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Practical IPFones Test And Perceptions

Connecting With Skype's Phone Service
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In a softening of our usual rigorous testing methods, we based our evaluation of this device on opinions and impressions from multiple individuals. That's because what's a meaningful value-add to Skype for one person isn't necessarily so for others. I enlisted two of my colleagues as guinea pigs for this effort, who like me already used Skype and its telephony functions for everyday workplace telephoning anyway Compare Prices on IP-700 M.

Here's the opinion from my co-worker Anna Yew:

"An initial observation is necessary to start off: Until working on this assignment, I've always used a headset for Skype calls, and have been completely satisfied with it. That's why I started using the IP-700m USB World Phone with some skepticism. But after using the IP-700m for a week, I didn't have much cause for complaint - the Plug'n'Play installation worked quickly and without a hitch, and navigating the Skype interface with the phone keypad was simple and intuitive. The sound quality on the receiving end was always crystal clear. Only one time, as I was placing an international call to a land line, did the sound quality seem imperfect. During call set-up, what I heard from the IP-700m seemed a little muffled, accompanied by modest amounts of white noise. My headset doesn't display such behavior, but this didn't really bother me a lot, because Skype sound quality improves markedly when an actual connection is established anyway. It was also comfortable to handle incoming calls by picking up the IP-700m and pressing the green button, instead of having to reach for the headset and fumble it into proper position as quickly as possible. And then, of course, you also have to fiddle with the mouse to pick up the call once the headset is in place...

When all was said and down, however, I'm still not entirely enthused about the IP-700m - while it delivers on it claims, its capabilities don't add enough value to trump the convenience of my headset. More important, a handset doesn't provide the primary benefit that a headset confers - namely, to free one's hands for typing or other keyboard activity (transferring file, URLs, or other data, or accessing a chat window) inside Skype. To me, those things are essential, and let me make the most of Skype's capabilities. To be sure, this is probably a matter of taste and a question of how one uses Skype. But I use Skype every day at work, and do that best with my headset. That's what I plan to keeping doing for the foreseeable future, too."

Here's Frank Voelkel's report:

"The installation of the IP-700m goes very quickly, with an available USB port at one's disposal. The driver install is childishly simple and the hardware recognition likewise is trouble-free. And that's about all it takes, because additional installation tasks for Skype itself are handled more or less automatically. Restoring sound output to conventional loudspeakers is an important post-installation task, because otherwise all PC audio plays through the mini-speakers inside the IP-700m handset.

Using the IP phone through the keypad is very comfortable - everything works just like a normal hard line handset, with no need to use the PC keyboard at all. Ring tones are user selectable, and ring loudly enough on the handset speakers to be clearly audible.

The unit shows some failings in the quality of its workmanship, which could be decidedly better. Picky users might be disturbed by the high- and low-frequency transmission cut-offs that affect every call. Even the lacquer finish on the unit could be improved (perhaps by using multiple layers of contrasting color); the test unit showed noticeable speckling underneath its top high-gloss coat. This impression of substandard quality also comes from the stickers on the back of the unit, which call to mind cheap Asian imports from the mid-90s.

My summary: A handy device with simple installation that's quick and easy to put to work, but with definite issues with quality of workmanship and materials. Savvy buyers won't mind spending more money on higher quality materials and a more attractive look."

Here are my own impressions, after additional weeks of exposure to the IP-700m:

"Until now, I always used a headset for making and taking Skype calls. What bothered me about this was constantly schlepping a bulky headset back and forth between home and office. A headset is practical because it lets you talk and type at the same time. But what I always find vexing about the experience is that my ears tingle after a long phone session. Also those darned ear-muffs are an eyesore.

On trips, my bulky headset stays home as a rule. On the road, I used a wired mini-headset instead, much like those for a mobile phone: a button in the ear and a microphone on a boom, in other words. This sort of thing fits the smallest of pockets and weighs next to nothing.

With the IP-700m what impressed me most was its voice quality, along with the simple installation. It's easy and intuitive to use, perfectly suited for non-techies.

In addition, I can now run the built-in speakers in my notebook again. With the headset, I had to run all audio through its two miniscule speakers on a more or less permanent basis.

As far as the quality of the housing for the phone goes, I'd wish for a slightly heftier device and a matt finish for the display screen. This would add visual appeal to the device. In my opinion, the cable is sufficiently long to be workable. Of course, a cordless handset with a base station/handset cradle would be better still. But there is something that really bothers me: The IP-700m is always laying around somewhere on my desk: I really would have appreciated a small collapsible cradle so as to have someplace to put it when it's not in use.

Weighing the devices advantages against its disadvantages, I find the IP-700m to be a tool that makes using Skype phone services more comfortable and intuitive than with a headset. In addition, the unit delivers good voice quality. When traveling, its light weight and small size make it preferable to my old headset."

Summary And Conclusions

End-user devices like the IP-700m USB World Phone from IPFones makes telephoning with Skype more intuitive. Given its easy installation and voice quality, the IP-700m USB World Phone can be very convincing. As far as look and feel issues go for the unit, our tester's opinions were somewhat at odds. But $80 (40 Euros) is a suitable price for a product that works flawlessly with Skype and that makes IP telephony incredibly simple.

IPFones also offers volume discounts on the IP-700m for immediate purchase. Prices for 10 units are as low as $60/30€, and two units cost as little as $140/70€.

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