For those who have seen the term ‘Hybrid working’ banded around and aren’t familiar with what it is. We should explain that it’s a marketing term designed to help senior people cope with the changes in working practices that the global pandemic accelerated.
Historically, it was only the most senior executives that got the option to work from home, and now companies are forced to come up with alternative methods to make them feel special.
While offering the potential of a better life-work balance for many, working from home isn’t without a few technical caveats. Danish audio specialists Jabra have designed some equipment specifically to address those.
The limited-edition Hybrid Working in a Box looks ostensibly like a simple to send and deploy kit to enable someone operating from a home office to be appropriately connected to their colleagues and customers.
Is this merely a marketing exercise, or is there more in this box than initially appears?
Price and availability
As a limited edition, Jabra’s Hybrid working in a Box combines two of its most popular devices in a single package. These are the Jabra PanaCast 20, an intelligent AI-enabled webcam, and the equally impressive Jabra Speak 750 speakerphone.
It is possible to buy these items separately, and they cost £306 ($329) for the PanaCast 20 and £337 ($362) for the Speak 750. That makes for a grand total of £643 inc. VAT in the UK and $691 in the USA.
Jabra also offers a few accessories for these items, including extra Bluetooth adapters, a secure mount for the Speak 750, and a Kensington Lock Adaptor. These are very inexpensive when compared with the camera and speakerphone.
If you are wondering what the deal is with the ‘Hybrid Working in a Box’ limited edition, then welcome to the same confusion we experienced. Bizarrely, this isn’t a product that customers can get from what we understand. And there is no discount to be gained by buying them together.
Therefore Jabra marketing gets a B+ for creative thinking and a solid F for converting those thoughts into a commercial advantage.
Jabra PanaCast 20
At the height of the pandemic, webcam prices soared as those brands that made them failed to handle the level of demand. Thankfully those days are behind us, but there is still a strong demand for good cameras that don’t make the user look odd or excessively blurred.
Fashion from a solid billet of aluminium, the PanaCast 20 feels a remarkably substantial piece of equipment that is likely to cope with a few knocks.
The lozenge shape has a folding foot on the underside that allows it to be either placed on a desktop or hooked over the top of a monitor. The underside of this foot also offers a threaded hole (3/8-16 UNC spec) so that it can be placed on a tripod, even if one it’s included in the box.
At the rear is a USB-C port for connecting it to a computer, and a USB-A to USB-C cable is included. Our only issue with this part of the PanaCast 20 is that the port on the camera is on the underside, and the cable included hasn’t sufficient room to bend if it is used on a desk. Therefore, if you intend to use it on a desktop, you will need to buy a small tripod to provide the cable clearance.
A better-considered feature is a privacy cover that is easily slid from the left to cover the lens completely. It’s easy to operate, and the cover is thick enough that light will not travel through it.
To avoid you forgetting to deploy this feature, a small but bright LED appears above the lens when the unit is active.
The camera uses a 13MP, 1/3.2-inch sensor coupled to a lens f/2.25 lens providing a 117-degree field of view. That’s enough sensor pixels for 4K, although depending on the conferencing software used, you might get less than that in operation.
Jabra has a utility, Jabra Direct, which enables the owner to keep the device upgraded to the latest firmware and software, in addition to pairing any Bluetooth devices.
This software is worth downloading as on this camera, as with it, you can tweak the brightness, contrast, field of view, saturation, sharpness and use HDR. And, you can also toggle the AI mode.
That last feature is either a godsend or an annoyance depending on what you are trying to do, so the ability to disable it could be critical.
It uses image and sound analysis to focus on the person speaking and then smoothly moves to a different shot should the speaker change or physically move.
The only downsides to this are that it can become somewhat like watching a tennis match if the two people speaking are at opposite ends of the table, and when it zooms into a person, it selectively crops the 4K image. Depending on how many people are in the shot, this could result in lower resolution.
Jabra’s implementation is better than most, but even the best AI can become confused by humans and the unpredictable things they do, and the motion between shots isn’t always smooth.
The weakness of this device is undoubtedly the microphone which tends to blur the audio and pick up background sounds.
Thankfully if you have the second item in the box (the one you can’t buy), you don’t need to worry about that, as it will be handling the sound side of this equation.
Jabra Speak 750
The Robin to the Batman of this dynamic duo is the Jabra Speak 750, a conference speaker.
At approximately 13cm across, the Speak 750 was designed to sit either in the middle of a meeting table or, using a kickstand on the underside, sit on the user’s desk.
Wrapped, snake-like around the speaker is a USB cable for connection and charging, and Jabra has also included a Jabra Link 370 Bluetooth dongle kept in a recess under the speaker.
Having both the cable and the dongle covers using either technology or both. The USB connection also doubles to charge the device, as it can run off internal battery power for up to 11 hours.
Our only reservation is how the cabling is implemented. As the USB cable is hard-wired to the Speak 750, and should it get damaged, it can’t be replaced.
While it does have the advantage that the cable can’t be misplaced, having such an expensive item become junk because a $0.50 part of it gets broken seems remarkably silly. And, it doesn’t consider a future where USB-A will be in decline and USB-C is the new norm.
One nice design choice is the ring of LEDs around the circumference of the speaker that have multiple uses. If you touch the battery symbol, they show you its level, but these are reused for volume level cleverly.
The only issue with these control buttons and feedback LEDs is that they’re only fully visible looking down directly on the speaker and are more difficult to see from the side.
Where this device shows cleaner thinking is with the clarity of the microphones and how the output from the speaker is protected from any cross-talk. The Speak 750 picks up voices at good range and delivers that to the other end of the conference call effectively.
Like the Jabra PanaCast 20, the Speak 750 adheres to the UC compatibility model, making it globally useful with all Unified Communications platforms. It is also possible to pre-programme the custom button on the speaker to use Google Assistant, Siri or even speed-dial a mobile phone.
Softphone functionality allows the unit to be configured with Microsoft Teams or Zoom as the preferred method.
This functionality, like so much here, is designed to make the Speak 750 quick to set up and ready for use in the shortest possible time. That fits well with the battery power options, making it perfect for salespeople on a road trip or working in remote locations.
It’s not often that we get to review a product you can’t buy, however much money you have, but Jabra’s Hybrid Working in a Box appears to fall into that category.
What’s most bizarre about the box is that when it is opened video plays via a small tablet computer mounted in the box lid, providing an annoying blipvert each time you access the contents.
Not sure who devises things like this, but there appears to be substantial confusion in the message it relays.
As for the two components that make up the fantasy combo, we’re more optimistic about those, bought alone or together, as they’re both decent solutions.
Neither of them is cheap, and more affordable options are available, but they’re both very well made and built for their purpose.
If you have the budget for supporting home working and daily video meetings are part of that scheme, then these are precisely the level of equipment that needs to be considered.
Just don’t ask Jabra for its Hybrid Working in a Box option since it only appears to exist for reviewers.