Review: Invoxia NVX 610 New Generation Desktop Phone
Normally, we would have expected to write a glowing review of Invoxia's NVX 610 Desktop Phone ($499/$599) -- a truly beautiful new accessory -- but after several weeks of testing it, we can only say that we've come away from the experience puzzled. On the surface, the French-designed NVX 610 appears to be cut from the same conceptual cloth as Alitgen's iFusion SmartStation, a desktop handset and speakerphone with an integrated iPhone dock, but in reality, Invoxia has taken a substantially different path. iFusion allows any iPhone to act like a conventional phone, but NVX 610 is more like an ultra-expensive Skype phone that just happens to have iOS device integration and design influences, with real-world performance that we can only describe as underwhelming. Updated January, 2012 with additional details.
On a positive note, NVX 610 is a gorgeous desktop phone—the sort of design that Apple might have come up with had it cared to produce legacy telephone products. Mimicking the iPhone 4, it has a glass top and matching plastic bottom with a thicker silver center, here a metal perforated grill revealing a total of eight speakers that run from left to front to right, plus eight microphones for a very unique speakerphone feature discussed below. A USB-connected handset that also looks like an elongated iPhone 4 with a rubber earcup fashionably dangles off the top of the unit, held off of the glass surface with one of three included colored rubber triangles. The triangle attaches with magnets to the right spot on the unit’s top, and when the handset’s resting on it, it performs as if it’s been hung up. A plastic passive stand attaches to the back if you want to use an iPad with the unit, though you will need to supply your own Dock Connector to USB cable to make the electronic connection.
To be clear, Invoxia has done such a great job with the industrial design of NVX 610 that we were beyond excited just to see it sitting on a desk. While it’s obviously very derivative of Apple’s style, all of the parts come together with the sort of heft and sparkle one would expect for the crazy high price tag; if NVX 610 had performed as we’d expected, it wouldn’t have been a mainstream product, but it would still have been a slam dunk for “price no object” sorts of customers. We would have had no qualms about recommending it in at least a limited fashion to some of our readers.
The problem is that NVX 610 is a somewhat bizarre accessory, and not quite as well-conceived as one might imagine from its looks. Unlike 99% of Bluetooth 2.1-capable accessories, which begin a friendly handshaking process the first time you turn them on or otherwise have a conspicuous button to initiate pairing, NVX 610 doesn’t work like that. It wants you to plug your iOS device into its dock, then download Invoxia’s app, before it will initiate Bluetooth pairing. If you’ve already paired one Bluetooth device, it may have issues when you go to pair the second one. And if you try to make a call from your iPhone through the NVX 610, leveraging its handset or speakerphone features over Bluetooth, they might not work properly.
Over our several weeks of testing, most of the calls we tried to make this way had serious, inexplicable problems. On one call, we’d be told that all of our words were echoing back, a problem that seemed to be exacerbated by switching between the handset and speakerphone; on another call, we’d be told that we couldn’t be heard at all, even though the NVX 610’s beautiful volume dial/mute button had not been in any way engaged. We repeatedly tried making outbound calls and found our iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S units shifting from the Bluetooth connection back to their own integrated speakers, only sometimes working long enough to finish a call. Incoming calls sometimes rang on NVX 610’s own speakers, complete with one of several unique ringtones; at other times, the unit sat silently for no apparent reason. Never before had we tested a “desktop phone” accessory that seemed so unwilling to make or receive phone calls reliably.
This led us to try and figure out what was going on with the unit, and eventually to discover that although NVX 610 is billed as a desktop phone, it’s really more of a super-expensive conduit for making Skype and other SIP calls. When you run the Invoxia application, it prompts you to input your Skype account information and/or SIP information, allowing you to sign up for a SIP account with a given country’s carrier partner if you don’t have one already. Ideally, it’s supposed to merge your Skype and iPhone contacts into a single list, though the latest 2.0 version of the software instead appears to keep those lists separate in left-right swipable pages. While the pitch for the unit appears to be that you can make all of your calls from one device, the reality seems to be more complex: Invoxia wants you to primarily use your iOS device as a Skype or SIP dialer, then use the handset or speakerphone built into the accessory to handle your VoIP calls. Connecting your iOS device to the dock is more to complete unnecessary omissions in the accessory’s own hardware than to empower an iPhone to do more than it could on its own—and yes, we must underscore, even an iPod touch or iPad can do most of what NVX 610 needs without the need for the networking hardware inside this accessory. We had trouble getting some iPhone cases to work inside the dock, but others were fine, enabling connected iPhones to properly charge and interface with the unit.
The oddities continued with the way NVX 610 interfaced with our network. To make Skype or SIP calls, you need to connect it with an Ethernet cable to your network, as it has no wireless hardware of its own. It doesn’t even seem to be able to place these calls through an iPhone, as weird as that sounds—NVX 610 wants to rely on its own hardware to make the VoIP connection. Thus, when you dive into the settings menu, you realize that the Invoxia app won’t even connect to Skype or an SIP service unless NVX 610 has been wired into your network. Our success in making and receiving Skype calls was regrettably as spotty as the iPhone dialing situation: calls to and from Skype accounts routinely failed even when we were in the same room with the other person, or trying to test dial Skype’s own servers, even after the Invoxia app said that it was connected to Skype’s network.
There was a single bright spot with NVX 610, and that was the strength of its speakerphone performance—specifically the speaker part. Invoxia’s eight-speaker array delivered cleaner, bigger sound than we’ve ever heard from a desktop speakerphone accessory before. Unfortunately, it was offset by the aforementioned echoing sound that was noted to different degrees by two different callers, as well as less impressive sound over the comparatively plain handset. Under most circumstances, we would have been better off just making phone calls through an iPhone, or VoIP calls through various iOS applications.
Overall, our experience with NVX 610 was seriously disappointing; in fact, the performance was so downright bizarre that it’s hard to believe that anything we were seeing was from a product that was ready to hit the market at a $499 (introductory) or $599 (regular) price. In its current form, NVX 610 needs a bunch of under-the-hood work before it will perform in a manner that will satisfy most iOS users; until then, it will remain an impressively beautiful but not particularly useful piece of desktop hardware.
Update January 24, 2012: Following our initial review, we were sent a firmware updated version of the NVX610 that was supposed to improve the somewhat quixotic performance we experienced with our review unit. On a positive note, we were able to make regular telephone calls using the NVX610 as a Bluetooth speakerphone or traditional handset, though there were still some very weird limitations. First, we could only start to use the speakerphone or handset once the call had been started and answered on the iPhone itself, and even then, callers reported major echoing issues with the speakerphone. Second, cellular calls can only be initiated with the iPhone’s own Phone app, despite Invoxia’s nearly identical interface within its own app. It’s unclear as to whether Invoxia will be able to fix these types of issues with firmware and app updates, though the company is clearly trying to offer both, and the latest version of the Invoxia app (3.1, shown above) demonstrates that Invoxia is bringing in as many Apple-like user interface touches as possible.
It appears as of this date that Invoxia is in the process of revising the hardware, as a new version of the NVX610 handset (shown in the photo from the 2012 International CES above) now appears to include integrated dialing functionality, enabling the unit to be used without an iOS device as its dialing conduit. The new handset looks less like the iPhone 4, removing the wrap-around silver band and using a two-tone color scheme for the back surface. If there’s more to report on the product or company going forward, we’ll let you know.