At the moment I have a few too many OCS-specific telephony devices on my desk: a Polycom CX700 handset (aka the Tanjay), an LG-Nortel IP8540 handset (aka the Catalina), an LG-Nortel IP8502 Bluetooth headset, a couple generic USB headsets, and the latest edition: the Polycom Communicator CX100 speakerphone.
On any given day I’m either working from my home office in the suburbs, my corporate office downtown, any number of possible client sites with a range of wired and wireless access for consultants and guests, or even a public hotspot like Panera Bread. The only constant in my connectivity to the Internet is inconsistency.
Although I’ve been testing out a number of devices in the past I have narrowed my selection down to a couple devices that really suit my needs well, which is basically a handset in my home office and a headset to carry around with me.
The full-featured, stand-alone Tanjay phone is a nice unit but is not only overkill for my purposes, I’d have to remember to constantly sign out of the device when leaving home otherwise I’d show up on OCS to others as signed-in to a device that does not accept instant messages. So for me the simple winner here is the Catalina handset, which is currently sold by Polycom as the CX200 and LG-Nortel as the USB Phone 8501.
It’s a USB device that doesn’t require any alternative power source, so when I drop my laptop down on my home office desk it’s a plug-and-play solution that OCS instantly recognizes. The buttons make it very easy to answer and hang-up voice calls, and mute/un-mute while on calls. The handset works as the default audio device whether I place a Communicator call, answer an incoming voice call, or join a Live Meeting. I mainly use the speakerphone functionality but the built-in handset is convenient for times when background noise or privacy are an issue. Live Meeting also uses it as the default device for a speakerphone, although I’ve noticed that the mute button on the phone doesn’t coincide with the client’s mute functionality.
Portable Speaker Phone
As convenient as the Catalina is it’s obviously too large and clunky to travel around with, so I’ve found the next best thing, the Polycom Communicator CX100. It’s also a USB speakerphone that OCS automatically detects as the default device when connected. It comes with a zipper carrying pouch and it about the size of one of those large scientific calculators I used in high school. The USB cable manually winds up in a rear compartment which is covered when the fold-up stand is closed. There is also a standard mini (3.5mm) headphone jack included.
When using my laptop’s built-in speaker and microphone I’ve had complaints on more than one occasion that the caller was hearing an echo. As network latency can inherently delay VoIP conversations the close proximity of the speakers and microphone on my laptop would cause the caller to hear their own voice. The design of the CX100 seems to prevent that situation well as I’ve had no complaints so far.
The center ring on the device has simple buttons for adjusting the volume, mute, and start/end calls. I’ve noticed that depending on whether OCS is currently running or not when I connect the device the green off-hook button either maximizes the OC window on the computer just like the Catalina does, or sometimes incorrectly just goes off-hook and gives a dial tone sound. No window is launched and without buttons on the device to dial a number I’m at a loss at what functionality that provides. But it does work correctly when answering inbound calls, so it’s jut a minor annoyance. My only real concern is that the light gauge USB cable must be very tightly wrapped in order for the stand to completely close, and I wonder if prolonged use might eventually wear down and break the USB cable.
A headset can sometimes be more cumbersome or complicated then they are worth. Although wired, USB headsets with inline DSP audio interfaces are typically the best quality, they are usually bulky and come with what seems like 30 feet of wire to tangle up in a laptop bag. Last year LG-Nortel sent us some of their devices to test and I was eager to try the prototype version if their upcoming 8502 Bluetooth Wireless Headset.
This device comes with a USB dongle that contains the same OCS logo with integrated presence LED that the Catalina and Tanjay handsets have. The earpiece can be charged via the supplied mini-USB cable or the mini-USB docking device. There is a simple multi-function button the headset that powers the device on/off and also answers/ends calls, and a pair of clearly marked volume buttons. It supports full-duplex wideband audio has by far the best audio quality of any other BT wireless devices I’ve tried. The microphone does not seem quite powerful enough, as even with the input turned all the way up you have to speak louder than normal for callers to consistently hear you clearly. I should note that I’m using a pre-production beta device and this may have been addressed in the final design.
Actually using all of this stuff
The challenge here has been getting multiple devices to work with each other. Although it can appear confusing, once you understand the default behavior of handling voices calls in Office Communicator, it’s actually quite simple to juggle the devices. So at the moment I’m away from my home office and have the CX100 speakerphone and IP8502 Bluetooth headset. If I connect both USB devices (the CX100 and the 8502 dongle) and launch the Set Up Audio and Video wizard in Office Communicator, the devices should be automatically configured as such:
The behavior I have observed is that OC will default to the Speaker/Microphone or Speakerphone device when making and answering voice calls. In order to switch over the the headset, an icon will appear on the toolbar of the Communicator window that toggle the speakerphone on/off:
Alternatively, the button on the headset will switch from speakerphone to the headset if hit once. If the button is pushed again it will not switch back to the speakerphone, but instead simply end the call. The toolbar button in OC would need to be used to toggle back in that case.
- When receiving an incoming voice call, answering by clicking on the toast will default to the speakerphone device, but if the headset button is instead pressed then the call will be answered by the headset.
- When placing an outgoing call from Communicator, if the headset button is pushed immediately then you can switch to the headset while dialing, otherwise you’d have to wait until the connection was established in order to access the speakerphone toolbar button.
So if I disconnect my USB speakerphone, then OC will default back to the laptop’s internal speaker and microphone and calls would then start from the laptop until manually switched to the headset. I have not yet found a way to force OC to use the headset, which is probably a good idea since the battery is often depleted and sending audio to an unconnected or dead device would be problematic. And easy way to tell that the device has powered down is the presence LED on the dongle will turn off, indicating that the headset is no longer on.