Another New Combo Phone Embraces Skype

There’s been no shortage recently of clever phones that seek to take advantage—one way or another—of VoIP. The latest is the Calisto Pro Series, from Plantronics, a sleek handset-base station duo with the so-far-unique addition of a matching Bluetooth mini-headset.

Like a number of recent phones, the Calisto Pro connects both to your PSTN landline and, through your PC, to your broadband IP connection, so you can place and receive both conventional and VoIP calls—the latter via either the Skype or Yahoo! VoIP services.

In normal use, owners can take calls either by picking up the handset or by tapping a button that diverts the call to the Bluetooth unit—which provides hands-free connectivity over a nominal range of 100 meters. When you leave the vicinity of the base station, the Bluetooth set will associate with your Bluetooth-capable cell phone, giving you hands-free operation of that phone as well.

Elegant design
Setting up the Calisto Pro is fairly straightforward. Simply plug the base station into a wall outlet and phone jack as you would with any cordless phone. If you’ll be using the VoIP capabilities, connect the included USB cable between the base and your PC and install the included software. Then you’ll need to pair your Bluetooth cell phone with the device; since this procedure varies depending on your cell phone make and model, Plantronics has posted instructions for each type of phone on its Web site.

The Calisto Pro sports some clever design touches. For example, the base station has a charging spot for both the handset and headset, which is convenient. Unlike most cordless phones these days, which stand upright in the charging cradle, the compact Calisto Pro handset lies flat, so you can dial while it’s in the base. Missing no tricks, the Calisto Pro has a built-in speakerphone for hands-free use without the headset.

Another clever touch: Plantronics designed the handset’s belt clip so that the phone hangs upside down when you’re wearing it. This seems counterintuitive—until that first call comes in and you realize you can simply flip the phone face upward to see who’s calling, rather than having to pop it out of the clip (or read upside down).

We also like the caller log feature, which lists incoming and outgoing calls as well as missed calls (like a cell phone). And the software lets you transfer up to 200 contact names (with up to three phone numbers per contact) from Outlook to the phone, which makes setting up an in-phone contact list a whole lot easier.

Calisto Pro Phone
Plantronics’ Calisto Pro dual-mode phone with Bluetooth

Natural to use
The headset—which comes with a swiveling ear-loop for use on either your right or left ear—is comfortable to wear for extended periods. Plantronics opted for a boom design (where an arm extends the microphone closer to your mouth), which makes you sound more natural than those stubby-boom headsets, where the mic is nowhere near your mouth. Plantronics’ noise-canceling technology blocks background noise (barking dog, screaming kids) so even in less-than-professional environments you’ll sound like you’re in an office.

When a call comes in, you can, as mentioned, answer it on the handset or tap the button and receive it on the base station speakerphone or the headset. Handy icons on the handset’s LCD shows whether the call is on speakerphone, on the handset, or on the headset, and you can transfer a call among the three with a tap of a button.

The headset boasts excellent sound. Voices are crisp and clear, and we walked around a ranch-style house and into the yard with no interference or degraded call quality. The people on the far end of our headset-based calls reported that we sounded very good; they couldn’t tell we weren’t on a regular cordless handset.

The built-in speakerphone delivers decent (though not stellar) sound quality and enough volume for a one-person home office. The unit is full-duplex, which means no annoying “clipping” when parties on the line talk over one another. People on the other end of our speakerphone calls reported an echo-y quality: They could tell they were on speakerphone.

The light handset, with its brightly backlit 1.5-inch screen, is shaped more like a wide, flat mobile phone than a traditional cordless phone. That makes it easy to slip in your pocket as you amble about the house. Sound quality in the handset speaker is very good. As with a number of up-to-date smartphones, your ear rests against the flat LCD screen. You’ll be wiping that down often, and for long calls we would prefer an ergonomic concavity where you place your ear.

Other nice features
We liked the cell-phone-like four-way rocker switch with central “OK” button; it makes navigating your call log and contacts very intuitive. Additional buttons on either side of the navigation rocker let you select on-screen options. Entering new phone numbers into the phone’s memory is just like entering them on a cell phone: You can add them directly by navigating to Save to Phonebook via the options menu, or select an incoming or outgoing call from the call log and select Save to Phonebook.

If you have a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone but haven’t invested in a Bluetooth set, the Plantronics’ multi-point headset functionality will please you. It communicates with the Calisto Pro handset under “normal” conditions, but also with your cell phone. Take the headset with you when you leave the house and use it as your hands-free communicator while you drive and run errands. When you come back home, the headset automatically re-associates with the Calisto Pro handset.

Of course, you can also use either handset or headset with your Skype or Yahoo VoIP accounts and you won’t be tethered to your PC. You can receive a VoIP call via the handset/headset anywhere within the base station’s range. To make a VoIP call, you need to dial from your PC, but you can then transfer the call to the wireless set and walk away.

The Calisto Pro is available starting this month at the Sharper Image followed shortly by office and electronics stores (and from Plantronics’ Website). With an MSRP of $279.95 (probably closer to $250 on the street), the Calisto Pro isn’t cheap. But when you consider that a feature-rich cordless phone cost $50, a high-quality Bluetooth headset runs $75 and a cordless Skype phone costs $125—and buying those three separately doesn’t deliver the convenience of integration—the Calisto Pro’s may well be worth the price.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

Adapted from an article first published on

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