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After a month of speculation, Skype for iPad finally launched today. I whipped out my iPad 2 and decided to spend a little hands-on time with the app to see how it fared overall and how it compared with Apple’s FaceTime.

My conclusion: It blows FaceTime out of the water.

First, it’s necessary to have an iPad 2 while running Skype for iPad because it has a front-facing camera, so first-gen iPad owners are out of luck. When you first boot the app, you have to log in and then are immediately taken to your list of contacts. Each contact is shown in large, easy-to-tap squares. The screen shows about 12 contact squares at a time and you can easily scroll through them.

After tapping a specific contact square, all the usual Skype options appear. You can video call, voice call, instant message, or send a text message to the contact. The gallery of contacts would be attractive if my contacts had pictures, but most of my contacts don’t so it’s a bunch of blue squares. This made me wish the app had other ways to view my contacts, such as a straightforward list view like the Contacts app on my iPad and iPhone.

Video quality is generally excellent with Skype on the iPad. We tested the app over Wi-Fi to see what the best possible quality of the video could be. While running on a 12 Mbps connection in New York City with my iPad, I video chatted with executive editor Dylan Tweney in San Francisco, who had a 7 Mbps connection on his MacBook Pro running Snow Leopard. There was plenty of detail and the iPad camera adjusted when lighting conditions changed around me. Sound quality was also excellent.

While on a call, I was able to instant message back and forth without and trouble. A small red dot appears on the instant message icon whenever a new text is sent to you.

While testing the app briefly with another colleague, I did see a few bugs. First, one of the menus constantly froze while trying to switch between contacts and other options. I also found that new contact requests take more than a few minutes pop up when sent to someone using the app. But if you close and restart the app, the contact request appears.

Compared to FaceTime, Skype for iPad is superior. In the most important category of video quality, Skype slaughters FaceTime. Skype allows up to 720p (1280×720) resolution at up to 30 FPS across its various platforms. FaceTime for the iPad and iPhone only allows 320×240 resolution at 10 FPS, while FaceTime for the Mac allows 720p. Tweney and I briefly tested FaceTime after using Skype for iPad and noticed a dramatic reduction in video quality.

Those who think of video chat at the iPad’s killer app might have their champion in Skype for iPad. It does everything it’s supposed to do and could encourage even more people to consider buying an iPad.

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