Polycom

Poly Elara 60 Series Review

Poly offered to send me their Poly Elara 60 Series device to review. As I’m stuck on On-Premises Skype for Business with Enterprise Voice for the time being, but also use Microsoft Teams a lot, it was a product I was interested to try and accepted the opportunity; so here’s the review.

Poly Elara 60 Series, still with it’s protective plastic on.

Poly (who was formally known as Polycom, bought out by Plantronics, then rebranded to the ‘Poly’ name) has only been around for a short time in it’s new name, but those two companies have high regards in the general community on the quality of hardware they make. Both companies who’s devices with their previous names are on my desk, (namely a Polycom CX600 Lync Desk Phone and a Plantronics Savi 440 headset) are there because they’re products we piloted, tested, and have used for several years. We keep buying them because they do just work, and fit our use case really well.

This isn’t to discount other brands of course, but sticking with these products since deploying Lync 2010 back in 2012 says a lot. If they didn’t work well, we’d be using something different.

Back to the device this review’s acually about, the Poly Elara 60 Series. It’s a different use case to the above products I mentioned, and was an interesting process to use. I’m still using it right now as the earphones are perched on my head. I like the device, but it took me a bit to see what it was capable of and make it work for what I wanted.

The Poly Elara 60 Series is advertised as a “Mobile phone station that enhances smartphone collaboration”. The standard way you’d use this device is by first optionally placing your phone on the rubber stand on the right hand side that doubles as a wireless charging plate. I tested this with a Google Pixel XL 4 and a iPhone 8, both wirelessly charged.

The wireless charging mobile stand has 4 angles it can sit on, and just as a pure ‘when I’m working I put my phone here’ stand I’m quite happy with it. I can see what’s happening on my mobile, and I’m also charging the rather average Google Pixel 4 XL battery during the day.

If you don’t have a wireless charging mobile, there’s a gap in the plastic to allow a charging cable to be plugged into the bottom of the phone, while still lying flat against the charging pad.

Mobile phone holder aside, the Elara 60 Series can be paired to the mobile using Bluetooth. Standard stuff here to set up, but there’s also the Poly Elara 60 Series app for Android and iOS. This is how firmware updates are delivered to the Elara, but also adds the Microsoft Teams control functions from the Elara to the mobile phone.

Seperately, the Elara can be used as a media player. Whatever’s ready to go on your phone can be controlled from the Elara screen, and come out either from the downward facing speaker on the Poly, or the headset once it detects that it’s on your head.

And yes, the Elara has a dedicated Microsoft Teams button on it. It’ll flash if there’s a Teams notification to tell you about, and pressing it will… not launch Teams. At least from my testing it doesn’t. Maybe it’s an Android 10 thing, but I couldn’t get it to work properly, until I realised it just doesn’t work when on the home screen. From having any other app open it’s fine. Regardless this didn’t really fuss me, I’m find with using the phone to get to Teams when I want it than having a hot button, and I’m sure they’ll fine tune this in future updates to to the product. (Update – Poly have confirmed they’re waiting for a fix, but the workaround is to change the Teams App permissions under Phone Settings > Apps > Teams > Permissions – and make sure all are allowed)

The other buttons work as expected; mute, speaker volume. If my mobile rang through the carrier or a Teams call, I could put on the headphones to answer the call. I wouldn’t even have to press a button, it’d detect when the headset was on and then pick up the call (rather than when the headphones are undocked). When docked, the headset would charge. Docking and undocking the headset was easy, it just slid on and was a nice motion to do – no getting stuck or putting the headset in at the wrong angle.

The headset itself that came with my unit, was the Voyager Focus. You can purchase the Poly Elara 60 Series with or without a headset, which is great if you’ve already bought a compatible headset and don’t need another. Blackwire headsets are also supported.

The Voyager Focus I found to be very comfortable. It’s light, has several nice-to-have’s such as ANC, music playback control buttons and a mute button – but most importantly, it was comfortable to wear. I usually don’t like an on the ear style headset, but this is soft enough that it’s not squeezing into my ear. The design of the rubber and padded band that goes over your head also has a very light feel. The ANC worked well too – handy for someone who has noisy people around, or just wants to dull out background noise to focus on the task they’re doing.

So, this device acts as an extension to your mobile phone for it’s phone call functions, media player, and Microsoft Teams. Great if you’re doing it all off your mobile, but what about a computer?

I usually work off a desktop which has no Bluetooth, so the first thing I did was buy a USB dongle and plug it in. Then, I paired the Poly Elara 60 Series to my desktop running Windows 10. No extra apps required. The device shows up like any other audio device, a headest for both speakers and Microphone.

That’s great, I can use the headphones and mic from my PC. On my PC though, I’m using Skype for Business and I want to use the Elara 60 Series as my device. It doesn’t show up in Skype for Business as a device, but that’s OK. It still works fine when I use the ‘PC Mic and Speakers’ option to use whatever my Windows defaults are.

Once selected, it then knows about the device that Windows is using and lets you set volume levels if required.

I’ve been using it for a few weeks now on Skype for Business, and it works fine. Haven’t had an issue with audio quality or people hearing me. I do lose the ability to answer my mobile calls via the headset with this method – I could just run Skype for Business on my mobile, but what I’ve ended up doing is using the Poly as my mobile phone holder/charger, and the headset as my Skype for Business and PC microphone/speakers.

The Poly Elara 60 series remembers 8 different devices, but you can only be connected to one at a time. Switching between devices is fairly quick – I wouldn’t want to do it when trying to answer a call, but from the main screen it’s less than 5 seconds to press Devices > down arrow to the device I want > Connect, and be on the device I want.

I’m quite happy with this device overall, and I’ll continue to use it over the Plantronics Savi 440 (which shows as the D100-M in the above screenshots). I’m probably not using it the way it was initially designed, but that’s a credit to it that it’s flexible enough to be used in different ways.

For those who run Teams off their desktop or laptop and want a device to talk to the Teams client on their PC with extra controls; this may not be the solution you want. Dial controls don’t work on this device when plugged into a PC, it’s purely an audio device. But it does function in several ways that could still tick the boxes you’re after – a speaker phone, headset, phone charger and holder in a device that takes up a fairly small footprint on the desk.

If you were moving away from desk phones and had a soft phone client, with plans to move to Microsoft Teams later for a more mobile workforce, it also fits quite well. Your users need to be comfortable enough with phone pairing (which isn’t a big ask!) to set it up themselves. You might also have users who do just want a mobile phone controlling device – you don’t need to use Teams to use this, as it’ll use the keypad to make normal mobile calls once paired.

However, for someone who does live off their mobile, it’s a solid solution that would provide a professional desk setup.

It took me a while to get my head around the possible use cases and where the Poly Elara 60 Series works and doesn’t work – hopefully this helps others decide what they want. Feel free to ask any questions below!

Polycom VVX 600 vs CX 600 on Lync 2010

A few months ago, Polycom released Lync firmware for their VVX series of phones. Check out the different models here

 vvx600Polycom VVX600

They differ to the CX series in several ways – the CXs here are specifically built for Lync while the VVX is a bit more generic and will work with other phone systems. This might sound bad, but it does give Polycom a bit more flexibility in the functions they can offer.

Taken from here is a comparison of the CX 600 and VVX 600 phones at the bottom of this post.

Before I go any further, it’s worth pointing out that Jeff Schertz is the pro at this stuff, and a lot of the information was sourced at his blog so you’ll see several links there.

This post will also assume you’re fairly familiar with the Polycom CX series (particularly the CX600) as most people with Lync have these, or at least know about them.

There are a few key benefits of looking at the VVX series:

Firstly, there’s no USB tethering requirement to the PC for advanced functionality. You do have to install a small piece of software called the BToE connector. I’d highly recommend installing this, as you’ll get a lot more functionality out of your phone the same way a CX would via USB Tether.

Another benefit is the webcam addon that plugs into the top of the phone. You can do video chats through just the phone, which a lot of people expected out of the CX series but wasn’t possible. This gets closer to matching some of the extra functionality out of Cisco’s phone range.

The phone has a built in basic web browser, as well as the ability to remotely manage the device via a browser too. The CX series has neither of these so from a managability and usability view, the VVX is very tempting.

Oh and of course, the VVX has touch screen! It’s quite responsive, so no complaints about that.

The negatives or considerations of the VVX series that I’ve noticed so far are:

No dedicated light for presence. I’ve gotten used to this on the CX series, a nice glowing green/yellow/red indicator to remind you of your own presence. There is a small indicator on the screen showing your current presence, but it’s not very obvious.

You’ll also need to set up Lync to have the firmware for your phones to be ready to use. Jeff Schertz has great instructions here on how to do this – yes it’s a fairly detailed article but worth going through all of it.

You can’t just type in names to do a lookup like the CX series which I miss. It’s possible to do via the directory with a few extra presses, so the flow of doing name lookups is no-where near as smooth.

The actual layout of the menu buttons isn’t as nice as I’d like, but then neither is the CX. I don’t think you could place a VVX phone in front of someone who’s used to a CX phone and expect them to just ‘get it’.

Tips:
Read everything on Jeff Schertz’s Blog http://blog.schertz.name/category/lync/.
The default admin password for these phones is ‘456’.
The management page for your phone is just http://IPOfPhone
Hold 1,4,9 for a factory reset.
Hold 1,8,3 for a restart, or 1,0,3 for a full reboot.
Userguide available from Polycom here

I’ve only started with basic testing and there are a lot of things to learn about the VVX series as there’s not too much in common with CX, but it is worth investigating with the large amount of benefits that come with it.

 

Comparison:

 

Polycom VVX600

 

Polycom CX600

Manufacturer: Polycom VVX600 Polycom CX600
Price Range: $250 – $350 $250 – $350
Supports Version: Lync 2010, Lync 2013 Lync 2010, Lync 2013, Lync Online
Qualify Date: March 2013 February 2013
Firmware Version Tested: Lync 2013 – Polycom firmware version 4.1.2.25646 Lync Phone Edition 2013
Recommended Use: Full featured desk phone Full featured desk phone
Audio Quality: Wideband Wideband
Speakerphone: Yes Yes
Headset Support: RJ-9 port wired/wireless, USB port and EHS RJ9 port
Display: 4.3-inch Color LCD 3.5 inch QVGA Color LCD
Power: PoE (AC sold separately) PoE (AC sold separately)
Ethernet Ports: 2 port 10/100/1000 2-port 10/100/1000
Wall Mountable: Yes Yes
UC Presence Indicator: No Yes
Message Waiting Indicator: Yes Yes
View Contacts and Corporate Directory Users Presence: Yes Yes
Easy Configuration with PIN Authentication: No Yes
CODEC Supported: G.711 (A-law and u-law), G.729AB, G.722, G.722.1, G.722.1C, iLBC RT Audio, G.711, G.722.1
LLDP: Yes Yes
Browser: Yes
Add Multiple People to an Existing Call: No Yes
Boss / Admin: No No
Branch Resiliency: Yes Yes
Call Park: No Yes
E911 Support: Yes Yes
Invite Address Book Contacts to Call: Yes Yes
Malicious Call Trace: No Yes
Merge Existing Calls: Yes Yes
Music on Hold: No No
Private Incoming Line: Yes Yes
Search Global Address List: Yes No
Search Lync Contacts: No No
Uninterrupted Call Transfer to Mobile Phone: Yes Yes
Assign Contact Presence to Button: Yes
Integrated Video, Sharing Applications, Whiteboard, etc.: No No
One click to join conference call: No No
Search Outlook Contacts: No
View Outlook Calendar: Yes
Lync Server Managed Updates: Yes Yes
Lync Server Integrated Manageability: Yes Yes
Single Identity (Active Directory): Yes Yes