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Whether CEO or cubicle dweller, speakerphones are a must for busy people. With a raft of related patents to their credit, Polycom's phones excel in the area. So the 550 and 650 feature excellent speakerphones with superb echo cancellation capability.

As noted above professional-style wired headsets can be connected via an RJ11 jack on the back of the phone. The phones store separate user-defined volume preferences for each type of call: handset, headset and speakerphone. This is handy when moving repeatedly to/from speakerphone during long conference calls.

One of my greatest frustrations with my old IP600—all the older models for that matter—was the lack of a backlight in the LCD display. If you like to work in a dimly lit office as I do, then an unlit screen can be difficult to read. So I was very happy to see that both the IP550 and IP650 feature backlit grayscale LCD displays (Figure 3).

Backlit LCD screen

Figure 3: Backlit LCD screen

The display brightness is easily user adjustable. Further, the phones can be set to display a default image, making it a simple matter to brand them with your company logo.

Both phones also feature a novel XHTML browser that’s accessible via the “applications” hard key. This feature can be used to let the user interact with simple XHTML applications using the phone's LCD display.

A quick search on www.voip-info.org returned an example XHTML application that displays a weather forecast based on a ZIP code entered at the phone. Polycom also provides a downloadable example including the automatic display of stock prices.

The micro-browser can have myriad applications, but they tend to be custom implementations driven by the needs of a specific company. For example, the phone's micro-browser can perform airline database queries for flight status details (Figure 4). Such a convenience leverages existing infrastructure, while easing the burden on staff and call centers.

Micro-browser flight schedule application

Figure 4: Micro-browser flight schedule application

Implementers of XHTML applications need to deal with varying display capability, however. The IP501, IP601, IP550, IP560 and IP650 models all feature 320 x 160 pixel LCD displays. Other phones provide much smaller LCD displays, making XHTML applications more difficult to design and deploy.

Productivity Suite

With the release of v3.0 firmware, Polycom has also started to offer an optional software bundle called the Productivity Suite for SoundPoint IP Phones. This software, which costs around $12 per phone, provides five applications to enhance the phones' basic capabilities.

  • Visual Conference Management
  • Local Call Recording
  • Corporate Directory Access (LDAP)
  • Third Party Call Control
  • Voice Quality Monitoring

Most business class phones can perform an on-phone three-way conference, combining two remote parties and yourself. However, the 550 and 650 can perform four-way conferences (you plus three remote callers). This apparently simple extension of the phones' capabilities is significant, since larger conferences can be handled before you need to use an external conference bridge.

The Visual Conference Management application provides a very intuitive way to establish conferences and add a third or fourth party to an existing call. It can also drop a caller from a conference, and mute or unmute each party. Throughout the conference, the LCD display indicates the status of each caller in a simple, easily understood manner (Figure 5).

Three way conference using Visual Conference Management

Figure 5: Three way conference using Visual Conference Management

Over the review period, the Local Call Recording feature on the IP650 (not available on the 550) also proved very handy. Upon insertion of a USB key, the phone acknowledges the key then adds a display to indicate the amount of record time available (Figure 6). I could record the current call or conference to a WAV file with only two button presses.

Call recording feature activated

Figure 6: Call recording feature activated

Even for home office use, this feature alone can justify the cost of the IP650.  For example, if you are a podcaster conducting telephone interviews, then the ability to easily record a call to a USB stick in a readily accessible format is simply outstanding. The phone did prove to be picky about the USB keys it would accept. But Polycom has a listing of known compatible USB memory keys.

While extremely convenient, this call recording feature should be used with care as recording a conversation without the other parties knowledge is illegal in many jurisdictions.

The Corporate Directory Access (LDAP) feature supports integration with a master corporate contact directory, including Microsoft Active Directory. When the LDAP directory is used, the domain administrator can define the contacts that are exposed to each user.

The Third Party Call Control feature allows external systems to interrogate the phone for its state, and invoke various functions via the uaCSTA protocol. This allows the phones to be integrated into unified communications solutions, including Microsoft's Office Communication Server.

Though the productivity suite is offered for all models in the SoundPoint range, not all of the productivity applications are available on every model. For example, local call recording is only supported on the IP650 since only that model has the required USB port.

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