Logitech SmartDock Runs the Analyst’s Gauntlet
Jan 20, 2017
Frost & Sullivan’s Analyst Gauntlet is a structured program wherein participating vendors and service providers give industry analysts deep dives and demonstrations of their collaboration solution. The analyst then uses the collaboration solution over a period of time and provides candid feedback based on his/her user experience with the specified tool(s).
This week I’m sharing my experiences using the new Logitech SmartDock AV console for Microsoft Skype Room System (SRS). SRS, which replaces Microsoft Lync Room System (LRS), is designed to extend the Skype for Business Meeting experience to any meeting space and provide center of room control in huddle rooms, open spaces, and formal conference rooms. Logitech positions SmartDock as “a complete solution optimized for Skype Room Systems with certified components that enable users to seamlessly launch meetings with the click of a button and instantly share content in-room and remotely.”
Initially, Microsoft will have 11 certified partner devices for SRS, such as speaker phones, cameras and control consoles. The Logitech SmartDock AV console is first of these to become available for purchase. All partner devices will be built against Microsoft’s Skype Operations Framework which enforces the standards of quality and performance for certified solutions as well as a consistent user interface across partner-delivered products.
SRS is designed to empower users in meeting rooms as full participants in group interactions, with the ability to share and collaborate in rich ways. SRS provides those users with access to a full suite of functionality, including chat, content presentation and viewing, control over layouts, the ability to launch and join ad-hoc meetings, add participants to meetings, call out using PSTN, and more—all from a user interface that has a familiar Skype for Business look and feel.
Pictured above, the brains of the Logitech SmartDock solution is a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet with an Intel Core i5 processor, Windows 10 Enterprise and Microsoft Skype Room System Software. Logitech SmartDock adds the hardware components around the tablet, including a pivoting base and required cabling, plus optional external camera and microphones for the joint solution. SmartDock is designed to make it easier to add SRS to broader Skype for Business environments with a streamlined, clean and consistent approach to deploying the various components (cables, connection hubs, power cords, cameras, speakers, microphones, etc.). To complete the room solution, SmartDock requires a Skype for Business user license (Business Server 2015 or Office 365 Plan 2 of higher) and a Skype for Business SRS license.
SmartDock firmly and securely holds the Surface Pro 4 in place while creating an ergonomic stance to access the SRS user interface on the tablet to create, join, share and interact in Skype for Business Meetings. It organizes and manages the multitude of cables required for connectivity as well as provides a variety of additional connection interfaces, including AC power, a headset jack, Gigabit Ethernet, and multiple HDMI and USB ports. Truly expanding the I/O for the Surface Pro 4 tablet, Logitech’s optional Extender Box supports a clutter-free installation for larger room deployments.
My task was to evaluate the impact Logitech SmartDockhardware has on Skype for Business Meetings from a user perspective. The SmartDock setup I evaluated included:
- Microsoft Office 365 Plan 2 and Skype Room System license
- Logitech SmartDock Extender Box
- Logitech ConferenceCam CONNECT
- 40” color, flat panel TV with 1080 resolution and HDMI connections
Pro: Overall assembling the dock, inserting and connecting the Surface Pro into the dock, as well as assembling and connecting the Extender Box was easy and straightforward. Once the components were unpacked, it took me less than 30 minutes to install all of the equipment. A dedicated AV or IT professional will likely require even less time.
Con: SmartDock is intended to be installed by seasoned IT or AV professionals. While the equipment components were very well organized in the original packaging, no inventory list was included. Also, the instructions are illustrations only, there is no elaboration in the form of text. An inventory list and more thorough instructions would go a long way to avoid potential problems and allow for even easier installations, particularly even for non-technology pros. Shortly after my evaluation wrapped up, Logitech added this information to prominently appear on its product and support web pages as well as links to documentation on Microsoft’s website.
Pro: On its own, the Surface Pro 4 offers a single full-size USB port, a microSD card reader, a headset jack and a mini display port. While this set of connections might be sufficient for a laptop user, they are simply not sufficient to natively support the numerous peripherals and connections required in most meeting spaces. Additional connection hubs are often required. With an HDMI input and two outputs, a Gigabit Ethernet link for wired network access, three USB 3.1 ports and a single3.5mm headset jack, SmartDock significantly expands the connectivity options of the Surface Pro, allowing organizations to standardize how they deploy equipment in meeting spaces of different sizes.
Pro: The Extender Box comes with a 5m/16ft extender cable that consolidates five separate cables into one to keep the desk or tabletop uncluttered and organized. The Extender Cable integrates two USB and two HDMI cables, and one power cable into a single bundle which connects SmartDock to the Extender Box.
Extender Box provides interfaces for various peripherals and AC connections. In addition, Extender Box offers integrated support for Logitech GROUP ConferenceCam, which eliminates the need to deploy the GROUP hub, power supply and associated cables in Skype Room System deployments.
Con: The Extender Cable consolidates five different connection cables into a single bundle and the pedestal base plate is designed to keep the connections from the Extender Cable to the SmartDock tight. However, I noticed the connections still become loose or disconnected when moving the SmartDock across the desk or tabletop. Logitech would do well to add a clamp or other fastener to further secure the Extender Cable bundle to the SmartDock base and ensure the connections remain fixed when the unit is inevitably moved about meeting spaces.
Pro: SmartDock achieves user comfort with its ergonomic design. At 9.4” high by 13.2” wide, it should be comfortable for users of most any height to see and type on the Surface Pro screen from a seated position. Logitech put additional thought into the ergonomics as evidenced by a 45-degree angle that further facilitates comfort.
Pro: SmartDock is both versatile and sturdy. The cast-metal base enables 180-degree swivel/pivot on the desk or tabletop, allowing multiple users to share and access it easily during meetings. Weighing 6.04lbs SmartDock also has a solid center of gravity to rest firmly on a desk or tabletop, and supports a Kensington lock for physical security. In addition, the SmartDock base is equipped with non-skid rubber pads that help prevent it from sliding or tipping over in the course of normal use, even when pivoting.
Pro: SRS software provides one-touch content sharing from the Surface Pro tablet. Files uploaded to Skype Meeting invitations created in Outlook are automatically available on the Surface Pro in meeting rooms. This eliminates requirements to connect computers and reduces the steps needed to access and share content in meetings. Logitechadded a readily accessible HDMI port to the SmartDock for users who wish to share content locally from their computer, which again simplifies a historically complex and time consuming task for those other than power users.
Con: At times it may be necessary to perform a full power cycle rather than restart the Surface Pro. Complete shutdown is accomplished in a process called Surface Pro Two Button Shutdown wherein both the power and volume-up buttons are pressed simultaneously. When attempting the Two Button Shutdown, I discovered that the SmartDock case does not allow adequate access to the volume toggle located on the top right side of the Surface Pro tablet. Inserting a paperclip is recommended to reach into the SmartDock case to access the volume-up button, but this approach was inconsistent in practice. As a result, I had to unbolt the case and remove the Surface Pro to complete the shutdown.
Pro: Logitech offers a number of cameras, microphones and other peripheral devices that interoperate with SmartDock, providing organizations with the option of standardizing with a single supplier to effectively and consistently outfit their different users, use cases and physical spaces as they seek to optimize the Skype Meeting experience.
A number of trends are driving adoption of rich conferencing solutions among end user organizations of all sizes and industries. Microsoft Skype for Business is proving to be a popular choice to connect distributed teams, remote workers and to enrich interactions with customers and partners. Workplace trends such as open offices, desk sharing and other practices are likewise driving requirements for more group meeting environments beyond traditional large conference rooms—the number of huddle rooms and multi-use spaces is on the rise.
With these two dynamics colliding, many organizations recognize the need to equip more meeting spaces with conferencing technologies. Due to the increased demand, suppliers have already made a dizzying expanse of options available to prospective buyers. A one-size fits-all approach often leads to unnecessary compromises that degrade the meeting experience, while DIY attempts often lead to undue complexity, cost and lack of standardization. Because of these shortfalls Microsoft has aligned with leading vendors to develop solutions using the common Skype Operation Framework.
Logitech is the first Microsoft partner to make available a certified fixed controller for SRS. SmartDock delivers the flexibility to effectively address a number of different physical meeting environments while providing a consistent and familiar experience across them. It eliminates the complexity and chaos of cables, hubs and other componentry that often clutters tabletops in DYI attempts to modernize meeting spaces of all types with video collaboration. While we know other SRS solutions are slated for release in 2017, and we have seen some preview details, it remains to be seen how they will actually stack up. Logitech has set the bar high.
To hear more about this solution, and how it can make your meetings more productive, please join the free webinar on February 8 hosted by my colleague Roopam Jain, Industry Director of Connected Work research: http://bit.ly/2kk9CHI
Sixteen + years of experience in enterprise communications markets. Particular expertise in: Competitive and market intelligence, Market trend analysis and forecasting, Solutions development, marketing, sales and service support strategies.