Got one! Linksys SPA-941 first look


#1

Christmas came early for me in the form of a Cisco/Linksys/Sipura (whoever they are… really… I’m confused) SPA-941 phone.

Took only 2 minutes before I was placing and receiving calls with it on a configured Asterisk PBX. I’ve been playing with it for an hour now, and here’s my basic review.

I’m going to make a lot of comparisons between the 941 and the 841, but only because they’re so incredibly similar, and I have both on my desk now. To keep things simple, I’ll refer to the 941 as the Linksys phone and the 841 as the Sipura phone.

The instructions that came with the Linksys can best be described as a quick start sheet. Don’t expect a full manual when you get one.

It’s based almost exclusively on the Sipura SPA-841 firmware. There are minor differences, but if you’ve seen the setup page for the Sipura, you’ve seen the setup page for the Linksys. There is one notable difference:

Out of the box, the Linksys has the ability to have 4 line appearances. However, it can register with only 2 servers. The individual registrations can be associated with any combination of the 4 lines. (So, 2 and 2, or 3 and 1, etc…) When I bought the phone, I didn’t see an option to add 2 more registration servers, (as in the 4 line version of the Sipura) but I think it’s available as an upgrade to the Linksys.

This is different from the 2 line version of the Sipura. It also is limited to two registrations, but has a 2 line appearance limitation as well. At least with the Linksys, you get all 4 line appearances in the “low end” model.

The message waiting lamp on this thing is enormous. It’s 5 cm (2 in) wide and sits above the display where it would be hard to miss. The line buttons sit next to their associated line indication, and the soft keys are intuitively the same size as their associated label.

The display (sadly) has no backlight, which is a shame, as the 4 lighted line appearance buttons could have EASILY provided side lighting for the display if some clever engineer had thought to clear the plastic out of the real estate between the buttons and the display. Oh well… (Cisco, you listening?)

The display is MUCH better than the Sipura. The Sipura is dark by comparison, and harder to read. The contrast controls on the Linksys make it easy to adjust to your lighting, and the display sits up nice and high with a bright crisp look. Still, it would benefit from a backlight for dimly lit places.

The speakerphone is also a significant improvement over the Sipura. It’s not full duplex (so it’s easy to talk over someone accidently), and it’s a little tinny sounding, but it’s good, and would be fine in most offices. My co-tester said I sounded “far away” although I was less than 60 cm (2 feet) from the phone so keep this in small spaces.

The controls for the speaker are big and easy to use during a conference call. The mute button, being the one that would be used the most, lights up bright red while mute is activated. The mute button also functions to mute the handset microphone, which can be handy when you need to speak to someone while talking on the phone to someone you can’t put on hold.

The speakerphone button and the headset button are also lighted. Both are great indicators, as a person listening to a quiet moment of a conference call, and a person listening to a call on a headset, can easily be mistaken for someone just sitting next to a phone. Lights on the phone can tell the annoying person who just walked into your office that you’re occupied at the moment.

The phone was extremely easy to install. In a DHCP environment, it really only needs 6 settings to work with Asterisk:

Inbound proxy. (Yes, I know, Asterisk is not technically a proxy… just put your Asterisk address here, ok?)
Outbound proxy. (See above)
UserID (Probably your Asterisk extension)
Password (Your SIP password)
Time zone setting (To set your clock correctly)
Daylight savings time rule (Same reason, see below)

If you’re not using DHCP, all of your network settings can be done by the web interface or directly through the phone menu. The web is easiest I think.

Using the web interface, you can put location labels on the phones themselves. When you look at the display, the time and date occupy the top left corner, and just to the right of that would be the name of the phone. (Lobby, Cafeteria, Everest Conf room, whatever…) The label field on the web allows lots of characters, but the space on the display limits what you see to 15 characters, so keep it short. This name label is different from the Caller-ID-Name data that would be sent from your Asterisk SIP definition.

You can also label the individual line appearances in a similar way. (So you’ll know which button connects to which VOIP service/system.)

The handset is solid and has a nice feel. Much like it’s little brother the Sipura, the Linksys has good sidetones. Unlike the Sipura, the Linksys’s handset cradles nicely between your ear and shoulder. The phone itself is otherwise featherlight, and it’s easily pulled across the desk by it’s shorter-than-I-would-prefer handset cord. The back support is hollow however, and you could put a beanbag or a bag of marbles back there to give it some weight.

With the hollow back support removed, the phone would have been easily wall mounted if Cisco didn’t employ idiots as design engineers. The placement of the power jack and ethernet jack makes it practically impossible to easily wall mount this phone using the body molded keyhole slots they provide. When plugs are inserted into both, the plug bodies are taller than the wall mount points and keep the mount points from touching the wall squarely.

Recessing these connections or just rotating them would have been all that was necessary to fix this. (Still listening Cisco???) They weren’t even smart enough to put the keyhole slots the same distance apart as a standard analog phone wall plate. You’ll have to build something yourself if you want to use these as a wall phone. Cisco may be planning a wall mount kit someday, but it should have been unnecessary.

The Linksys comes with many more ring tones than the Sipura, and you can add your own. I might also point out that the ring volume is (by default) REALLY LOUD. If you need a phone with a loud ringer, buy this.

Like most phones, it lacks a good (easy) way to auto answer the incoming call. I believe that the method used here is the same as the Sipura, which is to send a SIP packet with the Call-Info modified as:

SIPAddHeader(Call-Info:=;answer-after=0)

[EDIT: I later confirmed that this is what works for the Linksys phone too.]

Additionally, it doesn’t disconnect calls easily. After the far end disconnects from the call, you get the “Call ended” message on the phone, but the line appearance stays active eventually timing out to a tone that sounds like a north american busy signal. (Anyone know a way around this?)

Overall, I like this phone. It has an excellent sounding handset and an adequate speakerphone. It’s easy to setup and maintain. There’s lots of low hanging fruit when it comes to enhancements and fixes, but that just allows the Cisco people to keep their cushy jobs.

On a scale of 1 to 100, I give it a 67.

Notes about setting the time:

The phone can set it’s time one of three ways.

Using an NTP server
Using the time information in a SIP packet
Manually

SIP packet settings are easiest, and work right out of the box with no help. (Though you do have to set the timezone.) If you plan to let the time go on autopilot, you’ll need to write a daylight savings time rule. The rules are written the same way you would for a Sipura SPA-841, but if you happen to live in the United States, the rule that I use is:

start=4/1/7/2;end=10/-1/7/2;save=1

Works great.


#2

Take a look at the “Reorder” parameters in the “Regional” tab. When a call is terminated by the far side, the 841 waits for the time specified in the “Reorder delay” parameter, and then plays 10 seconds of Reorder Tone.
You can change this to whatever time you like.

–Christopher


#3

Ooo… thanks! That works!

To kill the reorder tone entirely, just put about 10 or 20 “9’s”.

The phone will hangup when calls are disconnected from the far end.


#4

this looks to be a cool phone- but im wondering why it has yet to appear on any of linksys’s or sipura’s or cisco’s websites. Also, the administration guide (posted on a site somewhere) said to call your VAR for firmware upgrades, granted it was a beta document, but i’m kind of worried that Linksys is going to become the new Polycom.

I realize it’s a new phone, and maybe i’m being overly picky, but i prefer a vendor to publicly support (at least with docs+firmware) their products on the website without making users jump through hoops to simply upgrade their firmware…

//EDIT 12/12/05- After some looking it appears that firmware is available from sipura.com. The phone isn’t listed, but firmware is available from their support page.


#5

Linksys just came out with a hosted solutions product called “Linksysone”. www.linksysone.com

Currently it offers phone and network services, but I hear they’ll be adding small business service options like hosting your email server and web pages.

Right now, they have something they’re calling a “Manager phone”. It’s a VOIP phone with built in video. Very high end for everyone in your office if you wanted to get services for your small business.

I’m wondering if they’re planning to offer the 941 with the “Linksysone” product line. A phone to give to the person who doesn’t need a video phone.

Or they could just be selling this through VAR’s exclusively. If you want this phone you have to get it by subscribing to the services of some VOIP provider.


#6

Nice review… Thanks! Now I know a bit more about the phone without having to order one. :smile: