Most computing devices are built to a budget, and a laptop needs to be able to meet everybody’s needs while remaining efficient to maximize battery life. This means that, while it can likely do everything you need from it, it might not be the best in every category.
If you spend a lot of time on calls, you’ll know that the built-in speakers aren’t up to the task and lack depth, while the simple microphone doesn’t do a great job of picking up what you’re saying.
A smart speakerphone will allow you to improve on the auditory abilities of your computer, and is best suited to laptops thanks to its portable nature. That’s not to say that it’s no good with desktops, though. You’ll find the most use for one of these on a conference call when you’re on the go and don’t have access to a dedicated speaker and microphone setup, but a good speakerphone will be multipurpose: listening to your favorite music between calls will sound better, too.
The best portable speakerphone will be able to fit into your bag with ease, and should be both simple to use and effective at what it does. Some models are intended for personal use, while others are built for the conference room, so choose wisely.
Because a smart speakerphone typically serves two purposes, we can split it into two primary categories: audio playback and audio pickup; though there are some other considerations to take into account.
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Any device’s sound quality is dependent on the amount of space its drivers are able to occupy. More space allows for more speakers, while a subwoofer is able to produce more bass with a larger cavity.
When buying any speaker - speakerphones included - consider the number of speakers that are built-in and the direction they are able to produce audio. A multi-speaker setup can be configured to produce 360-degree audio, for example, which can prove useful if you intend to use your smart speakerphone with multiple people. While somewhat impressive, maybe this is of no use to you if you’ll be the only one using it. Speakers are measured in watts - the higher the number, the better (and louder) they should be able to perform.
A smart speakerphone is not limited to audio playback from a video conference call - once you’re done you will be able to connect it to any media source. If you enjoy working to the soothing sounds of your favorite music, paying attention to the speaker setup could pay dividends in the long run, even if it does cost a little more to begin with.
Chances are the basic setup you’re already using consists of one microphone, and while it seems to be doing a good job in transmitting what you’re saying to the person on the other line, a smart speakerphone should be able to improve the experience.
Multi-microphone speakerphones are able to collect audio from different angles. This, along with some clever software, may be able to produce better-sounding results. The best models, for example, have built-in echo cancellation which can be useful when the device is using more than one microphone at the same time. Sound cancellation takes this even further by reducing or eliminating any nuisance background sounds - perfect for al fresco meetings or if you have noisy coworkers.
Consider whether the smart speakerphone that you’re looking at supports full-duplex, especially if you’re likely to be using this without a video connection. Full-duplex allows the transmission of audio in both ways, simultaneously. A half-duplex system only allows one feed at a time, similar to a walkie talkie, so you’re more likely to miss what’s being said.
Most models have physical buttons to help you control things like sound level, enabling mute, and answering or ending calls. If it’s important to you, consider a model with a multifunction button that you can program to trigger a specific action that you perform regularly. Some smart speakerphones are certified to work with video conferencing suites like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and so programming this smart button to call your boss with your preferred app could save you from having to open up the software on your computer.
The smartest speakerphones feature a display to illustrate things like battery life. No, you can’t do a full video call from your device, but being able to check the battery life can help you manage power and charging routines better.
People likely to be using their speakerphone daily may want to consider how quickly their device can charge, how long it’s likely to last from a full charge (usually measured in hours of talk time), or even how long it can remain on standby. A starting point is to go by the battery size (usually measured in mAh) though how each device uses its power will vary. Good power management means you shouldn’t have to charge as regularly.
Wired connections, like USB and 3.5mm connectors, should use less energy than wireless connections like Bluetooth, so check whether the smart speakerphone you have your eyes on connects in the way that you want it to. Similarly, going with Bluetooth Low Energy should prove more efficient. Look for a model that supports Bluetooth 4.x or 5.x - be wary because some models only support 3.x.
Maybe of less importance is whether a speakerphone can hold up to what its user could throw at it. That includes any waterproofing measures: some models are IP-rated against both dust and splashes. Don’t expect any model to be fully waterproof, but if you like to take your calls outdoors this could certainly help.
Finally, we think the best smart speakerphone should be futureproof, so as well as incorporating all of the features mentioned above, being able to adapt to your business’ needs should be a high priority. For growing businesses, we reckon models that can pair together to form a network provide the best balance. Two or more strategically placed speakerphones should distribute the workload better if one day you might end up using your device for a group call, but take note that not all models can be paired.
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With several years’ experience freelancing in tech and automotive circles, Craig’s specific interests lie in technology that is designed to better our lives, including AI and ML, productivity aids, and smart fitness. He is also passionate about cars and the decarbonisation of personal transportation. As an avid bargain-hunter, you can be sure that any deal Craig finds is top value!