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Technology Untangled: New conference phone offers unique features

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I purchased a new piece of office technology recently: a high-quality conference phone with impressive features.

The phone I chose was from a manufacturer I had not heard of before. The Konftel 300W is designed by a Swedish company (www.konftel.com). Most of the conference phones (a.k.a. speakerphones) I have worked with are of the Polycom brand. Konftel popped up as another alternative while I was researching conference phones on the Internet. Two features caught my eye right away – the wireless capability and the ability to record phone calls.

The wireless connection between the base transmitter and the phone uses DECT (digital enhanced cordless telecommunications) technology, one of the newest cordless phone standards. It provides a very good range, a stable noise-free connection that works well through walls and floors, and is relatively secure. The specs list the range at a substantial 650 feet.

The transmitter/receiver is a flat, square, black box that can be plugged into an analog jack in a remote corner of the office. The conference phone can then be moved room-to-room without worrying about finding an appropriate analog phone jack, and without stringing a long cord across the room. In an office with a full digital phone system, sometimes the only analog phone jack you can find will be near a fax machine.

The conference phone itself is a typical triangular shape that nests in a charging cradle. Once the phone is fully charged, it offers up to 60 hours of talk time with the included lithium-ion battery. Standby time is 10 days. The phone also notifies you when there is less than one hour of talk time left, so you won’t be cut off in the middle of an important call. Long battery life like this means you can keep the charging cradle in an out-of-the-way location and just charge the phone every weekend, leaving one less cord to clutter your conference table. With no power cord and no phone cord, this unit makes it easy for you to hold conference calls whenever and wherever it’s convenient.

The audio performance is exceptional. The manufacturer touts it as “OmniSound 2.0 – a sound sensation.” All I know is that the phone sounds great on both ends of the conversation, no matter what you want to call the technology that makes it possible. Additionally, there is an equalizer adjustment to tailor the sound for your personal preference or office environment.

The Konftel 300W offers advanced connectivity that takes it beyond the features of the typical conference phone. When connected to a personal computer via USB, the phone acts as the speaker and the microphone for making VoIP calls through Skype, an Internet communication service that I like and have written about previously. The quality of the Konftel microphone and speakers are superior to those found in the typical laptop, making this phone an ideal companion for enhancing Skype video calls. You can also connect the Konftel to many (but not all) cell phones and facilitate a conference with greatly enhanced clarity compared to the marginal speakerphone function offered with most cell phones. The cell phone adapter cable is a special order item not offered in the standard package.

The ability to digitally record phone calls and conferences is another nice feature of this phone. Using a standard SD memory card, you can record all parties in the conversation to a .wav file, a standard computer audio format. You also have the option to turn on or off the recording indicator beep tone. The audio can later be played back from the phone itself, or can be transferred to computer for archiving as well as playback. This unit also can function as a standard digital audio recorder when you’re not making a call, which is useful for dictation or recording face-to-face meetings.

One curiosity I found for a phone with this level of sophistication was that the maximum compatible SD card size is only 2GB. That is probably enough, providing perhaps 20 hours of recording time, but memory cards come in much bigger sizes these days. I expect a future software upgrade will address this. The phone does include an upgrade utility for loading the latest software version from the Konftel website by connecting the phone to your computer via USB. That nice extra feature should help keep this phone from becoming obsolete too quickly.

Many websites sell this phone for around $700, but if you shop around you should be able to find it for about $500.•

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Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD, and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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