Here are two new devices that can help improve audio quality for voice calls, whether you're in the office or out on the road.
The scoop: Voyager Legend CS Bluetooth Headset System, by Plantronics, about $300.
What is it? This system combines Plantronics' latest professional Bluetooth headset the Voyager Legend with a desktop phone base station (you can also attach the HL-10 optional handset lifter unit for about $80). The headset connects via Bluetooth to both the base station (which connects to the phone via regular phone cable) and your mobile phone. This lets users chat on their desktop/office phone and their mobile phone while using the same headset.
Why it's cool: For office workers who spend a lot of time using their phones, they likely have different headsets one connected to their office phone, and a separate hands-free phone for the mobile phone. This eliminates at least one of their headsets (likely the office phone headset). This unit also adds to Plantronics' portfolio of other office/mobile headset systems the company makes a Voyager Legend UC base that lets you connect to mobile phones and VoIP phones / PC phones (for Skype calls, etc.), and the grand-daddy of them all, the Savi 700 system, which connects all three phone usages (VoIP, mobile and desktop).
This system comes with a Voyager Legend Bluetooth headset as part of the package, and is basically the same one you can buy separately if you just want to use it for mobile phone calls. Sensors on the headset can detect when you have it on your ear, so if a call comes in and you place it on the phone, it will automatically answer the call. For incoming desktop phone calls, the call button on the back of the headset triggers the handset lifter (an optional add-on).
Voice controls on the headset let you say things like "Check Battery" to tell you whether you need to recharge the unit (the base station also can recharge your headset), or automatically pair the Bluetooth to your mobile device (it's already paired to the base station). An additional phone can also be paired with the headset for those users who have two cell phones.
The headset also can provide audio streaming via your smartphone, so if you use it for listening to music, you can hear it via your headset instead of connecting to your car's stereo system (although you'd only hear it in one ear). This can also be useful if you use GPS applications on your smartphone, having the audio directions go into your headset can be less distracting than relying on the speaker of the smartphone I guess it depends on how you prefer receiving your directions.
Some caveats: For charging the headset when you're not near the base station unit (like, when you're at home or traveling), the unit comes with a USB charging cable that can only be used when you're near a USB port (such as a computer, or a different USB power adapter battery). The proprietary port on the headset side of the charger makes it more difficult to replace should you lose the charger, compared with more standard mini- or micro-USB cables.
One other small complaint Because the headset connects to the base station via Bluetooth, the range is limited to about 30 feet between the user and the desktop phone. This may be a problem for home workers who need more range if they are on a phone call and walk away from their home office to go to the kitchen, for example. Other systems (including ones from Plantronics) that use DECT for their transmission range would likely fill that role, but Plantronics says at the moment, DECT radios are too large to be placed in a mobile phone-style headset.
Grade: 4.5 stars (out of five)
The scoop: Mobile Speakerphone P710e, by Logitech, about $170.
What is it? The P710e is part of Logitech's "For Business" line of gear aimed at office workers, and includes things like better webcams, headsets, keyboards and now this, a speakerphone unit. This solid-yet-light speakerphone provides better audio quality for your mobile phone or tablet - it aims to improve voice calls than the built-in speakerphone on those devices. The system is flexible, able to connect via Bluetooth, near-field communications (NFC), or USB to a PC or Macintosh. The USB cable is integrated into the unit, making it available for easy access for recharging (it comes with a wall adapter as well). The top of the P710e slides out a bit to reveal a stand area where you can place your phone or tablet. This gives you an instant stand to improve FaceTime or video chats with a colleague, or if you need a stand for a tablet for when you're watching a video, and you want to use the P710e as your audio speaker.
Other features include touch controls on the top of the unit to raise/lower the volume, as well as the ability to answer (incoming only) and end a phone call. LEDs on the unit indicate visually when a call is coming in, as well as your volume level. A headphone jack on the side lets you plug in headphones if you want to take a call private (or listen to music privately without attaching to your phone/tablet).
Why it's cool: Mobile workers who use their phone's internal speakerphone for conference call will likely enjoy the improved audio quality from the P710e. The device features digital signal processing, sideband audio, acoustic echo cancellation and a noise-canceling microphone to improve audio on voice calls. A dynamic equalizer automatically switches sound quality depending on whether the user is listening to music or using their voice. Support for Microsoft Lync's UC platform, as well as Cisco's platform and Skype mean this will work with almost any VoIP environment.
Some caveats: At the upper volume levels the speaker does tend to crack a bit, but this is only a problem if you're using this as an audio entertainment speaker at a loud office party - for regular conference-calls, you likely won't notice.
Grade: 5 stars (out of five)
Shaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @shawkeith
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