Video Share, which AT&T Inc. claims is the first to pipe live video from one cell phone to another, works well. Still, you can't quite call it a "video phone" because Video Share is only a one-way link, meaning one party can see the other but not vice versa at the same time.
AT&T is offering Video Share to most of its 160 markets, including the Tampa Bay area, where it has third-generation wireless service.
It's fairly simple to use. Once a call between two Video Share-capable phones is connected, a prompt appears if both are in AT&T's 3G network. The caller who decides to initiate the connection controls the video camera, and both phones instantly snap into speaker mode.
The company sees great potential. Aside from the obvious uses for doting parents, it will be marketed to real estate agents and insurance adjusters as a business tool. And, as AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson hinted, the service could be expanded to PC and TV screens.
But first some kinks need to be worked out. We were using the Samsung A717, a snazzy flip-phone. The phone's speaker was nearly impossible to hear in a noisy or crowded setting.
We also found it was sometimes frustratingly difficult to stay connected. Even when both phones were receiving strong signals, the video link occasionally dropped out with little warning, particularly when one of the callers was indoors.
The video reception can be halting or pixelated, like streaming a Web video on a less-than-blazing Internet connection.
The camera's range can be perplexing, too. Video of a lit-up billboard shot from 25 feet away came across clearly, but when the friends transmitting the image turned the camera on themselves, the video taken at arm's length in a dimly lit bar could barely be seen.
About the service
AT&T Video Share (www.attvideoshare.com) only works on four phone models - iPhone users need not apply - and only when the phones are within range of the company's 3G network. The phones cost anywhere from $25 to $130 (with rebates), and the service runs about 35 cents a minute. Two plans offer cheaper options: one with 25 minutes for $4.99 a month and another with 60 minutes for $9.99 a month. The company says most subscribers use it for one or two minutes at a time.