As the credit crunch continues to bite, free calls have never looked so attractive – and neither has 3's Skypephone.

Putting last year's original Skypephone in the shade, the new S2 is a far more polished number.

Gone is the slightly cheap, plasticky casing in favour of the far more in-vogue metallic back, black mirror front and delicate chrome keypad: altogether a more tempting proposition, and that's before you look at the S2's VoIP capabilities and enhanced user interface.

Improved interface

While it's now possible to add a Skype client to other mobile devices, none of these stick their colours to the mast in the same way 3 has done with the Skypephone.

Marketed as 'made for Skype' the S2 lacks the dedicated button its predecessor had but boasts a much improved user interface.

A rolling carousel 'Switcher' at the bottom of the home screen offers access to select apps – including Skype – and with one-touch switching activated you can scroll through using a side button and your chosen app will automatically open in seconds.

Skype functionality

The Skype client itself has changed little from the original handset, allowing existing users to sign in and download their contacts automatically, while new users are invited to set up an account.

Handily, contacts are integrated into the main phonebook so the whole process is streamlined to match the usual mobile way of working. The look and feel of the application itself mirrors the desktop version, so existing users will immediately feel at home.

Faster HSDPA data support should bring improvements to the quality of voice calls made using Skype, but there is still the inevitable odd echo and crackle as with most VoIP services. That said, this isn't too much of an irritation given the price and versatility of the handset, and the problem is usually cured by reconnecting.

Instant messaging and social networking

For serial texters, Skype Chat IM is also included for free Skype-to-Skype messaging. Like Skype-to-Skype calls, which are limited by 3's fair-use policy to 4,000 minutes a month, users are confined to 10,000 Skype Chat messages – which shouldn't prove too much of a hardship.

In addition, Windows Live Messenger comes pre-installed to cater for those with more buddies on Microsoft's IM. The angular keypad is surprisingly comfortable when it comes to tapping out texts, while the reassuringly solid feel of the phone in your hand makes for an all-round positive experience.

Equipped for the modern age of social networking, the S2 comes with a stripped down Facebook app that allows you to view your profile, alerts, messages and friends' photos on the move.

There's also an RSS reader so you can keep tabs on up to 30 of your favourite feeds, and HSDPA support for speedy browsing. Admittedly the 2.2in screen isn't ideal for enjoying content-rich web pages, but it is impressively crisp and if you just want to catch up with the latest scores or news headlines the size won't matter.

Built-in modem drivers

The big bonus when it comes to the inclusion of HSDPA is the fact 3 has had the foresight to include built-in Windows modem drivers. This means you can use the S2 in the same way as a mobile broadband dongle: just plug it into a PC with the bundled USB cable and the drivers install, leaving you free to access the web on your laptop.

Other standard offerings include organiser functions, music player with access to the 3MusicStore, and a 3.2 megapixel camera. However, the lack of autofocus and flash means the camera doesn't really match up to its contemporaries.

Likewise, the video capture mode is poor and suffers from noise and judder – although given this is generally the case with mobile video it shouldn't be held against the S2. There's no doubt that 3 should be congratulated for building on its opening salvo into the world of mobile VoIP and coming up with a practical, stylish handset.

A phone for web addicts

At just £69.99 on pay-as-you-go or free on contract, the 3 Skypephone S2 makes Skype a viable alternative to most mobile users and the perfect partner for Facebook addicts.

It may not be the most advanced handset around, but its build-quality is excellent and with the addition of HSDPA support there's no questioning its value for money.