Using Skype with the Cyberphone K USB handset
My previous article on using Skype for my office phone service covered my experience actually getting a phone equivalent without forking out for a new BT line! The result of that investigation lead me to become a happy Skype customer, despite initially trying to go with a standards based solution!
Having got my combined SkypeIn/Out service I needed to decide how to use it. Initially, like most other users I assume, I stuck with a cheap headphone/mic arrangement. It kind of worked OK. A few specific problems arose out of how I work.
Problem number 1 - to drown out noise from the office I often use an MP3 player. This means that when Skype does ring, I can't hear it coming out of the tiny little headset speaker.
Problem number 2 - I have two computers - a Windows based laptop and a development machine running RedHat Linux. I have a slightly quirky KVM so that I could share a single screen and mouse between the two computers. While working I probably spend 75% of my time looking at the Linux system. If Skype does ring, and I actually hear it, I have to hit the specific (quirky) key combination to switch to the Windows machine, grasp around for the head-set and get the mouse to move to the accept call button. By which time of course I've missed the call!
Something needed to be done - I wanted a telephone, not a major drama every time someone called.
Having investigated the somewhat limited range of options I decided to splash out on a Cyberphone-K from VoIP Voice. It didn't have an LCD display like some others but it seemed well integrated with Skype. I ordered it from Dabs, being the cheapest price I could find at £29.95 inc. VAT. As a side note, not only was it the cheapest, having ordered one afternoon it arrived the next day - I always like to mention good service!
I plugged it in and followed the pretty straightforward, although minimal instructions, installed the software and away I went - the product did as claimed integrate seamlessly with Skype and works almost like a real phone.
Unfortunately the version of the software on the included CD was pretty out of date so I downloaded the latest from the vendors web-site. This offered a number of benefits, although they are a little obscure.
The handset is a two part product, with a base with a standard phone keypad plus a number of Skype specific function buttons. This two part construction was also an attraction - I find it very irritating having to press buttons on the thing I'm holding to my ear! The USB cable is long enough to reach to a floor standing computer which is good. The quality of the product is excellent- very solidly made and with a bit of weight behind it so it won't fly straight over your desk when you ugently try to receive a call as you dash back from the kettle. It can also be wall mounted if you prefer. I don't think it's going to earn a whole load of design awards for it's looks, but neither is it a particularly bad looking product and doesn't take up too much desk space.
Functionally the handset has some very good features, particularly suited to me!
Firstly - it can be used to receive calls without having to look at the PC screen. Given the situation I describe above, that's a real plus. Just lift the receiver and the call is accepted. You can mute the caller and change the volume without havign to go near the computer.
Secondly you can *just about* make a call without having to use the PC screen. One thing that does let the Cyberphone K down a little is that it assumes you'll have your PC available and that you'll make use of the Skype interface that pops up whenever you lift the receiver. That's a pain. You can just lift the reveiver and make a call, but there is no audible feedback that a number has been pressed.
Most people will have their PCs in front of them when using the phone and so that's mainly a problem for me. With the PC there, whenever you lift the receiver the Skype application automatically appears on your screen and (with the software update) when you replace the receiver it closes - cool!
Buttons on the phone allow you to step through the Skype address book and between the tabs, so again you can search and make calls without having to use both the handset and the computers keyboard.
In use - the quality of calls using our office broadband connection is almost perfect, just about indistinguishable from a real phone and definitely a big improvement on the computers head-set. The echo cancellation seemed to work flawlessly, no echo on any of the calls I made at either end.
(Minor) Room for improvement
I don't want to be too critical of this product, because I *really* like it :-) however, there are a couple things that could be done a little better.
Firstly - the handset comes with two *very* bright LEDs, one on each side of the base part of the product. When you lift the receiver these flash. That's about all they seem to do. The IDEAL use for these LEDs is to flash when there is an incoming call. That way when I've got Dido pounding my ears with her dulcet tones, I'd still know there was a call even though I can't hear the phone ring.
Secondly - this may sound a little old-fashioned, but when I lift the receiver to dial - my mind expects to hear a dial-tone and I'm still thrown a little when I don't. I'd suggest using a dial-tone if Skype is connected, not-available tone if Skype is offline. Simple!
Related to that - I'd like to hear a tone when I dial a number, again like a real phone, so that when my KVM is pointing at my Linux computer I don't have to switch to make a phone call.
Finally, the driver only works on Windows! Skype itself works on Linux, although I haven't tried it. If the handset driver were to work on Linux then I wouldn't have to plug and unplug the headset at the beginning and end of each day.
If you use skype on a regular basis - buy one of these! My niggles are minor and somewhat specific to me, and are software based and so can be provided with software upgrades that I hope the vendor will consider. I'm currently seriously considering buying a second handset so I can leave one in the office and have one at home for those days when I work in the garden!
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