Back To Basics: A Telephone Handset Should Just Feel Good

Cisco-Handset.pngI recently found myself trying yet another new desk phone. I’ve tried may different makes and models over the years, literally from Aastra to Zultys, and many in between. They’ve addressed all different price points, from Polycom’s VVX-1500 Business Media Phone to an entry-level Yealink.

In every case I could find some fine qualities worth reporting. Also, in each case I could find some questionable attributes worth discussing. To be plain, even in something as mature as the business class desk phone, there are no perfect products. Every product involves some kind of compromise.

So often these days new devices promise a long list of features and capabilities. Often the most significant impression of the device is made in the process of the unboxing. Just handling the device is its first chance it has to make an impression. Does it feel like a quality instrument? Or does it feel shoddy?

There have been desk phones that were very simply too light. Whatever their feature set or acoustic performance, they simply lacked the mass to give the impression of quality. I can recall one that was so light that the spring force of the coiled cord to the handset was enough to move it around my desk.

Someone told me that they when suffering that very model they had “enhanced” it by opening the chassis and hot-gluing some coins inside to give more weight. Clearly such should not be required in a proper desk phone. I can only assume that the model in question was really intended to be wall-mounted, and so held fast to a vertical surface.

There have been times when I was quite excited a new device, but immediately disappointed upon lifting the handset. In fact, it’s surprising how often this happens.

cloud_tc_glass1000_android_touch_ip_phone.jpgFor example, last year Michael White of e4 Technologies gave me the opportunity to try a Glass 1000 from Cloud Telecomputers. As one of the earliest executive desk phones based upon Google’s Android OS I was eager to give it a try.

The Glass 1000 was a physically simple, even elegant design. The case was metal which certainly gave it a solid feel. However, the handset was unusually light. This was compounded by the fact that the coiled cord was a little on the short & stiff side. For all the hyperbole extolling it’s features, amongst them the ability to handle HDVoice, the handset torpedoed any physical sense of the Glass 1000 being a premium product.

I see that the Glass 1000 has been replaced by an 1100 model. I certainly hope that the handset has been reconsidered in this new offering.

Even before considering acoustic performance, a telephone handset should have a certain heft. It should feel solid in the hand. Lacking sufficient mass tends to give the impression that this device is simply a cheap phone. As I’ve said many times before, life is just too short to suffer a cheap phone.

Here’s a little mechanical test that’s easy to try with any desk phone. Pickup the handset, holding one end in each hand. Give it a little twist in each direction. Does it creak, groan or make any sound at all? In my opinion it should remain completely silent.

A mechanically sound design is rigid enough to provide a stable home for the transducers. It will survive being dropped on a hard floor without being damaged or developing rattles. A well-considered mechanical design still makes a good impression after a year or more of continuous use.

snom-KlarVOICE-Handset.jpgMore recently, when faced with a less than satisfactory handset on an otherwise interesting new phone, I gathered a number of handsets from phones that I had on-hand. At the time this included one Cisco, a Grandstream, two Polycom (non-HD & HD) and a snom.

I tried each handset with the new device. Each and every one was an improvement over the one that shipped with the device. Every one worked properly, but none would fit in the cradle where the original handset came to rest. That otherwise fine and genuinely interesting device was thus doomed to live out its existence with a sub-standard handset, and more significantly, preferably somewhere other than my desk.

The common desk phone is under attack from various directions. UC solutions threaten to replace it with soft phones on computers. The combination of smart phones with soft clients present another threat vector. In fighting off these threats manufacturers of desk phones should ensure that they have the basics of the application covered. The handset should not only sound good, it should feel like a quality device.

  • Sean Harlow

    This is the main reason I’ve never really been a fan of Aastra phones. They’re nice from the software side and work well, but they both look and feel like generic cheap garbage. Cisco and Polycom both got this part very right.

    • mjgraves

      Yes, Polycom are tough to beat on basic build quality. I don’t have much exposure to Cisco.