Arkon Networks Inc.
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By Robert Zach
Akron, although I never heard of them until now, is a big name. In fact I already use one of their products - a Vtech Cordless phone. This company already has quite a lot of experience in this space; and now they are turning their expertise loose on the Handspring Visor platform.
The Parafone (or PRF500) is a Springboard compliant module that turns your Visor (Deluxe), Prism, or Edge into a 900Mhz cordless telephone; and it's quite easy to do! Just plug the base station into a phone line and slide the module into your Visor. The a single application loads from the module and you're ready to dial.
This product is very well packaged and includes a USB 1.1 based base station/cradle, the Visor module, a replaceable battery for the module (ala most cordless phones), an around-the-ear headset with boom mike, an AC adapter, a length of telephone cord, and an absolutely gorgeous user's manual (pictures, step-by-steps, etc - VERY well documented product)!
For me this product had quite a gee-whiz factor. I have always looked at the Visor and my second Swiss Army knife - and now my trusty PDA could also be my cordless phone. Nice.
In fact the product is nice to use, mostly in part to the excellent interface software. Plugging in the card installs not only the Parafone interface (99K) but a Parafone enabled version of the address book (83K) that will be run by default. This version of the address book allows the user to do exactly what you'd first expect - tap a phone number in the list and have the Parafone dial it. You can tap a number in the address list or in a single address view mode. Either way a list of all numbers for that contact will be displayed for you to highlight and call.
The main application is the Parafone interface. This interface is divided into three sections selectable by the icons in the lower left of the main display. The default display is the Speed Dial section (pictured) - it is identical to the VisorPhone, the others are the Dial Pad and the Call History.
The first screen allows you to pre-define numbers to call. The "Voice Mail" and "Call Card" are pre-defined but configurable. The dial pad is just that - it's the main telephone interface. And, the Call History allows you to see calls indicated as incoming, out going, or missed (an X icon). Any Caller ID information that may have been present is also displayed here. Several options exist in this interface that allow you to set dialing rules as well as which of the three displays should be the default.
Placing a call is very simple. Just tap a speed dial or dial the number. You'll see the screen pictured on the right while the call is going on. The icons at the top of the display allow you to adjust the volume, select a new channel between handset and base (if you are getting bad reception), and mute the call (a great feature missing on some phones). And, the absolutely best part of all - you can use any other application while a call is in progress. Take notes on the NotePad, give out other numbers, schedule events etc. Very Slick. Unfortunately you'll have to go back to the Parafone app to hang up though. [maybe someone can write a hangup hack ;-)]
I found this product quite simple to use. But while in using it I have found a couple of things that I wish were different or were missing.
First, the base station is designed to double as not only the handset charger but a Visor sync cradle as well. Unfortunately the cradle only fits the Visor [Deluxe]. It will not allow a Prism or Edge to by HotSynced. And, what I thought was missing, it will not charge the Prism or Edge.
I also found the speaker to be tinny and there was some static that could be heard while making a call. Apparently Handspring had the same "interference" problems when the VisorPhone was introduced. A replacement program is available that allows you to swap your Visor for a version that is better shielded - Akron conveniently included a coupon card that allows you to complete this "Advance Replacement" program with Handspring.
There were also a few more features I thought should be included.
This brings me to one last comment - $120 is kind of pricey for a cordless phone, but of course no other phone on the market allows for integration with a Visor - typically it is the "early adopter" that foots the bill for the "market research". I'm hoping the "research is good" for Parafone and we see the 2.4Ghz model with the above features added.
So, overall an good product in an excellent package, I look forward to seeing the improvements to really make this an excellent product.
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