Review: Parrot Conference

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The propaganda

Conference calling and mobile phones are two technologies that have seldom crossed paths, but it does make a kind of sense. Most offices won’t have a fixed-line conference phone system fitted to every meeting room and although there are cordless conference phones, DECT still isn’t quite as free roaming as a mobile phone and Bluetooth device.

The Parrot Conference is pretty much exactly like any ordinary conference phone in most other regards. It has three integrated microphones for a 360 degree voice pickup and a 5W internal speaker so you can hear the person on the other end. To ensure that you can do things completely wirelessly, it includes three rechargeable Li-Ion batteries that offer up to ten hours of continuous talk-time. The unit will also store 50 different phones in its memory and up to 6,000 contacts which, rather than programming in yourself, you can upload directly using any Bluetooth enabled device.

The good

The Parrot Conference does a good job in two key areas: setup and call quality. Assuming your handset already has Bluetooth switched on and is visible, you can be connected up and dialling in under twenty seconds, most of which time you will probably only spend waiting for the Bluetooth to connect. What’s more, you can connect your phone either straight from the handset or from the Conference itself –you get a choice and that makes things a bit more straight forward. The buttons are large and generally well marked, the two big mute buttons double up as the ‘synchronisation’ button when pressed together.

Call quality is generally pretty decent and its greatest strength is in ensuring that there is no echo at all on the other end. Background noise is also cut down really well so you shouldn’t have much trouble being heard even in a noisy office.

Of course, there’s a possibility that you might not see a mobile phone as the most cost effective solution for making long, often international, phone calls. Luckily Parrot has you covered there as well. The Conference comes with a CD containing software that will let you connect to a Bluetooth enabled PC with Skype. That means you can enjoy all the same functionality, but a heck of a lot cheaper thanks to VoIP.

The bad

Although it is pretty easy to get your most basic call settings up to speed, there are a few areas where things get more complicated. When connecting a handset, you can either choose ‘default’ Bluetooth settings or you can select your model/service from a long list of different handset types and actions. It’s all well and good if your handset is on the list, but at the time of testing I was using a Samsung X820 which was not on the list. Using default settings I could easily connect to the device, make and receive calls – no problem. However, when it sat idle for a few minutes it had a tendency to lose connection. I was also unable to transfer contacts from the phone to the unit.

I then tried using different settings to see if that helped. Sure enough I solved the contacts problem and the handset stayed connected as it was supposed to, but then I could no longer dial out from the main unit. Doh.

Obviously the problem is going to be limited only to those handsets that don’t fully support the Parrot Conference’s Bluetooth systems and even then, an unsupported one like the X820 can still function properly with a bit of tweaking.

Geek Sheet

Speaker: 5 watts

DSP: advanced echo cancellation

3 microphones high sensitivity -47dB

Colour LCD display 262,144 colors

Pairing: up to 50 phones

Number of contacts: up to 6,000 in total

Bluetooth profiles: HSP 1.1, HFP 1.0 & 1.5, OPP, SYNC, PBAP

Supports Skype VoIP software

Dimensions: 265 x 240 x 45 mm, Weight: 640 gr

Power supply: rechargeable Li-Ion batteries

Warranty: one year from date of purchase

Overview

I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on conference phones, but after a quick trawl on the web, I’m thinking that the £148 price tag on the Parrot Conference is a pretty good deal compared to a normal standalone kit. Although the Bluetooth synchronisation system is good and straightforward to setup for the most basic and important functions, you may find it more of struggle to get the full range of features working on every single phone.

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