Technology

Juggling Phones Like a Pro


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Editor's Rating: star rating

Plantronics' Calisto Pro phone system enables multitaskers with a handset and headset for landline, cellular, and Internet calls

The expression "talking out of both sides of your mouth" takes on a whole new meaning for a growing number of people who multitask at home, wearing a regular telephone headset on one ear and a cell-phone headset on the other.

Plantronics is taking square aim at this ear juggling with its Calisto Pro. This $280 phone system is designed to help stay-at-home workers integrate the typical assortment of phone lines people use to make and take calls. These days, that might mean a traditional landline connection, the obligatory mobile phone, and an Internet account for long-distance and international calls. The Calisto Pro ties them together with a single cordless handset and Bluetooth wireless headset that works with both the cordless unit and the cell phone.

Setup is fairly simple. The silver-and-gray base plugs into a standard phone jack. A separate USB cable connects to a Windows computer for calls over the Internet using services such as Skype and Vonage (VG).

Roaming Far and Wide

Instead of making the handset look like your typical cordless phone, Plantronics has chosen a blocky design that looks more like a thick, palm-size cell phone. The gray plastic looks and feels a little cheap. Plantronics says it was deliberately designed not to look ultraflashy based on consumer input.

The handset connects to the base using DECT wireless technology from a distance of up to 300 feet. For the most part, I was able to roam far and wide as I talked, though on a couple of occasions the handset flashed an out-of-range warning just a few feet away from the base station. Rather than picking up the signal directly from the base, the headset uses Bluetooth wireless technology to connect with the cordless handset. Since a Bluetooth signal only travels roughly 30 feet, a clip is provided to let you attach the handset to your belt and then wander more freely with the headset.

This same headset can be paired with any Bluetooth-enabled cell phone as well. Pairing was a breeze. I had my Apple (AAPL) iPhone and Nokia (NOK) N95 connected in just a few minutes. You can answer incoming calls simply by pushing a button on the side of the headset. The only downside to the dual-use headset is its essential lack of call-waiting capability: You can't answer a landline call if you're on a cellular one, and vice versa.

Uncomfortable After a While

The headset, which clips over the ear, has a noise-canceling microphone that produced very clear sound for the person on the other end of the call. But in my tests, I found the headset began to feel a bit uncomfortable after about 40 minutes, though not so much that I wanted to rip it off my ear. Plantronics says the design was driven by focus group participants who preferred a microphone that extends close to the mouth, thereby picking up conversations better while the user is walking around. That said, I hope future iterations of the Calisto offer one of the company's smaller, more comfortable headsets.

Although the cordless handset's display is clear and readable, I would have preferred a color LCD screen for the relatively expensive device. Plantronics promises about nine hours of talk time on the handset. It never really conked out on me, and many users will store both the handset and headset on the base, which doubles as charger, between calls.

One other neat feature to note: The enclosed CD features a utility that can import up to 200 contracts from Microsoft (MSFT) Outlook on your computer into the Calisto handset's address book.

After several weeks of use, I found myself reaching for the Calisto Pro to make and answer calls despite all the better-looking cordless phones I have stationed around the house. For anyone who roams from room to room a lot but wants quick access to multiple phones, the Calisto Pro could become an essential tool.

Edwards is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau.

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