Asterisk: Phone Showdown

Thursday, March 29, 2007, at 09:57AM

By Eric Richardson

I mentioned in my first post that I was going to be comparing a few different phones in choosing what we would build out with. We needed phones for ten employees, a break room and a conference room. I called up VoIP Supply and they agreed to send me three used phones so that I could make my choice and not pay a restocking fee returning the unchosen two.

I ordered the snom 320, the Polycom IP501, and the Linksys SPA942. When the phones came in I set them up and played around for a week or so, messing with configurations and calling between extensions. Finally last week we set up all three phones in the conference room and three of us sat down to compare features and (most importantly) voice quality.

Before I get into the results, a little about my opinions of each phone:

snom 320

It may have nothing to do with how it operates, but I think it's very cool that the snom runs Linux. When I updated the firmware and saw "LOADING linux" pop up on screen, there was definitely a geeky happiness I felt.

The web interface for the snom was the best of the three phones. It's very comprehensive and very responsive.

That web config is especially good since the ability to configure on the handset is a bit lacking. It's tough to do a whole lot with a little screen.

The sparse, black design of the phone was well-liked in the office, but the small screen and non-intuitive buttons were big downsides. The programmable line buttons are cool, but they feel very much like traditional key-system PBX phones.

And finally, while handset call quality was fine, the speakerphone felt lacking in dynamic range.

Linksys SPA942

The Linksys wins big points for having a backlit screen, but no other real style pluses. The key layout didn't feel particularly intuitive, and call quality was nothing special.

Web interface was plenty feature-filled, but there wasn't anything amazing about it.

Bottom line: this is a very middle of the road, work-a-day phone. Nothing particularly wrong with it, but nothing all too special.

Polycom IP501

There was a split in the office about the design of the Polycom. Some liked its high-tech feel and very large screen while others didn't care for its fondness for curves and disregard for any texture consistency.

The Polycom's web configuration is the worst of the three, thanks to a huge delay in its reactivation after boot-up. Thankfully that isn't a big deal, as it quickly became apparent that it's easier to set up the Polycom via XML config files it'll grab over FTP at boot up.

The real winner, though, was the sound quality on Polycom's speaker phone. I guess it should be expected given the length of time they've been in the speaker phone business, but calls just sounded really full and life-like.

The Winner: Polycom IP501

We ended up ordering the Polycoms, and actually they just showed up a few minutes ago. We also got one of the IP4000 conference phones that I'm particularly interested to check out.