Tools Of The Trade: The Polycom Communicator PC speakerphone

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The Independent Online

Potentially one of the most handy for business users comes from Polycom, which is well known for its desktop "squawk boxes", or speakerphones. The difference with the Polycom Communicator is that it is connected to Skype rather than a landline.

The product plugs into a spare USB port on a laptop or desktop PC. Install the supplied software and it takes over from the PC's speaker and microphone.

Not only is it higher quality than on most computers but it is designed specifically for speakerphone use, so there should be fewer sound problems than there are on a computer's built-in audio hardware. And the Communicator is designed in such a way - with dual microphones - that several people in one room can use it to join a conference call.

The Communicator is simply designed. It is about the size of a handheld computer, with the controls in the middle, the speaker on the top and the microphones on the bottom. A built-in stand makes it easy to position on the table and there is no external power supply, making for a compact and portable unit.

Call quality was generally good in tests, although this does depend rather on the quality of the Skype connection. In turn, this relies on a high-quality connection to the internet. It was certainly better than the option of a computer's own speakers, but not necessarily any better than a dedicated computer headset.

The real value of the product, though, is that as long as you have a laptop, a broadband internet connection and a reasonably quiet room, you have a conference facility that is at least equal to a hotel speakerphone, and certainly much cheaper to use.

It could also be useful in the office where, instead of putting in a dedicated line and hardware for conferences, the Communicator could do a perfectly good job for small meetings, connected to a PC and set up with a Skype account.

A slightly longer USB cable, and a slightly lower price, would make the Communicator a great productivity booster.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5.

PROS: solid, good call quality.

CONS: quite expensive for what it is; Windows XP support only.

COST: £99.95 including VAT via the Skype store.

CONTACTS: www.polycom.com; www.skype.com

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