One nice thing about IP PBXs: any computer can be a phone. NEC provides software to do just that. You have to buy a license and install it on the PBX, and after that, you just put on your headset, launch the app – which takes a minute or so to establish communications with the PBX – and you are in business. You can right-click on an Outlook contact, pick the right phone number from a drop-down list, and it is dialed automagically. At least, that’s the theory. I can get it to do that with numbers in my area code, but it dials bizarre numbers when they’re outside of that area code. It’s possible to go into Windows and create a custom dialing rule for each area code that fixes the problem, but life’s too short to do that for every area code in the country.
You’d think that, with practically unlimited computing power and screen size, NEC would produce a glorious human interface for their softphone. You’d be wrong. The interface is a big gray window with icons for functions running across the top. You get to pick the icons. Call history and progress information is displayed in the window. It’s completely ordinary, and a bit clunky. Somebody must have figured this out, because there’s a button you can click which bring up a replica of a standard NEC IP phone, and you can press the keys with the mouse.
The IP phone themselves are perfectly serviceable, but uninspired. They make good use of context-sensitive softkeys so they don’t need a big button field. I don’t miss knowing the status of all the extensions at a glance, which is the only takeaway from the old phones. They can be powered either from a largish wall wart or using Power over Ethernet (PoE). The LCD displays are nicely backlit. The keypad glows a pleasing neon orange when you go offhook.
There’s a fancy phone with a color touchscreen. I spec’ed one to see what it’s like, and I am not impressed. The touchscreen requires a firm tap if you use a fingertip; the only way to make it more reasonable is to use a stylus, which is not always convenient. If you use your phone all day every day, there’s probably some good use for all those user-programmable virtual keys – eight per screen and four screens – but it’s not for me.