While I'm getting ready for Interop 2006, I got an interesting announcement in the mail from a Polycom representative. Ironically, Polycom will be missing Interop 2006 but they've somehow managed to sneak in as my first review for Interop 2006. Off to the left is the new Polycom Communicator model C100S USB Skype Speaker Phone designed for the Skype API with hard buttons that can interact with Skype. Since this seems to be what I'm looking for as a compact and portable Skype companion, I asked the Polycom rep if I could get a review unit and he agreed to ship me one.
What really interests me about the C100S is that it has echo cancellation; a feature that's sorely inadequate in Skype itself. Microsoft Windows Messenger for example would actually prevent any sound coming out of the sound card and speaker from entering back in to the audio stream. No matter how loud of a sound I play from the computer whether it's a blasting music or blasting opponents in Call of Duty 2, the person on the other side can't hear any of it except what enters the Microphone that didn't originate from the PC. Echo is kept at a minimum with the Microsoft Windows Messenger and I would love to use it if it weren't for the fact that it's a hit and miss affair trying to connect with peers on Messenger. Skype's ability to connect anywhere behind any NAT or Firewall device has made it the fastest growing PC-to-PC calling software in the history of VoIP, but its echo cancellation algorithm is almost useless. What I'm hoping is that the C100S will resolve this deficiency and make the Skype Speaker Phone experience more pleasant.
The echo cancellation feature of the C100S runs in software designed for the Skype API though it can be used as a basic speaker phone for other VoIP soft-phone applications without the benefit of echo cancellation. It would be nice if the echo cancellation feature could be made to function at a system level so that it can benefit any application and not just Skype. Furthermore, the C100S has high quality speaker phones designed for the 16 KHz wideband audio that Skype uses (normal VoIP or Telephony uses 8 KHz narrow band audio) so I have some high hopes for this product.
The C100S is powered off of the USB port of the PC it's connected to so there are no batteries or AC adapters to worry about and the back stand folds neatly in to the unit so it can be tucked away in any bag. It also comes in a Blue body and silver grill color and has a list price of $129 so it's possible that the unit can be had for less than $100 street price. Though there are much cheaper USB Speaker Phones that cost less than half the C100S, the quality leaves much to be desired. If the C100S sounds as good as it looks and like every other Polycom Speaker Phone I've used, this could be one of those must-haves if you're a Skype user so I'm eager to test it.