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1/26/2011
01:18 AM
Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson
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Plantronics Voyager UC: Next Gen Bluetooth Headset

Our hands-on testing revealed one of the more innovative evolutions in Bluetooth headsets; a device that communicates with your mobile phone and soft phones, and can receive voice alerts from Outlook and instant message systems. But that's not all . . .

Voyager Pro comes with special software that enables constant monitoring of various software systems, including, again, Skype, OCS, but also Microsoft Outlook. I used my Outlook address book to select several key colleagues with whom constant communication could be important, and every time I received a Skype message, an instant message, or an e-mail, I was to be notified.

Outlook sends what Plantronics calls "whispers," or vocal communication representing the e-mail sender and message subject line (in the case of instant messages, the Voyager Pro reads the content of the message). The idea is that while you're in a meeting, or performing other duties, you might want to be identified if an important e-mail comes through, thus providing more control -- but by voice -- over interruptions. The e-mail part worked flawlessly, but OCS still gave me trouble; Skype worked intermittently.

Of course the whisper alerts require constantly wearing the headset, which isn't an uncomfortable experience, just an awkward social statement. Hearing these e-mails, especially in the mechanized speech cadence (a far cry from a whisper), especially when it pronounced "re" as "ray" (in reading the subject line of an e-mail reply), took some getting used to. In fact, in my short experience, I didn't get used to it at all. Still it was convenient when I wasn't in the middle of a conversation with someone. Again, with time, I'm sure I'd get used to it.

Plantronics says that it is working on improvements that will provide more fine-grained control over this experience, like shutting it all off quickly when it gets overwhelming or distracting.

I really liked being able to listen to music on iTunes, and when I received a call (on my mobile phone, or on OCS or Skype) the music paused, and then picked back up when the call was over.

All of this is only available on the PC for now. And it only works with these systems, but it's a damn good start; the possibilities seem endless, like notifications for when you've been retweeted, or alerts on VIP Facebook status updates, or in internal enterprise social networks, like Salesforce.com's Chatter or SAP's Streamwork, for instance.

Not that the constant whispers will always be welcome. Imagine your boss insisting you whisper them, expecting a thrifty response. Imagine your friends crafting creative subject lines to throw you off your game and distract you. Of course you can control this by turning it off or taking off the headset, which I frequently did. But it seems to be an excellent tool for when you want to keep your communications systems running, but ignore them while you get real work done, pausing only for the important people or projects.

Set up is pretty easy. Just download and run the software. You configure the whisper alerts in Outlook, including for Skype and OCS. The Plantronics software is actually an Outlook plug in, so it appears right in Outlook. The quick install guide is pretty helpful, because configuring the system for Skype wasn't quite as easy as setting up Outlook and OCS interaction. Plantronics acknowledged that this part needs some improvement, but it did get the main part right: it automatically pulls in your Skype contacts, so once you sift through the configuration maze, it's as easy as selecting a contact. You can also just manually enter a Skype ID.

Plantronics includes soft phone support for Avaya, Cisco (including WebEx) and Shoretel. It is working on Google Voice support. The company is also looking at Mac and tablet support, especially as those systems become more prevalent in the enterprise.

The Voyager Pro UC sells for a list price of $199.95. Plantronics' page with specs and accessories is located here.

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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