications traffic on the internet, and that was just from Skype-to-Skype users. And while Skype still dominates these "over-the-top" (OTT) communications services, competition is now fierce. Apple's FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Google Duo, ooVoo, Kik, WhatsApp, and many more integrate voice and video calling, especially on smartphones.

Making a call can be as easy as double-clicking on a name in your contacts list, but Skype can do much more. Check out the tips below to learn more.

View As: One Page | Slides

  • 1

    Caller ID for Your OTHER Number

    When you make a call from Skype to a regular phone, the caller ID won't show much. You can change that. On the desktop, under Skype Menu > My Account (which takes you to a web page) find the Caller ID settings and put in a number—your cell, your Skype number if you have one, your home landline, whatever. We all know Caller ID isn't always displayed on the other end of a call, but when it is, it'll show the number you selected. If the user maps the number to your name in contacts, it'll show your name.

  • 2

    Hot Keys for Skypin'

    Under Tools > Options > Advanced, you'll be able to set up the hot keys you want. Some are hard coded (like answer call, answer with video, hang up, and decline call); the rest you can assign a hot key of your choosing. You can also access the full list of shortcuts pre-set in the app—like Ctrl+Q for making a call. Clear them out if they're annoying, or re-assign them to your preferred keystroke.

  • 3

    Back Up Your Friends

    Contacts > Advanced >Backup Contacts to File lets you save them to a VCF file, which you can later restore to Skype from the same menu.

  • 4

    Give Favorites a Star

    Your Skype contacts list can get pretty big after people add you, you add people, or when you turn each number that calls you into a new contact. To show only the people you like best, favorite them. In the desktop app, either drag a contact from "All" up to "Favorites" so they'll show at the top of the list, or just click the star next to their name at the top when viewing the contact. It works for contacts that aren't even using Skype, like local businesses.

  • 5

    Send Video Voicemail

    If you and another user are both on Skype, you can leave a video message rather than a voicemail. When a call doesn't seem to be going through on the desktop version of Skype, the software will give you the option of making a video message. Or, cut to the chase: right-click a contact and select "Send Video Message," even if that contact isn't currently online. You'll get a recorder window to make a 3-minute or less video clip.
    On the mobile side, go into the chat interface for that contact, click the icon that looks like a camera inside a word balloon at the bottom (on Android, click the + sign on the bottom right), and you can choose to send a video. Because this is the age of Snapchat, you can also apply filters to your video as it's made, to spruce it up a bit. (You can also send a picture you've already taken, take a new pic to send, send your location, or send contacts in your list to that particular Skype contact.)
    Be sure to explicitly send the video after you stop recording, or you just recorded it for nothing.

  • 6

    Use Multiple Skype Accounts in Windows

    There are lots of reasons to have multiple Skype accounts—one for work and one for play being the most obvious. But Skype doesn't let you access both at the same time. However, with Windows, you can. Just run two instances of Skype. With one launched, go to the command line (hit Windows Key + R) and type either
    C:Program FilesSkypePhoneSkype.exe /secondary
    or
    C:Program Files (x86)SkypePhoneSkype.exe /secondary
    That second line is only for people with 64-bit versions of Windows. Hit return and the second instance of Skype will launch. If you do this a lot, right-click on the desktop, select New > Shortcut and type the appropriate line with quotation marks around the path, but not around the /secondary part. You'll get an icon on the desktop for quick launch.

  • 7

    Auto-Answer as Monitor

    Having that second Skype account is a good way to keep track of things. If you've got a laptop with a webcam around going unused, set it up on the shelf, plug it in, and turn on Skype. Go into Tools > Options > Calls, and check the box to "Answer incoming calls automatically" plus "Start my video automatically when I am in a call." Then, use that first Skype account to make a call to the second—instant video monitor on the scene to spy on the baby sitter, pets, kids, you name it. For some extra security, make sure the account is set only to answer calls from people in the contact list, and that your first account is that only contact listed.
    For extra stealth, go into General > Sounds and make sure the "ringtone" and "hang up" are unchecked. Or just disable the sound and screen on the "stealth" laptop so it doesn't give you away. If you've got an external webcam, place it somewhere away from the laptop to still keep an eye on things—you'll just need a long USB cable.

  • 8

    Change Chat History Before It Happens

    You can edit the messages you've sent via Skype chat after they've been sent, Slack-style. Just right-click on the message, select Edit Message, and you can change it. Or just remove it from history. Hit the up arrow key to jump right to the last message for editing. Really old messages can't always be edited, so at some point Skype makes them permanent.

  • 9

    Record Calls to MP3 or Video

    Skype is a great collaborative tool for people, like podcasters who can't be in the same room, journalists who don't want a fancy phone setup for recording calls, or politicians who need records for future blackmail. No matter what, the ability to record calls you make or receive over the Windows desktop version of Skype couldn't be easier. The recommended tools: for unlimited audio recording only, go with MP3 Skype Recorder. To record video streams (either just one side or both) try DVDVideoSoft's Free Video Call Recorder for Skype or Pamela Call Recorder. Mac users should grab the $29.95 Ecam Call Recorder for Skype.

  • 10

    Switch From Chat to Text

    When you're instant messaging with another Skype user, you have the option to switch over to SMS text messaging, if the contact's mobile number is part of their profile—you can tell, because they'll have a small phone icon next to their avatar.
    If you've saved the contact as a phone number (for someone not on Skype), the avatar might just look like an old-school desktop phone. On the desktop interface, right-click the contact name and pick "Send SMS message" – you'll see a mobile phone icon appear in the messaging space. In other versions, click where it says "via Skype" to see other messaging options, typically SMS text-capable numbers.
    The rate of cost in Skype Credit to send an SMS is displayed at the bottom of the chat, atop the window where you type the message. It used to cost as much as 11 cents even to send in the US, but now that's free. Naturally, it's more to send to other countries. You, however, have to have some Skype Credit on hand to send even a free SMS message.
    The really kicker is, you can send… but you can't receive any SMS texts in Skype. But if you've changed your Caller ID settings (see above), recipients can reply to your mobile number.

  • 11

    Share Your Screen

    Many a meeting app out there is all about screen sharing—letting you see what someone else has on their screen, or vice versa. But don't pay extra for your meetings. Skype offers screensharing for free. Use the share icon (a plus sign) at the bottom of the window to start a share, even in a video call. You can share the whole screen, or just a specific window (handy if you've got a dual-monitor setup). Sharing a screen is limited to one user at a time, and everyone has to have the most recent desktop version of Skype for it to work. You can still video chat, text chat, and send files back and forth while sharing.

  • 12

    Exploit Unlimited File Transfers

    Sending files via email can be limited by their size—even Gmail limits attachment size. Skype file transfers have no size limit. Nor is there a limit to the number of files you can send. Skype even claims a lost connection will pick the transfer back up when the internet connectivity returns. You send a file to someone—or a group!—you're conversing with via the share button (plus sign). If you're not speaking, use the chat interface—the icon looks like a document. You can send files from Android Skype (above) as well.

  • 13

    Multi-Device Skype Mastery via Chat

    Whether chatting with one person on Skype or a whole group, there are options you can type into that instant messaging window that control what Skype does.
    If you put a forward slash in front of these commands, they won't see it. But you'll get some help. For example, /showplaces will show you all the "online endpoints" where you are currently logged into Skype. /remotelogout will sign you out of all the other Skype sessions you have open (but not your current session).

  • 14

    Control Group Chat via Chat

    With a group, send a chat invite link by typing /set options -JOINING_ENABLED, hitting return, then typing /get uri to get a link to share.
    If you get an interloper, /kick [SkypeName] will kick them from the chat; ban them forever with /set banlist +[name]. You can leave the chat yourself by typing /leave.
    Set your status with /me [text]. Get alerted to certain words used in a chat via /alertson [text] (this is the same as going to Conversation > Notification Settings in each new chat). You can find the full list of chat commands in Skype help.

  • 15

    Chat Via Smartphone App on Xbox One's Skype

    Skype on Xbox One with Kinect is as Jetsons-like as it gets, but there's no way you want to use the text chat function without a keyboard. If you don't have a wireless Xbox keyboard, there's another option: Download the Xbox One app for your tablet or smartphone (iOS, Android, and Windows)—don't get the version for Xbox 360! Hook the app to your Xbox account, and you can use it as a new remote control for the console—and in turn use the on-screen keyboard for chats via Skype. Or chats with Xbox friends, too.

  • 16

    Use Skype Sans Account

    The only way to do this is with the web client, accessed at web.skype.com, and to be honest, it works best with the Microsoft Edge browser so all the Microsoft-ness involved will be happy. Click the Start a Conversation button to get started, then enter a name. You'll get a link to share with others, which is good for 24 hours. Really, the only way this works is if you provide the link to someone and they get back in touch—once one or more people have joined the chat conversation, your can use the temp account to turn it into a video or voice call. It's a nice way to do some file sharing, screen sharing, make a voice or group call or video chat without actually signing up.
    This is an extension of an ability already built into Skype accounts to invite anyone who lacks an account using a link. To create your own, just above the contacts list on the desktop version, look for the + sign that says "Create a new conversation that anyone can join" when you hover over it.

  • 17

    Restrict Skype on Android

    If you've got in the habit of Skype video calls on your Android phone, beware: you may be using up your data too fast, which could cost you. Go to Settings > Apps > Skype > Data usage on the device and activate "restrict background data." You can also go through the Skype settings directly in the app, scroll to Video quality, and turn it down (the default is high). To make double sure, sign out when you're not using Skype and out on the road—then sign in again only when you're on Wi-Fi.

  • 18

    Split Up the View

    Typically the Skype desktop client uses one unified window to show you everything—contacts on the left, chat/calls on the right. If you've got multiple chat sessions going, it's a pain to switch back and forth from person to person. Go to View > Split Window View and your contacts are broken out into a separate window instead of just a pane of the main window. Click on multiple contacts—each gets a new floating chat window, so you can organize them all over the desktop.

  • 19

    Activate the Universal Translator, Spock

    Arguably the coolest thing Skype's ever done since making video chat a household name: the Skype Translator literally changes languages on the fly as you type or talk. It's available only on Windows desktop or the Windows 10 app, as well as Skype for web. Enable it with Tools > Options > General > Skype Translator.
    When you turn it on—typically by tapping the translator icon that looks like a globe—you can choose a language from a drop-down menu for that users. What you say is then translated on screen for the person on the other end. Skype recommends using headphones to cut down on chatter and noise.
    If you've got some Skype Credit or a subscription that allows calls out to regular phones, you can even use Skype Translate that way—whatever you say will get translated to the person on the other end. It's got support for 50 languages as of this writing that work in chat, but only a few work for voice/video calls: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Portuguese Brazilian, Russian, and Spanish.

  • 20

    Rename Contacts

    If you’ve got several contacts with the same name, or just want to make them easier to track, or even just name the contacts with their Skype user names, that's easy. Right-click directly on a contact's name in the desktop app, select Rename, and you'll get a dialog box in which to type the new moniker of choice. You're only changing the name you see it as—you're not actually changing anything on the contact's account (you can't change their username, you don't have that kind of power).

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