A few weeks back, I was lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to try out the Lenovo ThinkSmart View, a standalone device dedicated to Microsoft Teams. Many of you may be thinking "erm, why would you want that?" and the simple answer (which I'll expand on in a minute) is performance. Too many times has Teams rendered my machine unusable and I spend a large chunk of my day in meetings. Would this improve my experience?
In this post, I'll cover what the device is, why you might need it, a run through of the set up, initial thoughts, longer term and then a wrap up.
What is the Lenovo ThinkSmart View
Let's start with what the device is. It's an Android powered device with an 8" LCD, with a camera, speaker and microphone that allows you to offload the running of Teams to a separate device. It has a separate power supply and can run entirely independently of your PC but can also synch up so that you can still share screen on your PC even though the meeting is running on your device.
Overall, it is a great looking piece of kit that feels solid with a silky smooth surface and very stable when in either landscape or portrait mode. It includes a manual camera shutter so you can ensure that you are not being watched. For me, the speakerphone capability was hugely useful and like having a conference phone on your desk but you can also connect with bluetooth headsets if you are in a more exposed area like an open plan office.
You can see full details on the Lenovo site.
Why would you need it?
For me, the reason I was looking for a device like this was that my Surface Pro 6 often slows down massively when on Teams calls. I will admit that I am a tab hoarder and often have multiple profiles open in the new Edge but the amount of memory that Teams takes up for a call with a number of people on is huge. Too often, I was unable to do things on my PC during a meeting, hugely limiting my productivity.
I also like to have Teams front and centre and having a dedicated device showing a summary of my day and with easy access to chat was something I am keen on. Having a single screen showing your upcoming events while you are working on a document and comparing with a webpage means that you do not miss things coming up, especially if you are focusing and don't want notifications.
Finally, it is a good quality speakerphone meaning that you don't have to be wearing headphones in meetings all day. Being constricted for long hours really adds to the drain of remote working constantly.
What was the setup experience like?
I will be honest that my initial impressions were hugely underwhelming. It only had meetings and calls available and felt very limited. This was surprising and not what I had expected from one of the Teams devices.
Thankfully, after a little digging, I found this article on Teams Devices and confirmed that it had not been set up as a Teams Device. I logged it into my tenant and then went into the Teams Admin area - if you don't have access to the Teams Admin area, make sure you know someone who is as this is essential to support the device.
From Teams Admin, I could now upgrade to the latest version and also set it as a Teams Device. It took a few tries at doing this and I found it worked best by making it a scheduled update but later that evening, I finally had the device that I was expecting.
The interface feels very slick and navigating takes place quickly. As well as having meetings and making calls, you have the ability to access the Teams Hub and can chat with people too. Chat can either be done on the touch screen or you can connect up to your PC and so use your PC keyboard. It's simple to understand and move between the different features and feels natural doing it.
An interesting area is how it interacts with your PC as well. When sharing screen, you can still connect with the PC client and share your screen from there but as it is not running the video, it uses less RAM there (one of the big reasons I wanted a separate device). It connected simply and worked well, giving that seamless experience.
What about the meeting sound and vision? The quality of the camera is very average and the angle of the device means that you are going to be getting that view of any chins that you have been hoarding during lockdown which isn't ideal. From the perspective of the person with the device, the audio is just right as a speakerphone but I did hear some comments about the volume of typing on the keyboard so you may need to make liberal use of the mute. The background blur also causes problems and stops the camera working at all in many cases so I decided against using that.
The biggest missing feature I found was tasks as would love to be able to pin my ToDos on the screen as a reminder of what to do that day alongside the calendar itself. Hopefully something that will come soon.
I've now been using the device for a couple of months with the comments above being for the first few days of usage. What are my thoughts now?
To be honest, I've started using the device less and less. It's nice to have there for my quick view of upcoming meetings but the quality of the video and audio became more of an issue. I like to be looking at people for meetings and having that separate device when I had content on screen gave off the view that I wasn't watching too much. The smaller screen was also hard to look at other people's content and I found myself having to move closer to see, giving people a lovely view of my forehead and not much else.
The link with the PC that I lauded at first soon became less stable and would often not be there, leading me to have to join the meeting twice. This would use just as much RAM on the PC and completely removed the point I was trying to overcome. I would also run Teams as typing on the device was so slow and clunkier than on a phone due to where it was and the angle. Which brings me to the one point that could start me using the device again more.
At the time of writing, the Cortana integration is only available in the US as a preview. To have a standalone device that I could ask when my next meeting was or what tasks I had left to do that day would definitely interest me. Would it work well? I don't know as I couldn't find anyway to enable it at all here in the UK. Hopefully this preview will reach a bit further and open up more of that voice control which is great in a home office with no-one to disturb. We'll see.
So, the big question - would I recommend this device?
This is a really tricky one. It's great looking and I enjoyed using it - having that extra screen to see your chats, upcoming meetings and unread Teams messages is nice. Being able to not to have to use headphones and still get a clear sound was great as I have definitely been feeling distant from having headphones on all day long.
However, it's an expensive device just for these things. What would make it worthwhile is to be able to offload the full use of Teams from the PC and reduce that memory utilisation. For me, it just doesn't quite do this. The video quality isn't good enough and I don't want that up angle nose shot too much. The sharing of the desktop PC screen is too inconsistent.
The use of Cortana may tip things back into the firm recommend option but at the moment, I can't quite justify the cost for what it offers to others. I will be keeping it on my desk for now and keep an eye out for those Cortana updates.
Photo courtesy of me!