Go ahead, cut the (phone) cords

Wireless headset gives you room to roam, plus security

SupraPlus CS351N Wireless Headset System

Performance: B+

Features: A

Value: C+

Price: $329; $80 for additional HL-10 handset lifter

Reviewer comments: The price may keep this headset out of reach for the average phone user, but executives who can't miss calls or workers who spend all day on the phone will love its good performance and features.

Contact: Plantronics Inc., Santa Cruz, Calif., (800) 544-4660, www.plantronics.com

SupraPlus CS351N Wireless Headset System

Depending on how you look at things, the SupraPlus Wireless headset is one of the coolest products the lab has looked at this year. Or it could be one of the silliest and possibly most annoying gadgets around. In showing the device around the office, we received both reactions in equal numbers.

The Plantronics SupraPlus Wireless is designed for people who do a lot of work over the phone, but whose workspace isn't ideal. It builds on the principle of Bluetooth headsets for cell phones, except the SupraPlus is designed to work in a standard office setting using a more secure wireless technology.

The unit we tested was the CS351N, which features built-in noise canceling and a single earpiece. It also comes with a small base station. You plug a phone line into the base station and then plug in the headset via two prongs on the earphone. This will let the headset charge, which you'll need to do overnight the first time you take it out of the box.

When a call comes into the base station, you simply click the headset to answer it. The headset features a microphone on a swivel base and easy-to-use volume controls. There's also a two-earpiece model, but the CS351N certainly wasn't uncomfortable.

The wireless headset is supposed to last for 10 hours of constant talking on a single charge, or 50 hours in standby mode. We tested the headset by letting it sit on an open line, which played music for more than six hours, and it showed no signs of stopping.

The SupraPlus is also rated to work up to 300 feet away from the base station, although in our testing, we had a hard time envisioning a real-world situation where you'd take a call and then walk 300 feet from your desk. Still, when we wandered the whole of GCN's office suite, including more than 110 feet down one hallway, the headset was true to its word and call quality was very good. We couldn't tell the difference between the SupraPlus and a land line until we got close to the range limit.

Agency users don't have to worry about calls being intercepted by wireless snoops because the CS351N uses the Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications standard to encrypt the digital signal. DECT is a lot like the Global System for Mobile Communications standard that's popular in cell phones. It uses time division multiple access technology to send bursts of data over open channels and then reassembles them, in the correct order, at the receiving end. In DECT the signal is also 64-bit encrypted for added security.

DECT 6.0 is designed to work for multiple phones in a small area without unwanted interference.

One problem that might come up with agencies that have their own PBX or VOIP phone systems is that the cords that come into those phones are not always standard size. As such, the base station might not be able to hook into the system.

If you're committed to hands-free operations, however, and still need the full functionality of a phone system, pick up Plantronics' HL-10 Handset Lifter for $80. It sits beside your phone and automatically lifts the receiver at the push of a button. Best of all, it works remotely. So if you have walked 100 feet from your desk wearing your CS351N and you hear your phone ring, the HL-10 can pick up the receiver for you.

Of course, the HL-10 adds expense to an already expensive product, even though it may be the best and only way some agency users can take advantage of the full SupraPlus Wireless system. The CS351N alone is a bit pricey at $329, although if you hunt around you can get it for less.

Whatever your situation, the SupraPlus CS351N, with or without the HL-10, can securely enable wireless, hands-free phone operation. In call centers, this could be invaluable. But whether you want regular office workers to be strolling the halls with headsets on, taking calls in the restrooms, etc., is up to you.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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