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Product Reviews
April  2000

 

Audibit S140 PC Handset

Audibit Oy
Tykist�katu 4 D
FIN-20520, Turku Finland
Ph: 358-2-4101711
Fx: 358-2-4101710
Web site: www.audibit.com

Price: $44.90 for the S140 model reviewed here. See Audibit�s Web site for pricing on other models.

Editor's Choice Award

RATINGS (0-5)
Installation: 4.5
Documentation: 4
Features: 4
GUI: N/A
Overall: A-


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.

INSTALLATION
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).

DOCUMENTATION
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.

FEATURES
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 to.

OPERATIONAL TESTING
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.

CONCLUSION
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 Award.







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