Thursday, November 25, 2010

"Optimized for Lync" Devices

Over the years, I've used any number of devices to connect to Communicator/Lync.  I've used everything from cheap-o $20 headsets to some high-end OCS-specific phones. For the most part, these devices have worked out OK.  Some required a bit of fiddling to make work right, while others just worked with no fuss or bother. I've had headsets that make themselves the primary communications device without asking and not relinquish this to the previous primary device after unplugging it, which was a headache in Communicator. Others just worked and didn't bring much attention to itself, which is really the ultimate goal, isn't it?

My absolute go-to office audio device for the past few years has been the Plantronics Savi Office Convertible headset. It connects to both my PC and my PSTN desk phone and works like a charm.  It's a very good desktop headset solution.  With DECT 6.0 wireless, I can wander a good distance from my house and still maintain a good connection. The sound quality is excellent.  I do have a few gripes with it, though.  I can't use the over-the-ear earpiece because of my apparently oddly-shaped ears (earbuds NEVER fit me). I have to resort to the over-the-head headset. Plus, the earpiece bothers my ear after wearing it for an extended period.  Another minor issue is the lack of wind cancellation technology. In the summertime, I like to work outside on my patio in the "office hammock".  The slightest breeze gets picked up by the headset and annoys the person on the other end (maybe they were upset because I was working from a hammock and they weren't). Granted, the Savi Office isn't meant for use outdoors, so I can't really knock it for that.  Overall, its been the one thing I keep using out of my pile of headsets.
My summer office. Beer fridge well out of reach.
For my cell phone, I've been using the BlueAnt Z9i. It's a Bluetooth headset that works with both mobile phones and PCs. I've got it paired with both my laptop and mobile phone. It's extraordinarily tiny and unobtrusive. For mobile use, it's excellent.  Great volume and voice isolation. However, I found it lacking when I used it with Communicator/Lync on my laptop. It sounded fine for use with PSTN or mobile communications, but the sound quality just didn't match up to the higher fidelity of Communicator/Lync's wideband audio. Sure, it was primarily designed for mobile use, but I never used it much for Communicator/Lync because of the lack of wideband audio.

I recently became fortunate enough to gain possession of a good variety of Plantronics devices to showcase at a presentation I'll be doing on Lync.  I have the Calisto 540 desk phone, the Calisto 420 speakerphone, the Voyager PRO UC, the Savi 430 and the Blackwire 420. The one thing all these devices have in common is they are all optimized for Communicator/Lync.
Installing and using all these devices is as simple as plugging it into an available USB port. To have a little fun, I decided to see what it would be like to install all the devices and see how Lync handles it. Windows 7 x64 picked up and installed the required drivers for all without asking for input. Lync detected each of them and named them appropriately. Selecting which device to use was very simple.  I could easily select a default device for all my calls and switch between them seamlessly while on a call.  Lync even gave a specific speakerphone-like icon to the Calisto 420 speakerphone.

A few quick notes on each device:
  • The Blackwire 420 is a very comfortable, nice-sounding binaural USB-corded headset with integrated volume, mute and call pickup/hangup buttons. It folds flat into a little carrying case, making it ideal for travel. This replaces my old Plantronics one-ear headset, which didn't really travel all that well.
  • the Calisto 420 speakerphone really just a speaker with 360-degree microphone that will fit in your hand. Its perfect for ad-hoc conference calls and is fairly portable.
  • The Voyager PRO UC is replacing my BlueAnt. It fits over-the-ear, connects to my mobile phone and my PC at the same time, has great wideband audio quality for Lync calls and is super-comfortable to wear (and doesn't fall out of my good-for-nothing ears). As for how it deals with extraneous noise, like wind on the hammock, I can't tell yet. It's November, and definitely not hammock weather in these parts. My only wish is that it were DECT 6.0 so I could wander far away from my PC, as I tend to do while on long conference calls. It charges via a USB cable only, so while its not great if you're in the office, its fine if you're on the road....which this is meant for.
  • The Savi 430 has the same form-factor as the Voyager PRO UC, but it doesn't do Bluetooth. It does have DECT 6.0 for my wanderings and a nice desk charger, just like the Savi Office. Now if I could take the DECT 6.0 and the desk charger option of this headset and the Bluetooth capabilities of the Voyager PRO UC and mash them together, then that product would be the absolute perfect headset for all my needs.
  • Last but definitely not least is the Calisto 540 desk phone. It's a perfect, inexpensive deskphone for people who still want a standard phone experience. It connects via USB to your computer and is driven by Lync (it won't work on its own like other more expensive phones). You can use it like a regular deskphone, or you can use Lync to dial, answer, hang up etc. This phone has the capability to really make a strong showing in the corporate world. It's simple, inexpensive, doesn't require its own power supply or network connection, and still provides users with a rich Lync experience.
My troublefree experience with all these devices has shown me what the whole "Optimized for Lync" thing means when it comes to devices.  I used to think it merely meant it would do wideband audio. I now realize it also means trouble-free installation and use, which is more than I can say for some of the non-Lync optimized headsets I've tried.

Plantronics really has done a great job with their Optimized for Lync line of products. In my opinion, they are the ones to beat in this segment of the market. Whether or not you choose Plantronics devices for your company or yourself, I believe that any device you pick should have the Optimized for Lync logo on it. Doing so might cost you more than your typical $20 POS, but in the long run it will pay for itself in ease-of-use, better performance, reduced helpdesk calls, and lower frustration levels.


In case of lawyers, please note that the opinions presented here are mine alone and are not representative of my employer or any other vendor, Plantronics included.