When I first arrived in Southwest Connecticut just under two years ago, I quickly had four phone lines: a VoIP-based ‘land line’ at home that was bundled in with my cable TV and Internet service, a personal cell phone, a direct line at my office, and a work-issued BlackBerry phone. It’s probably no surprise to those who know me that I could never remember my own phone number(s). Over time I’ve pared back of course, as four phone numbers for one person is wasteful if not a bit crazy. Recently one device – the iFusion SmartStation – has let me shrink my phone footprint down to a single iPhone 4 for all of my calls.
Now when I’m at home having a casual phone conversation, I’m as content as the next guy to hold my iPhone up to the side of my head. It feels ergonomic enough with Apple’s Bumper wrapped around it, and I have decent reception indoors thanks to an AT&T 3G MicroCell, reviewed here last year. My personal calls are infrequent enough that I don’t worry about the electromagnetic radiation being absorbed by my head.
On the Road
And when I’m driving, my vehicle’s Bluetooth integration works well and automatically, such that I never have to touch the phone to answer calls in transit. I can also place calls using only a single button on the steering wheel followed by voice commands, provided that I’ve previously added the person to my truck’s address book.
But the office was another story. It’s the last bastion where the land line reigns supreme. For starters, if I’m going to use a cell phone exclusively at work, it has to last the entire work day, regardless of that day’s activities. In my current role as a Senior Systems Administrator, there are days when most of my conversations are conducted face-to-face with my IT colleagues and others in the office. And then there are days where I participate in a series of conference calls or remote troubleshooting sessions, either of which can rack up significant call time that would drain any cell phone’s battery. There are ergonomic issues to consider, as I personally don’t enjoy cradling a cell phone to the side of my head with my shoulder for an extended period of time while trying to type with both hands on a keyboard. Obviously one’s cell phone reception would have to be consistent enough at their desk so as to avoid dropped calls. And who’s to say whether several hours a day of holding a cell phone directly against one’s head might result in a higher level of electromagnetic radiation absorption than might be healthy for some. Well, the iFusion SmartStation makes significant strides in all of these areas.
How it Works
As is evident in the picture above, the iFusion SmartStation is essentially a charging dock and corded handset for the iPhone 3G, 3GS, 4, and 4S that is styled like a business desk phone. Instead of having a business phone’s keypad and display, the iFusion leverages your iPhone for both. Power is provided to the iPhone via the dock connector, while the voice integration between the base and the iPhone are done through Bluetooth pairing. The iFusion base provides full-duplex speakerphone functionality and volume controls. You can play music from your iPhone through the iFusion’s speaker, with the iPhone muting the music when a call comes in and then resuming upon completion. As the speaker isn’t exactly high fidelity, there’s also a stereo output on the iFusion base to connect a larger set of desktop speakers if music is your thing. It’s really nice to leave the office at the end of the day with a full charge, despite having used the phone a significant amount throughout the day.
The iFusion SmartStation has enough extra room in the recessed tray to accommodate most after-market iPhone cases, whether they add to the phone’s width, height or thickness. The only cases that appear problematic are those that have a rubber cover over the dock connector that hinges at the back. Given rumors that the next model of iPhone may be larger in size and / or change to a new, smaller dock connector, we can’t assume that the current iFusion will work with iPhones beyond the currently supported 3G, 3GS, 4, and 4S. There’s a possibility that an iFusion purchased today may have to be refreshed more often, as is typical of a cell phone, than the long cycle used for traditional business telephone assets.
I work in an interior office, with a window that looks out into the hallway rather than outside. My cell phone reception has never been great at my desk. When holding my iPhone in my hand, the reception would indicate between one and three bars. As I adjusted the phone relative to my head, the reception would come and go, even dropping calls on occasion. Upon first getting the iFusion SmartStation, I observed that I had much more consistent cellular reception with my iPhone sitting in the base while I held the corded handset to my head. Using an iFusion may help pull in fringe reception. After a couple of weeks, I added an AT&T 3G MicroCell at the office, raising my iPhone’s signal strength to a full five bars from that point on.
This is where the iFusion SmartStation really shines. After a one-time setup, where we pair our iPhone with the iFusion base via Bluetooth, using the iFusion couldn’t be easier. Simply drop the phone in the cradle when you sit down at your desk and take it with you when you leave. Your phone charges in place while it sits there. Incoming calls ring the iFusion’s speaker. You simply pick up the handset to answer, as you would on a normal phone, and hang it up to end the call. There’s nothing about using the iFusion day-to-day that isn’t intuitive, especially to someone who already owns an iPhone. The fit and finish are superb, giving the feel of a professional device that’s as nice as anything on your desk. Nicer in my case. And the iFusion is available in either black or white to match your iPhone.
During the first full month with the iFusion SmartStation, my iPhone calling ballooned to 1583 minutes, or over 26 hours on the phone! As I’m on AT&T and had previously accumulated a large cache of rollover minutes, I wasn’t concerned about right-sizing my calling plan prior to beginning the experiment. As I continue at this rate, however, I’ll need to add AT&T’s Nation Unlimited plan for an additional $30 per month over my current basic Nation 450 plan. But would that be a good deal?
I work for a medium-sized business that has negotiated fairly attractive rates for our in-state, domestic and international long distance calls. It’s not free, but it’s close. Upon analyzing my own mix of calls – inbound and outbound, personal and business, local, toll-free and various tiers of long distance – it turns out that my company would have paid only $13.43 last month had I made all of my outbound business long-distance calls on the existing land line instead of my iPhone. Were my particular calling patterns to grow uniformly, I’d have to use around 59 hours of cellular calling each month before AT&T’s $30 Nation Unlimited add-on made financial sense strictly as a business phone replacement. That’s a lot of time on the phone for a guy who’s not known to say very much. Any less than that, and I’ll be paying for a convenience factor. Granted, it’s so convenient – both for myself and anyone trying to reach me – that I’m willing to pay the difference out of my own pocket and plan to do so going forward. Hey, I can finally remember my own phone number!
Historically a phone was just a phone. We made and received calls on it when we were in. Now it goes everywhere we go. And of course we send and receive e-mail and run all manner of apps, from depositing checks via photograph to remotely starting one’s car. Maybe having just one phone and phone number for all aspects of our lives is enough. All of this is possible, of course, on both the iPhone and the numerous phone options running Google’s Android. As a tech guy, I’m sure that I could get along just fine with an Android phone and get everything done that I wish to get done. But there’s a catch. The iFusion SmartStation reminds me that the Apple ecosystem is now rich with accessories and solutions that dramatically enhance the overall Apple experience. The iFusion SmartStation is among the best of the devices that I’ve encountered. It’s so good that it creates something of a barrier to exit: I’d now hate to give up my iFusion in order to consider the phone competition. It’s hard to imagine a similar system that works with the last four generations of all Android phones, given the relatively huge number of models. Steve Jobs chose to keep it simple at Apple rather than trying to create a product for every niche. And in doing so, he enhanced the value proposition of the entire Apple ecosystem.
[Update: I stated earlier that, “The iFusion SmartStation has enough extra room in the recessed tray to accommodate most after-market iPhone cases.” I recently swapped out a Case-Mate Barely There case for the popular Speck CandyShell, only to discover that the CandyShell’s thicker surrounding interferes with use of the iFusion SmartStation. Specifically, with an iPhone in a CandyShell, the phone doesn’t make adequate contact to recharge while sitting in the iFusion base. That’s unfortunate, so I went looking for another Case-Mate.]