Phone Calls

Make these three tools the talk of your office.

No Hands!

Do you use a headset to talk on the phone? Until recently, only telemarketers, reporters, and bond traders enjoyed this liberating experience. But more and more businesspeople are putting down their handsets in favor of headsets -- to take notes, check email, and generally be more productive while they're on the phone.

FreeHand, a new headset from market-leader Plantronics, targets business professionals. The tiny, in-the-ear unit looks like it should attach to a Walkman rather than to a telephone. Its noise-canceling microphone makes for clear sound even in open environments. Its six-feet-long cord lets users roam their offices as they work their Rolodexes.

Michael Hedrick, director of global distribution for the Bank of Montreal, has been using headsets for years but always found them awkward. Not any more. "You just pick FreeHand up, stick it in your ear, and answer the phone," he says. "It's just so convenient."

FreeHand retails for about $200. Call Plantronics (800-544-4660) or visit the Web http://www.plantronics.com .

Speak Up

Walk into any office and you'll see people huddled around speakerphones holding conference calls with far-away colleagues. The trouble with long-distance teleconferences is that they sound so, well, distant -- unless you spend $800 or more for high-performance, full-duplex audio equipment.

That's changing. SoundPoint, a new desktop conferencing system, delivers high-performance sound at an affordable price. Peter Rusch, a consultant based outside San Francisco, uses SoundPoint to interact with his East Coast clients. "In most conference calls, you just can't get the full impact of the meeting," he complains. "But with SoundPoint, I can hear all the conversations. I can even hear the side conversations, when people think they're whispering."

SoundPoint comes in two versions: the standard model, which connects to any business telephone, and SoundPoint PC, which works with a sound card, making it great for Internet phones and desktop videoconferencing systems. Both versions sell for $299. Call Polycom, Inc. (800-765-9266) or visit the Web http://www.polycom.com .

Net Talk

WebPhone's drag-and-drop interface makes it surprisingly easy to use. And the system offers some remarkable features -- not the least of which is the ability to reach anyone (with an email address) anywhere in the world for the price of a local Internet connection. WebPhone lets users create messages for specific callers ("Sorry I had to leave early, Chris; meet me in the office at 10 a.m.") or block calls from specific people and route them directly to voice mail. Placing a call is as easy as entering an email address or double-clicking on an entry in an electronic address book.

WebPhone 2.0 sells for $49.95. A limited-features version can be downloaded for free. Call NetSpeak Corporation (561-998-8700) or visit the Web http://www.netspeak.com .

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