I charged the MV900 with its wall wart, waited for the tiny LED on the front to change from red to green (full charge, engage warp 9 Mr. Sulu), and then paired it with my 650 so that I could start playing with it.
I decided to tempt fate and not read the rest of the manual – I figured plug and play should mean just that, not "plug and pray." They must know that if their customers are already using a Treo 650 or 700w, then they're a little smarter than the next guy. But since the MV900 is compatible with most Bluetooth phones, then we have to figure that there are others who may need to read-up before getting their hands dirty.
Once I put the MV900 into paring mode by pressing the mute button (center protuberance on the side rocker switch) inwards, I brought out the 650 and it was recognized instantly under "set up hands free device." Pairing was a snap. I entered in the code and decided to try a call right then and there.
Let's get it on
At this point, I was intrigued by the purported features of this product. MVox claims that the full duplex speakerphone offers a 2w, loudspeaker with a 120db peak volume. That, my friends is LOUD! This doesn't mean the speaker is always 120db. Of course it isn't. That's its maximum volume. You can easily adjust it up and down with that rocker on the side of its body. They also tout two omni small array microphones with far field voice pick up, and "industry-leading" echo cancellation and noise suppression.
So, with that info, my expectations were high – even though I've been let down again and again by other mfrs' hard sell. Nonetheless, I dialed a number and pressed the oval button (ringed by a flashing white light) on the face of the device, and whammo, it switched over. I gotta tell ya that the call volume was impressive – clear and loud, I couldn't pick up any evidence of an echo, and the person on the other end of the line asked if I was really on a speakerphone or if I was talking directly into the Treo.
OK, test #1 passed; now for the real challenge. I took it to the car and decided to hit the road. I jumped on a pretty empty stretch of freeway, since surface streets with lots of crowded traffic are not the best places to learn a gizmo like this when you should be paying attention to trivial things like red lights, SUVs cutting you off and kids on skateboards who dart in front of you like you're driving the invisimobile, rolled down the driver's window a tad and hit a comfortable cruising speed so that outside wind and traffic was noticeable. I clipped the MV900 to the visor and this time, I decided to try voice dialing.
Yes, the MV900 has a woman living inside of it. Well, a woman's voice anyway. She both talks to you in a very clear voice, and listens to and responds to your commands vocally. Sweet. The instructions tell you to speak at it in a normal tone, and to pronounce the number 0 as "zero" not "oh."
I hit the oval button on the face again, and she responded requesting a "command."
"Dial Number," I replied.
"Say number," she countered.
"Dial 3105551212," I stated in a normal talking tone.
"3105551212. Finished?" she asked.
"Yes," I answered.
"Dialing," she finished.
Cool. Now this is a true hands-free experience. And I think it's the only speakerphone that offers this feature. I could keep my hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, alleviating the need to constantly train at the Shaolin Martial Arts School of Driving and Dialing. The call went through and my friend answered.
The conversation went along as if we were both on land lines. I could hear and could clearly be heard. Now for the real test. I rolled down my windows all the way that wind noise came through and intentionally interfere with my call. Even though the conversation was a little off at times, with repeated, "what was that, what did you say" by both of us, it was still impressive. The noise cancellation seemed to kick in when I wasn't speaking.
I decided to try real test #2, so I rolled up the windows, turned on the stereo, and threw the MV900 in the foot well of the passenger side. I was amazed that it could actually pick up my voice from that far away, and more importantly, over the stereo's blare.
For test #3, I picked up a friend so we could hold a conference call with another associate who was back in his home office, pounding away on his next review for TreoCentral. We started the call and decided to conduct an impromptu editorial meeting. The interesting thing here is that everyone could hear and be heard, and I didn't hear any evidence of clipping. I guess it really is full duplex, like a landline phone, meaning that people can speak at the same time without cutting one another off like walkie talkies.
At this point, the MV900 had outperformed all other speaker phones I've tested (I won't claim to have tested them all though), with clear calls, excellent voice pick up, astounding noise and echo cancellation, and excellent amplification.
But I have yet to meet an absolutely 100% perfect piece of electronic gear, so here's where I bring up some nits to pick.
It ain't a perfect world
I tried to dial the next number via voice commands, and she / it didn't seem to grab the numbers correctly. At times, depending on the environment, I would have to repeat a number more than once. This is where I wish the MV900 had voice tags, so I could quickly say, "call Carmen Electra," and it would go through immediately without requiring me to say each number.
MVox says voice tags are thankfully on the way. (Some Samsung Palm phones have voice or name tags built in – unfortunately, Treos don't. Go ask Palm why).
On the whole, the MV900's voice interface is pretty sophisticated, especially for such a tiny device. I didn't test the speed dial feature because I personally have a hard time remembering who's where. You CAN program peoples' numbers into speed dial memory slots on your Treo and then tell the MV900 to "dial memory so and so" but you'll have to remember whose number is in which slot. I don't know about you, but dialing by speaking someone's name ("Dial Marcus") is a helluva lot easier and more intuitive than trying to remember which memory slot you put them in.
The next problem that tripped me up was when dialing a number; the MV900 would sometimes not pick up the call automatically. Even after pressing the button on the face of the unit, the call would not transfer over from the Treo. She'd say "cell phone not available," even if it's sitting next to the unit, Bluetooth is on, and the duo paired. What's up with that?
I called MVox tech support to ask them what's up with that and they said this is a Bluetooth issue (I hate that word "issue".. it's a problem, not an issue, but that's another rant).. related to the Treo 650's sleep mode and not the MV900. I guess when the 650 sleeps, it sometimes drops the Bluetooth connection, forcing you to pair it again.
I thought, "Sure pass the buck." So, I did some sleuthing of my own and in fact, the 650 does have Bluetooth conflicts with many wireless devices where it will either lose the connection or simply need to be paired again. Many forums discuss this, and offer hack workarounds. I did try the MV900 with a 700w and sure enough, I did not have these problems. And now that I think about it, this explains the quirks I sometimes experience with my some Bluetooth headsets.
Another benefit, and problem I found is its voice caller ID feature.
When a call comes in and the Treo starts ringing, the MV900 speaks the incoming number to you. While it's useful to not have to pick up the phone to see who's calling, by the time Ms. Voice-in-the-box finished speaking the incoming caller's number, the Treo had rung so many times it had gone to voice mail. A simple workaround however, is to disable the caller ID feature. You also might not know whose number she's speaking to you, in which case, who cares? On my home phone's tiny screen, caller ID displays a number and a name. Why doesn't Ms. mVox speak the name? I couldn't tell you, but it'd be a lot more useful.
While this aspect really isn't for me, I could see an immediate benefit to those who may have severe vision impairments and rely on voice-driven devices.
The Quick Start guide isn't going to tell you how to turn off the caller ID speaking feature, so you're going to have to whip out and read the full manual to really get the hang of everything the MV900 can do, which is something I advise you do with any new gizmo with a lot of features like this one.
I'm not crazy about the combination volume rocker and mute button either. Sure, it works, and the unit emits a bloop each time you rock the speaker level up or down, but there's no visual indication as to where it's set on its low to high range. What's wrong with a DIAL with some detents and 1-10 markings? Marked volume dials are MUCH more intuitive than a rocker with no indication where it's set. If not a dial, then the voice inside the MV900 should say "volume 1, volume 2" and so on as you change volume levels instead of just making a bloop tone.
Why am I making a big deal out of this? Because when you rock / bloop all the way down to what you would expect be the lowest but still audible volume, you're actually lowering the speaker to "0" (off), not to "1" (very low volume), so in effect, you've entirely shut the speaker off and can't hear anything coming out of it at all. Your Treo 650's own volume rocker takes it down to very low but not totally off mode. This makes sense. The MVox way doesn't, at least not to me. And again, with a synthesized voice inside, she should say "speaker off" when you rock it all the way down. THAT would make sense.
Last, and well maybe least, when I read the manual, it referred to the ability to cable to a standard home phone to make it a speaker phone. There's even a port on the MV900's side for this purpose. But when looking for the optional adapter, I couldn't find it on mvox.com. When I called them again to ask where it was, they said this feature is no longer included due to the lack of consumer demand (!?) and that the manual would soon be updated. Bummer. What consumers wouldn't want this feature? I'd love to cable this puppy to my home phone which lacks speaker phone ability, but no can do. The support rep said that they want to focus on the smart phone and VoIP markets. As I write this, their site has now been updated with this new information.
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Read Merciful by Casey Adolfsson