As Voice over IP (VoIP) becomes more of a mainstream occurrence, companies
are releasing products that complement this technology in ways that an
ordinary caller can appreciate. Audibit�s PC Handset is a
microphone/speaker that allows users to speak and listen to others through
VoIP with a handset that closely resembles a standard telephone receiver,
instead of an unwieldy headset � something that makes the user feel like a
call center operator. Based in Finland (where, coincidentally the highest
per capita use of cellular phones occurs), Audibit has developed a
sleek-looking handset, unobtrusive and aesthetically pleasing.
There�s really not much to talk about here. There is no software to
install and no preferences to configure, just a device with two 1/8"
plugs, one black, one gray. The black one is for the speaker jack, the
gray one is for the microphone jack. Obviously, using the Audibit PC Handset
requires a computer running Windows 95/98 or NT, and an appropriate sound
card (more on that later).
There is no documentation with the Audibit PC Handset. There is a 6" x
8" piece of paper that explains exactly how to attach the cables, and
gives some important operating tips. The lone diagram shows how to hook up
external speakers and a microphone into the unit, but these are optional
accessories, and not included with the Audibit.
There really isn�t much to the Audibit PC Handset. It�s basically a
phone-shaped speaker/microphone system for the PC. A standard curly phone
cord connects the handset to a small black box, and this has two output
cables � one for the microphone, and the other for the speaker function.
This box has two 1/8" jack inputs, for an external microphone and
external speakers. The external speaker jack is more practical than the
microphone jack, because chances are that a user would not want to connect
and disconnect the speakers on the PC, and speakers are required for audible
alerts of incoming NetMeeting calls. However, an external microphone is a
seldom-used item on most PCs, and Audibit will serve all the functions of a
microphone, making a second one redundant.
The handset comes with a plastic hook for �hanging it up,� but really
just stores it out of the way, as there are no moving parts on the unit.
This is a nice addition, but the double-sided tape (the same stuff we used
to hang up our Farrah Fawcett posters in the 1970s) looks like it will never
be able to be removed without seriously damaging whatever it was attached
With an item as simple as this one, there is no better way to test it than
to start making calls in different scenarios, over the LAN and WAN with
Microsoft�s NetMeeting, and over the Internet with Rave2 (see a
comprehensive review of Rave2
in the November 1999 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY�). We first tested it
with our LAN, calling other lab staff. We installed it on our Dell Dimension
XPS D300 PC, running Windows 98, with a Turtle Bay Systems sound card.
The results were the same as any decent headset or combination
headset/microphone unit. We�ve tested enough different types of headsets
and microphones to know what works well and does a good job for VoIP. This
unit was of equal quality to the majority of these types of products, and
provides the user with a more �mainstream� approach, giving VoIP an
elevated image. As far as working well, it does. It�s sleeker looking than
most similar items, and is lightweight and convenient, too. The quality of
this product was as good as any similar product. Any problems with latency,
echo, jitter, or packet loss would be out of the range of services covered
by Audibit, and would be issues that the local network administrator or ISP
would have to deal with.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
With a product like Audibit, it�s pretty much what you see is what you
get. The PC Handset is a small gadget with no flash or unnecessary features.
Things we would like to see included on the next release of Audibit�s PC
Handset would be an adjustable volume control, and there should be an option
of a pro version available with an attached keypad.
We tested it with the built-in sound card in an E Machines Etower 366 PC
(with a Crystal SoundFusion card), but it didn�t work, although a standard
headset/microphone combination we later tested worked flawlessly. The
documentation also mentions the product is incompatible with IBM ThinkPads,
which leads us to suspect that there are other PCs that won�t work with
Audibit�s PC Handset either.
For a functional, phone-shaped speaker/microphone handset, Audibit�s PC
Handset S140 worked very well and caused no problems, other than the
limitation of different models it works on. While hardly laden with
extraneous features or bells and whistles, this handset performs the job in
a workman-like fashion. With the ability to bring VoIP one step closer to
being mainstream, we give Audibit�s PC Handset our Editors� Choice