The Ultimate Home-Office Phone

By Jamie Bsales
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For all the technological advances that have come to the home office in the past decade, there's one integral piece of equipment hasn’t evolved much: the telephone. Aside from stronger wireless frequencies and caller ID, you won't find a huge difference between the cordless phones from the '80s and the one plugged into your POTS line right now.

Plantronics just changed that. Its Calisto Pro Series seamlessly marries your landline, cell phone, and Skype VoIP account via an intelligently designed handset/headset duo. The handset lets you take calls coming via your landline or VoIP service, and the Bluetooth headset wirelessly communicates with the handset as well as your Bluetooth-equipped phone.

The Calisto Pro is perfect for home-office workers, shopkeepers and anyone else who needs the ability to multitask while on the phone (or while waiting for a call). And it’s especially freeing if you make for Skype calls, since you don’t need to be at your PC to take an incoming call. And the Calisto Pro’s 300-foot range and 1.9-GHz frequency band mean interference-free connectivity pretty much anywhere in your home, yard or shop.

Elegant Design
Setting up the Calisto Pro is fairly straightforward, aided by the well-designed packaging and instructions. Simply plug the base station into a wall outlet and phone jack as you would with any cordless phone. If you’ll be using the VoIP capabilities, connect the included USB cable between the base and your PC and install the included software. Then you’ll need to pair your Bluetooth cell phone with the device; since this procedure varies depending on your cell phone make and model, Plantronics has posted instructions for each type of phone on its Web site.

Using the Calisto Pro is a joy, thanks to a few clever design touches. For example, the base station has a charging spot for both the handset and headset, which is convenient. Unlike most cordless phones these days, which stand upright in the charging cradle, the compact Calisto Pro handset lies flat, so you can dial while it’s in the base. And also unlike home-oriented cordless phones, the Calisto Pro has a built-in speakerphone for hands-free use without the headset.

Another clever touch: Plantronics designed the handset’s belt clip so that the phone hangs upside down when you’re wearing it. This seems counterintuitive—until that first call comes in and you realize you can simply flip the phone face upward to see who’s calling, rather than having to pop it out of the clip (or read upside down).

The Plantronics Calisto Pro cordless phone
The Plantronics Calisto Pro: This cordless phone's combination handset/headset lets you make and take calls from your landline, cell phone or Skype account.

We also appreciate the caller log feature, which lists incoming and outgoing calls as well as missed calls (like a cell phone does). And the software lets you transfer up to 200 contact names (with up to three phone numbers per contact) from Outlook to the phone, which makes populating the contact list a whole lot easier.

Natural to Use
The headset is comfortable to wear for extended periods, and it comes with a swiveling earloop for use on either your right or left ear. Plantronics opted for a boom design (where an arm extends the microphone closer to your mouth), which makes you sound more natural as opposed to those stubby-boom headsets, where the mic is nowhere near your mouth. Plantronics’ noise-canceling technology blocks background noise (the barking dog, the screaming kids) so even in less-than-professional environments you’ll seem like you’re in an office.

When a call comes in, you can answer it on the handset or tap the button and receive it on the headset. Handy icons on the handset’s LCD shows whether the call is on speakerphone, on the handset, or on the headset, and you can transfer a call among the three with a tap of a button.

The headset itself sounds terrific. Voices are crisp and clear, and we walked around a ranch-style house and into the yard with no interference or degraded call quality. And the people we were speaking to while using the headset reported that we sounded very good; they couldn’t tell we weren’t on a regular cordless handset.

The built-in speakerphone delivers decent (though not stellar) sound quality and enough volume for a one-person home office; if you tend to roam across the room you may wish for more volume (of course, that’s where the headset comes into play). The full-duplex speakerphone means no annoying “clipping” when parties on the line talk over one another. People we were speaking with reported that the call on their end sounded a bit echo-y: They could tell they were on speakerphone.

The light handset, with its brightly backlit 1.5-inch screen, is shaped more like a wide, flat mobile phone than a traditional cordless phone. That makes it easy to slip in your pocket as you amble about the house, though it’s too small and thin to comfortably squeeze between your ear and shoulder to free up your hands (of course, with the headset and speakerphone, you have better options).

Sound quality in the earpiece is very good—virtually indistinguishable from a Uniden cordless Handel we tried side-by-side. As with a cell phone, your ear rests against the flat LCD screen. You’ll be wiping that down often, and for long calls we would prefer an ergonomic concaveness where you place your ear.

Stand-Out Features
One design aspect cribbed from cell phones that we like is the four-way rocker switch with central “OK” button. This makes navigating your call log and contacts very intuitive. Two additional buttons on either side of the navigation button let you select on-screen options. Entering new phone numbers into the phone’s memory is just like entering them on a cell phone: You can add them directly by navigating to Save to Phonebook via the options menu, or select an incoming or outgoing call from the call log and select Save to Phonebook.

But perhaps the neatest trick is the multi-point functionality of the headset. It communicates with the Calisto Pro handset, of course, but also with your cell phone. Leaving the house? Keep the headset with you and use it as your hands-free communicator while you drive and run errands. When you come back home, the headset automatically re-associates with the Calisto Pro handset.

You can also use the handset or headset with your Skype or Yahoo VoIP accounts. With the Calisto Pro, you won’t be tethered to your PC for those calls. You can receive a VoIP call via the handset/headset anywhere within the base station’s range. To make a VoIP call, you need to dial from your PC, but you can then transfer the call to the wireless set and walk away.

The Calisto Pro is available starting this month at the Sharper Image followed shortly by office and electronics stores (and from Plantronics’ Website). With an MSRP of $279.95 (closer to $250 on the street), the Calisto Pro isn’t cheap. But when you consider that a feature-rich cordless phone cost $50, a high-quality Bluetooth headset runs $75 and a cordless Skype phone costs $125—and buying those three separately doesn’t deliver the convenience of integration—the Calisto Pro’s is well worth the price.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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This article was originally published on September 20, 2007
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