Review: Plantronics Savi W430-M

Unified Communications (UC) can save a lot of money and ecological impact. The Plantronics Savi W430-M is a UC capable wireless headset that integrates seamlessly with Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft (certified!), Skype, and other UC vendors’ solutions. Apart from that, it’s also the first DECT headset for the PC.

Those endless meetings. Those pesky conference calls. Tell me about it. These days, it’s easier to get an audition with the pope than it is to get hold of a manager or director working with a medium-sized to large company — which is to say that it pays off to streamline meetings and calls as much as possible. Likewise, in publishing environments such as editorial rooms, phone calls are an integral part of the business.

Savi W430-M DECT headset
The Plantronics Savi W430-M headset is the first PC-based DECT headset

In modern times, we don’t want to call people without being able to at least incorporate phone communications with our network on a hardware level. On a software level, most enterprises would like to be able to save the actual conversations. Saving them, transcribing them, or at least tagging them, makes them available to others who may learn from them, and save time chasing information.

The big players in the UC market have developed systems that enable professionals to be followed wherever they are. The ubiquitous example is the surgeon who has a tablet PC with the information of his patients updated in real-time as he tours the wards.

On an office scale, companies like Cisco have developed softphones — basically a phone that connects to the network and gets its functionality from software that integrates with the handset. Softphones are great, but you still have to pick up the handset and talk into the mouth piece. For private, highly confidential, or conference calls this doesn’t work. It also doesn’t work in crowded offices or when you’re sharing office with others — as in many publishing/editorial rooms.

Plantronics Savi W430-M USB DECT dongle
DECT is what sets the Plantronics Savi W430-M apart; the headset communicates with the PC through a USB dongle

With the public at large, Plantronics may be best known as the manufacturer of high-quality games headsets and headphones and of mobile phone headsets, but to helpdesk and office technology managers, Plantronics has a reputation as a vendor of highly qualified headsets, with the best sound quality and noise-canceling capabilities of the market.

Plantronics regularly releases innovative communications hardware systems, and the Savi W430-M is their latest brain child in the professional market. The Savi W430-M is a portable PC-based wireless headset system incorporating DECT technology. The headset communicates with the PC through a USB dongle. The “M” in the name of the Savi model that I received stands for “Optimized for Microsoft Communicator”, Microsoft’s UC offering. However, the Savi W430-M works just as well with other UC solutions and even as a personal headset solution for your Windows PC or Mac.

The Savi W430-M has great looks. The headset itself can be charged when docked in its beautifully designed charging station. Inside the box, the Savi W430-M comes with a USB charging cable for directly charging the headset off a notebook or desktop PC (or USB hub), a power adapter, the charger base, the USB dongle, extra ear tips, software, and a protective pouch.

Plantronics Savi W430-M UC boxshot
Inside the box everything is provided for to use the Savi W430-M in the office and on the road

The USB dongle accommodates up to four headsets in total for conferencing. When plugged into a USB port its rim will glow red until a compatible headset is nearby (within 300 feet) to make contact. When contact has been established, the rim glows green; this becomes flashing green when talking through the headset. The headset is an over-the-ear type with a good-sized noise-canceling microphone. The headset has a battery status indicator on the side. Volume mute, up and down controls are located right above your ear.

The Savi W430-M has SoundGuard on board, which protects against sound levels of above 118dBA. Its battery is supposed to provide up to 6 hours talk time.

Installing and setting up

Implementing the Savi W430-M is a breeze. You just install the software and hook up the USB dongle to an empty USB port and the rest happens automatically when you’re running Windows 7. On Mac OS X, there is no software to install, and the Savi W430-M is recognised as a Plantronics audio device. On Windows 7 the software consists of the Plantronics Control Panel software and the Update Manager. This former is really management software, with icons for the connected headsets, and a visual feedback of which UC software or softphone the Savi W430-M is currently ‘talking to’ (pun intended). Furthermore, the Control Panel enables you to set specific capabilities of the headset, including on some models — but not on the Savi W430-M — audio-protection like startle and G616. On the Savi W430-M, you can set the audio quality (wideband, which is best, or narrowband, which sounds like a traditional phone) and range (300 feet being the maximum). All sorts of alert tones can be set here as well.

The Plantronics software that comes with the Savi W430-M
The Plantronics software that comes with the Savi W430-M allows to set preferences and monitor the battery as well as the headset status

In the Preferences panel, you can also set the behaviour of the Savi W430-M when connected to a PC as a traditional audio output device for playing games, listening to music, etc. For example, if you’re listening to music, should a call interrupt the music? Battery status and the number of plugged in headsets when on conference call can be viewed in the blink of an eye. I found the Control Panel particularly well designed — very user-friendly and designed in a way that you would expect from a Mac application more than a Windows program.

The Plantronics Update Manager enables you to remotely update all software for the Savi W430-M — it is basically a Plantronics application for manually or automatically updating all Plantronics software on the PC.

Additional software for integration with softphones can be downloaded from Plantronics’ web site. Such software allows you to remote call/end a call from the Savi headset without extra steps. It’s available for all softphones except Skype.

Test results

I tried the Savi W430-M with Skype on both Windows 7 and Mac OS X. A publisher that I know uses Plantronics with a Cisco based UC solution. They allowed me to test the headset in a brief PR-led conference call over at their office. These three working environments gave me a good idea of the actual performance of the Savi W430-M.

The first thing I noticed was the quality of sound. Set to its default of ‘wideband’, the Savi W430-M sounds extremely clear without being harsh. I didn’t get the chance to test the SoundGuard feature; sound levels never reached the deafening level needed for that to happen.

On Windows 7, the Savi W430-M integrates with Skype so that the software ‘listens’ to the headset’s changes in volume, muting, etc. It worked like a charm, and for someone who is used to working with Mac OS X running Skype as a lose piece of code that doesn’t integrate with the hardware at all, it was an eye opener.

The true proof of the pudding came with the conference call in the Cisco UC setup. This experience was what I believe UC should be: there was no guessing who was saying what, and the Savi W430-M also never ‘blacked out’ (which is when the headset seems to very shortly turn itself off in order to give priority to another speaker; something that happens frequently with some other headsets I tested in the past).

In the publishing environment where I was invited, I couldn’t get the range of 300 feet, although it came close (my estimate was that the unit started breaking up at some 80 meters, which was the entire room’s length) when I kept the headset within eye-of-sight of the USB dongle. When I moved outside the room, the unit broke up at about two thirds of that distance.

The one thing I can’t be sure of after testing the headset is its talk time: after using it for well over 2 hours in total, the battery status hasn’t changed yet. This could well be because Plantronics uses adaptive technology and my communications so far have all been quite brief.

The Plantronics Savi W430-M was the first Plantronics office product I ever tested and it has been a pleasure all the way. Its DECT quality is of course an extremely important unique selling point. If you need a headset with clear uninterrupted communications capabilities in a professional setting, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy this model. Even if you don’t call that often, I think the Savi W430-M is a good investment. Practically all Bluetooth headsets I have ever tested suffered from blackouts when another Bluetooth device demanded priority. That never happens with the Savi W430-M.

The Savi W430-M costs approx. 249.00 Euros.

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