3Com 3108

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Work in an environment where workers spend much of their time away from desks, but don't want to resort to expensive GSM or 3G-dependent mobile phones? If so, the 3Com 3108 is well worth considering.

3Com 3108

About a year ago our office installed a VoIP phone system. We now have many handy features not found in a traditional PSTN phone system, such as soft-phone integration and e-mail notification of missed calls. However, as we move about our lab, we tend to look at the old cordless phones still hanging on the wall and think how handy it would be to have VoIP versions. All too often we need to discuss a product with a vendor 'from the coal face' and that means we're out of reach of our desk phones. As a result we were very pleased to get the opportunity to investigate the 3Com 3108.

The 3108 is a SIP-compliant, wireless VoIP phone. These phones take the form of a fairly modern clam-shell design mobile. Being wireless, it is necessary to have a wireless router or access point available for connectivity to your existing local network and through this the phone must have access to your SIP-server. The SIP-server is the control centre that administers communications between local phones and the outside world -- whether via the Net to other VoIP devices or through the standard PSTN (Packet Switched Telephone Network) to non-VoIP phones.

While a typical SIP phone for the office has all the charm of an old PABX desktop phone, the 3108 is definitely more cutesy with all the colourful icons and backgrounds. There seems little doubt that the manufacturer had the Japanese market in mind when implementing the user interface -- which can be set to English or, yes, Japanese. (They are made in Taiwan.) The 1.8" TFT screen has a resolution of 128x160 with 64K colours.

The main menu options include, Phonebook, Call Log, E-mail, Speed Dial, Profile, Settings and Tools. "Profile" is where the user can configure the network and SIP settings necessary for operation of a wireless SIP device. The "Settings" menu contains more personal configuration items such as language, time and wallpapers.

There will be various opinions on the value of including an e-mail client in this type of phone, but it is there for those with fingers well adapted to texting. The client can be set to "Reserve Mail" so as to allow messages to be received by the phone without making the message unavailable to your main e-mail client.

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A multicoloured status light on the external surface lets the user know if the phone is turned on, its charge state and whether there are any missed calls. The phone also supports roaming across multiple access points for larger sites. Call transfers and holding are supported and while the phone can participate in call conferencing it cannot initiate such a call.

How we tested

Getting the machine operational was a simple enough affair. The user manual, which is supplied on disk in PDF format, was easy to follow and to a large degree superfluous. We had little reason to consult the manual at all during set-up except to determine default passwords. Obviously the first step is to enter in local network details including the security codes and protocols for your wireless access point. Having done this, you have a choice; you can continue to battle along inputting data via the phones numeric keypad or you can access the phones Web-interface with your browser and use a "real" keyboard. (No second guesses as to which we prefer.) At this stage the only critical settings are for SIP so that you can begin making calls (and e-mail settings if required). Dial tones, address books and wall papers can be assigned at your leisure.

We hooked the phone up to a Zultys MX30 SIP-server via a Netgear DG843G wireless router (which is rated at 54Mbps). We had little difficulty linking to this equipment; the only problem being the need to kill the authentication on the SIP server before it was willing to talk to the 3Com machine.

Menus were easy to navigate; depth was limited to four levels, which is more than we would like but it allows for plenty of options and items were grouped with sufficient care that it was not arduous locating the required item. Scrolling through the menus only required one dimension so the joypad was set up to treat both right and down as "next" and similarly treat up and left as "previous". The button centred in the joy pad and two adjacent buttons to left and right act as soft keys which are clearly labelled on the screen in words -- we were grateful for the avoidance of happy little icons here where clarity to new users is so critical. Generally the colour LCD screen is well handled, providing pleasing brightness and functional colour coding without distraction or obscurement of text.

The 3108 is designed for portability and this can be both a blessing and a curse. The device is lighter than a standard telephone handset and it certainly takes up less desk real estate, but small size has disadvantages. Holding the 3108 is like holding a mobile phone; it can get a little uncomfortable gripping a smallish device for an extended period though admittedly others may have smaller hands and find that this is actually an advantage. Furthermore if you are likely to spend a lot of time on the phone, I guess you could get yourself a headset and leave the phone in your pocket. The buttons are reasonably easy to reach with the thumb and sufficiently well spaced that those with fatter fingers do not risk hitting two or three at a time.

Call quality
We called from the 3108 to a Zultys softphone served by a Plantronics headset and found the voice quality to be quite satisfactory. That is, satisfactory for a phone -- if it was your stereo at home you would be disappointed. We would hardly expect CD quality sound from a signal being pumped through a wireless LAN in compressed audio packets. We also made external calls to various clients and likewise found no reason for concern. Some phones suffer from nasty echoing or tinny sound, but neither fault was noted with the 3108. Background noises were filtered out satisfactorily. Overall we felt that voice quality was just a little better than our own wired Zultys phones.

Build quality
The machine seems to be quite well built with easy battery access (not that this will be needed normally) and good support for the screen. The clear plastic over the screen and status lights, however, was overly inclined to collect grime and fingerprints and the crunching of the hinge upon opening the device was a little disconcerting.

This is a great little phone, but at AU$535, we wonder how many people will want to fork out the money to get features like a colour screen and e-mail -- particularly in an office or warehouse environment where many devices are required. Certainly in our workplace the wireless aspect gives this phone plenty of extra value. We would consider that the two most important features are ease of use and voice quality; in this regard the 3108 is a winner with no serious concerns arising from either capacity.

The basic one year hardware warranty is extendable to four years with options for next business day onsite service, and is supplemented by business hours phone support and a 90 day software warranty. There is also an online knowledge base.

Product 3Com 3108
Price AU$535
Vendor 3Com
Contact 1800 644 606
4 out of 5
Follows SIP standard and is easy to set up and use.
3 out of 5
Inadequate conference support, but e-mail is a bonus.
3.5 out of 5
Plenty of features, but cheaper options are available.
3.5 out of 5
One year warranty with extensions available, phone support during business hours.
3.5 out of 5

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