Logitech Cordless Internet Handset

Thursday Dec 14th 2006 by Gerry Blackwell

A dedicated Skype phone that frees you from your PC and won't interfere with your WLAN.

Yet another Skype phone added to the growing glut. This one comes from Logitech, a solid company better known for PC peripherals—keyboards, mice, speakers, webcams—and wireless headsets for cell phones. The Logitech Cordless Internet Handset ($100 MSRP) is an Internet-only device designed (and certified) to work with Skype.

Unlike some other Skype phones, including the Auvi PHIP65, recently reviewed here , you cannot make PSTN calls with this phone. In other respects, it's similar to the Auvi product. This one, however, offers superior operating range and a simpler, more intuitive interface.

Like the Auvi phone, the Logitech Cordless Internet Handset uses DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications), the European cordless phone standard. And like the Auvi phone, it lets you use the DECT network to connect additional handsets in a home (or small office) intercom network. DECT is fast becoming the technology of choice for Internet phones—partly because it operates in the 1800–1900 MHz band in North America so won't directly interfere with Wi-Fi networks, and partly because it appears to be a superior cordless phone technology.

The Logitech product includes a cordless handset—a candy bar-style unit—with a charging cradle, plus a small base station that plugs into a PC USB port on the host computer. The base station draws its power from the host.

A memory-resident program, installed along with device drivers on the host, interacts with the Skype software. Skype software must be running on the host for you to use the handset, and using the handset triggers Skype pop-ups on the PC screen, but the phone otherwise operates independently. The tiny but clear LCD displays the user's Skype contact list, relayed to the handset over the cordless link, along with menus and status information.

The Logitech product would be excellent for travel. The handset itself is very small and light: 5.25 x 1.75 x 1 inches, and weighing less than two ounces. Logitech doesn't provide dimensions for the base station, but it's about 3.3 x 2.5 x 1 inches. The base station and charging cradle are both slightly smaller than the Auvi components, and the charging cradle's power plug is smaller and lighter than most battery chargers. The whole kit probably weighs less than eight ounces. Plug your laptop into a hotel broadband service, plug in the Logitech base station, and you're in business.

Physical design is generally superior. One of my few reservations about the Auvi phone was its screen, which is monochrome and low resolution and displays jagged fonts that I sometimes found difficult to read. The Logitech handset's screen is actually smaller—about 1.13 x 0.8 inches—with five lines of text. But it's in color, higher resolution, and better illuminated. As a result, it's easier to read.

The user interface is fairly intuitive, similar to the Auvi and other Skype phones. Below the screen, are two soft keys (different labels appear on the screen depending on context) and a four-way navigator for scrolling up and down menus and lists. When the phone is in standby mode, pressing up on the four-way navigator launches the Skype contact list, down the separate phonebook for SkypeOut numbers, left the Skype menu (contacts, user status, voice mail), and right the call logs.

On the next row down are Talk and End keys. The Talk key doubles as a flash button, the End key as the On/Off switch. The standard telephone numeric keypad has a few extra keys at the bottom—two for entering special characters when adding new phonebook entries (one also mutes the phone); a big, clearly marked Skype key for launching the Skype contacts list; a dedicated button for opening the call logs/records menu (dialed and missed calls) and; a dedicated button for entering the intercom menu.

To make a PC-to-PC call, you launch the Skype contact list, scroll down, using the four-way navigator, until the name of the person you want to call is highlighted, then press the Talk key. You'll hear brief dial tone, then the Skype tone, followed by ringing as the call is connected. Calling from the SkypeOut phone book follows the same procedure. To dial a SkypeOut call (to a number not in your SkypeOut directory), you start by pressing and holding the 0 key until a + appears on the screen, then dial the country code, area code and number.

Taking a call, whether PC-to-PC or SkypeIn is equally simple and intuitive—just press the Talk button and say hello. You can also set it up to answer automatically when you take the handset out of the charging cradle. The screen will display the Skype name of the person calling.

The Logitech phone supports all the key Skype calling functions—PC to PC, SkypeOut, SkypeIn, call forwarding to mobile and landline phones or to another Skype user name, and conference calling. It also lets you transfer calls back and forth between the PC and the handset, by right click the Logitech Internet Handset icon in the system tray and selecting "use handset" or "use PC."

If you buy at least one extra handset, you can use the phones as an intercom system around the house. Assign a name to each handset using the menu system and register it with a base station. If you want to call another phone, simply press the Intercom (Int) button at the bottom of the keypad, which displays a list of registered handsets. Scroll to the name of the handset you want to call and press OK (one of the soft keys). You can even put a Skype call on hold and call another handset in the house.

My experience with the Logitech phone was almost entirely positive. The hardware and software installed quickly and easily, and entirely according to instructions. The memory resident software (including the driver) that runs on the host does not appear to create any problems—the similar Auvi software appeared to slow down boot-up of my main PC.

Like other cordless Skype phones, the Logitech product does not offer the same wideband audio quality you get with most USB headsets, but the voice quality is similar to PSTN cordless phones. In PC-to-PC Skype calls, connection quality was good most of the time, although on one PC-to-PC call and a couple of SkypeOut calls there were echo problems. It's virtually impossible to tell whether this was the result of poor Skype connections or poor DECT connections, but it's seems more likely to be the former.

One nice feature this product offers is an early warning when you start to move out of range—a beep tone and flashing screen. Logitech claims the handset will work at up to 164 feet from the base station indoors and up to 950 feet outdoors, which if true would be impressive.

I tested the phone all around my small home and noticed little or no degradation in voice or connection quality as I moved further from the base station or put walls and ceilings between base station and handset—but never got as far as 164 feet. When I took the handset outside so that it was communicating through one exterior wall and two or three interior partitions, I didn't hear the out-of-range warning until I was over 250 feet from the base station. At that point the connection had degraded a little but both parties were still intelligible to each other.

Bottom line: If you're in the market for a Skype-only cordless home phone, this is a great choice—well designed, well built and a good performer. The price is reasonable, but it's worth noting that for only $30 more, the Auvi phone lets you make and take both Skype and PSTN calls.

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