When I started working for the company I am at now I found myself working with colleagues at sites all over the UK. Whilst having face-to-face meetings was great it was not something that was actively encouraged. The company I work for has a strong stance on being environmentally responsible, with sustainability being the latest buzzword. As such we are encouraged, where possible, to arrange meetings over the internet using Webex or by using tele or video conferencing and only meeting in person a few times a year to ensure we have a low carbon footprint.
The first couple of times I tried giving a PowerPoint presentation over the internet I found it quite difficult to hold onto the phone and present my slides as I like to wave my hands about a bit when presenting even if there's no one around! A colleague suggested we invested in some earpieces and after speaking to our IT guys we settled on the Microsoft Lifechat ZX-6000 which has wireless technology and cost £39.99.
The Lifechat ZX-6000 comes in two parts. The first part is the earpiece. This is black in colour, quite small and shaped like an ear with the microphone sticking out. It is about the size of my palm, and is very light. All in all it looks quite classy and very much like the hands-free blue-tooth earpieces you get for when you're driving around.
The second part is the wireless receiver. This resembles a small mouse without the buttons and needs to plugged into one of the USB ports on the computer. Microsoft claim that the wireless signal has a 30ft range. My office is fairly small and certainly not 30ft! However when presenting or sitting in on a particularly long meeting I have felt the need to stretch my legs and have been able to wander around the room and continue contributing to the meeting. This is a significant advantage over the telephone as I had to sit in one place and holding the phone against my ear for the best part of an hour resulted in it going numb! Not something I've experienced since using this earpiece!
The earpiece comes with two adjustable ear bands, made of rubber, for a customised fit. This just clips over the ear and the main unit, which consists of a square with a circular sponge that sits over your ear canal and through which sound is heard. I unfortunately have very small ears and I found even the smallest of these bands a little too big and when I am using the earpiece I do find it starts to slip. However, apart from this little niggle I have found the earpiece is discreet and quite comfortable to wear.
Attached to the main unit is a thin strip, which is the mouthpiece. This also has a power button to turn on the earpiece along with a row of lights indicating whether this is out of the range of the signal, the battery life, and the charging and connection status. Whilst this is a useful idea in principle I think the designers missed something here. How are you meant to see any of the indicator lights when you're wearing the thing?! The mouthpiece only comes up to half-way across your cheek so unless you squint very hard you're not going to see them! This could result in you chatting to yourself for a while as you've not realised the battery's gone or that you're out of range!
The earpiece comes with an inbuilt lithium ion battery. This can be charged up using the mains charger that comes with the earpiece. A fully charged battery should give you 8 hours of chat time and 200 hours of standby time. My meetings only last for an hour or so and so I can't say how accurate this is. Also the meetings generally take place every couple of weeks so I can't comment on the standby time either. I tend to leave my earpiece permanently on charge just incase an unexpected meeting comes up and this works for me.
There have been a couple of times where I've left my mp3 headphones at home and so I've used these to listen to music through my PC whilst I work. For this I probably have the earpiece on for around 6 hours at a time (excluding breaks and lunch!) and I have found them to work just as well at the end of the hours as at the start.
Microsoft boasts that this earpiece has an advanced speaker, which delivers crystal clear audio. The microphone also has the ability to pick up your voice and cancel out all other background noise. Both these features means that the audio should be superb and I have to say I have no complaints in this respect nor have I had any negative feedback from my colleagues at the other end. The sound has always been clear and at a good, even pitch. Even when listening to music through my PC the sound has been great with no fading or crackling.
The earpiece is not just for meetings though. It can also be used to chat over the internet, on skype for example or to use when playing games or watching movies on the PC. It has been particularly designed for using with MSN messenger, not a huge surprise as it was made by Microsoft! On the back of the main unit is the 'Windows Live Messenger button'. By pressing this you can see who is online from your msn buddy list and you can then pick a contact and start chatting. This is not a feature I have used, not because I am sad and have no friends, but because access to msn messenger has been blocked at work.
There is another button on the back of the unit that allows you to switch from listening to music to taking a call. When this is pressed the music automatically pauses and the call can be taken. Again I have not had a need to use this feature but can see it being useful for those who are maybe using the earpiece at home.
Overall I'm very pleased with the Lifechat ZX-6000. We've had them for a couple of years now. They've been used fairly regularly in that period and are still going strong. My only negative points are the fact that the earpiece is still a little too big for my tiny ears and the other is the annoying thing with the indicator lights which can't be seen when wearing this. All in all a healthy 4 out of 5 stars from me.