One of the problems with PC-based Internet telephony is the
need for a headset, which many people find clumsy and cumbersome. Of course,
you can get away with using your desktop speakers and a separate microphone
if you want to deal with poor sound quality and plenty of echo. Several
manufacturers have come up with an alternative using the ubiquitous USB
port, which both PCs and Macs have, to create USB-based multimedia VoIP
handset phones. Clarisys has designed a USB phone called the Claritel-i750
that features echo-cancellation and full-duplex operation for enhanced sound
As expected, installing the Claritel-i750 was a snap, due to its USB
support. Even though the documentation warned we should install Clarisysï¿½
bundled software first, we wanted to see if the device supported using the
audio classes in Microsoftï¿½s DirectX support, which is native to 95/98,
2000, and XP. If this were the case, then we could use the Claritel-i750 USB
phone without their bundled software if we wished. Sure enough, when we
plugged the device into a Windows XP PC, launched NetMeeting, and made a
call, we could speak and listen over the Claritel-i750.
Of course, we couldnï¿½t use the advanced features of the Claritel-i750,
such as the keypad buttons or the directional navigation buttons. However,
once we installed the software on the CD, all of the buttons performed
flawlessly. In fact, we really liked the directional arrows
(up/down/left/right) that allowed us to scroll around not just in VoIP
applications, but in other Windows applications as well, such as Word,
Internet Explorer, Notepad, etc. A major benefit of all the buttons on the
i750 is that you can launch the VoIP app, dial a number, and then hit the
Send button to initiate a VoIP call, all without touching the keyboard.
Other buttons include Mute, Sp-Phone (speakerphone), and End (end call).
In testing the sound quality, we were impressed with the crisp, clear
sounding voices. Certainly the internal DSP had something to do with it. The
device supports full-duplex communication in ï¿½handset modeï¿½ allowing
both parties to speak at the same time. We tested the ï¿½speakerphone modeï¿½
to see if the device supported full-duplex in speakerphone mode.
Unfortunately, when the USB phone was placed in speakerphone mode, only one
person could talk at a time, resulting in half-duplex communication.
Although, we were pretty impressed with the volume the speakerphone was able
to produce ï¿½ especially since it was solely powered by the USB bus.
The Claritel-i750 comes with an impressive software bundle, including
DialPad, ElthePhone, HotTelelink, PhoneFree, and Voispring. Many of these
bundled software apps come with a few free hours of service with the
purchase of the Claritel-i750. Any of these applications can be installed
from the USB phone simply by activating the Quick Launch feature, which
consists of hitting the On/Off button on the phone followed by the numeric
code for the Quick Launch application you want to install. Once installed,
you can simply execute the program by pressing the On/Off button again
followed by the same numeric code. Also, when you install the Clarisys
software, a telephone icon is placed in the System Tray that you can click
on to then access the Claritel setup screen or launch one of the VoIP apps.
Finally, one of the nicest features of the Claritel-i750 is that it allows
you to listen to your CD, MP3, and other PC audio through your speakers
while simultaneously routing your VoIP calls to the Claritel.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
The keypad doesnï¿½t have a period (.) key, and frankly, we werenï¿½t able
to enter an IP address without touching the PC keyboard, and frankly, weï¿½d
like to be able to type a period from the phone. As mentioned previously, weï¿½d
like to see a full-duplex speakerphone, however, this is only a minor
complaint since most users will probably use the phone in handset mode
anyway. The End button would not end calls when connected via Microsoft
NetMeeting, so weï¿½d like to see this minor usability improvement. The
actual USB cord is attached facing up towards the earpiece of the phone and
away from the microphone, causing the USB cord to have to arc downwards
towards the PC. Another 4.5" of length can be gained if the USB cord
were attached to the bottom of the phone near the microphone. Finally, the
ability to program the Quick Launch buttons to run any executable program
might be handy in case future VoIP applications need to be added.
This is one of the better USB-based ï¿½headset-alternativeï¿½ phones that
provide echo-free, clear-sounding VoIP calls. In particular we liked the
unique speakerphone capability as well as the several useful buttons on the
phone, including a keypad, mute button, and directional arrow buttons. Of
course, those looking to save a few bucks can simply buy a $15 headset
versus this $69.99 USB phone to make Internet telephony calls. However, the
inconvenience of having to unplug your speakers to plug in your headset just
may outweigh the cost advantages of buying an inexpensive headset ï¿½ thus,
Clarisysï¿½ Claritel-i750 just might be the ticket for you.
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