I work from home quite often, and also tend to be on calls to the US in evenings even when I’ve been in the office all day. As such I’ve always struggled to find the best possible way to get good quality on phone conferences, where quality involves:
- Being able to clearly hear other participants
- Being able to be clearly heard
- Others hearing a minimum of the ambient noise around me
- Being able to easily mute my line
- Being flexible to be used around the house
Up to now, I’ve tended to just use the speakerphone on one of our Siemens DECT handsets, which has fallen down on a number of the above requirements. VOIP has tended to be unreliable for a variety of reasons, not all of which are in my control. A fixed phone is out of the equation due to the location of the only phone socket in the house and a desire not to have cables snaking all over the place.
Our DECT phones do have Bluetooth, but they have been really unreliable when it comes to using with a headset. So, I’ve been looking for other options for a while.
The one I am now trying is a Plantronics C70 wireless DECT headset:
This is basically a regular DECT phone, but without the form factor of a phone, having just a mic and speaker. It connects to a DECT base station like any other handset. As usual with Plantronics gear, the quality is good and it is quite attractive to look at as well as being comfortable to wear. The docking station is used for charging. A full charge takes around 3 hours and claims to give up to five hours talk time.
Whilst incoming calls can be answered by pressing a button on the side of the headset, the astute will wonder how it can make outgoing calls without a keypad? The answer is that you need to do this on another phone, then transfer the call to the headset unit. Most DECT systems support call transfer. This is relatively painless in real life and I find that I’ve dialed in, entered my passcode and transferred the call to the headset before I’m joined into my conference call. The main pain here is that you need to keep another handset nearby.
Once on a call quality is good and I’ve not had any complaints about my voice quality, hiss, echo or background noise. I used to get this all the time when using the handset speakerphone.
Volume controls are located on the earpiece and are easy enough to use. However, my main gripe is that there is no dedicated mute button. Muting/Un-muting yourself involves holding the volume down key for a couple of seconds. Firstly, holding down a button behind your ear can become uncomfortable. Secondly, it means there is an appreciable delay before I can mute/un-mute myself which leads to stuttering when trying to respond to a question or avoiding others hearing dog barks! Thirdly, there is no way to have visual indication of whether you are muted or un-muted, therefore they use a quick double-beep every 15 seconds to remind you when you are on mute. In practice this is not intrusive mainly because the volume of the beeps is low compared to the noise of the conference call. However, the main failing is that the same beep mechanism is used to confirm the mute/un-mute operation. Three mid-tone beeps for mute and three low-tone beeps for un-mute. Because these are so similar, and both very hard to hear over conversation, you end up being unsure about exactly what state you are in, or if the button press has worked. This leads to “can you hear me” moments. Plantronics should either: provide a dedicated mute button on the earpiece; increase the volume of the beeps; make one a different number of beeps; or have a visual indicator on the dock when you are muted (though I realise that requires some wireless communication to happen between the dock and earpiece)
My other gripe is that it is sometimes hit and miss when replacing the earpiece in the dock. Twice now I’ve gone to start the first call of the day by picking the earpiece out of the dock to find out it is completely drained as the it hadn’t connected completely to the charge connectors.
Overall though it has been good to use and has certainly greatly improved the experience of taking regular work calls from home. A few tweaks and it would be perfect.