I spend quite a lot of time on conference calls, often at short notice and without prior clue was to what I will be talking about. I’ve been using my laptop as a speakerphone for a while, but I miss physical buttons. I looked at SOHO VOIP phones, as l like the idea of an old-fashioned handset. However, with limited desktop space for they seemed a cumbersome extravagance. Most of the SOHO handsets are Android based and include some level of Skype integration, but I just couldn’t find exactly what I wanted.The lack of explanation of how these SOHO devices actually function frustrated me as they are a potential compatibility minefield. The documentation is generally out of date and/or vague. Most of the handsets I looked at run Android 4.x with no apparent expectation for update. Whilst I expect some level of planned obsolescence, spending £200+ on a phone which made useless by Microsoft dropping Skype support tomorrow seemed unwise.
My core requirements were
- Bluetooth hands free for mobile
- Skype Integration
- Support for “other” Conference call clients
- Physical button for mute, answer, and volume
Nice to haves:
- SIP Trunk support (although I don’t have much of a use for it)
- POTS support (Again barely used)
- Physical Handset
Whilst using SIP trunks are a nice idea, the reality is I take the majority of calls on my mobile, and my landline contract includes “free” minutes which I never use. I finally gave up on POTS support as I don’t have a straightforward way to run the line into my home office.
Once I focused on my core requirements I ended up with a Jabra SPEAK 510 USB speakerphone.
The Jabra SPEAK 510 is the size of a large puck. There are variations with a USB-Bluetooth dongle in the box, I just plug into the USB hub on my Dell UP2414Q. The 2.4Ghz band in my area is horribly polluted; the last thing it needs is another transmitter. I don’t intend on moving it around either, although a neoprene carry case is included for this reason. It came in a pleasing “frustration free” card recycled cardboard box with a basic manual and adhesive backed Velcro for semi-permanent fixing.
Windows picked up the Jabra SPEAK 510 native microphone and speaker immediately, as did Skype. Pleasingly, it required no special effort and calls came through clear and without drop outs. So far it also works with GotoMeeting without any configuration beyond selecting it. This is a big improvement over the hardware built into my laptop which would spontaneously go silent, and headphones I’d inevitably knock the cable from. If you are really into mono, you could use it as a desktop speaker, but it would be missing the point.
Pairing my Android phone was easy enough, and works without any issues at. Interestingly the phones mute buttons are independent of those on the Jabra; muting one it doesn’t unmute the other. However, this is not usually an issue as I seldom use the mobile phone controls now. The phone automatically pairs whenever I’m range which is certainly longer than the microphone’s sensitivity.
I installed the “Jabra Direct” app, but this was unnecessary. The Jabra SPEAK 510 came factory-shipped with the latest firmware, and from I can tell it doesn’t offer any other “value”. Certainly with “just” a speakerphone there is no requirement for the contact synchronisation features present on SOHO desktop handsets. It’d be nice to change the spoken language for the pairing notifications, to something less obsequious, but it’s not exactly a show-stopper.
My complaints are few. The maximum volume on the 510’s speaker perhaps could be a little louder. It’s fine for my 5x5m home office, but I suspect that it would be insufficient for anywhere larger/noiser. That said only a sociopath would use a speakerphone in an open-plan office; and I’ve the option of using my B&W MM-1‘s instead. The buttons are placed around the outer ring of the speaker, and only require a light touch. Given the choice I’d prefer the buttons to be closer together, but I’d realise that someone fatter-fingered than I might struggle with such a design.
In summary, for around £80, the Jabra SPEAK 510 was a good-value purchase, and stopped me spending a lot more on something that I’d use a lot less. Given more space, I’d still be tempted by full-size deskphone, but I don’t think I would ever justify it. The Bluetooth/USB combination gives me a degree of future-proofing I wouldn’t get in a dedicated handset.