Time for a new device to review! This time we have a new desk phone: the SIP-T56A from Yealink. Matt at Jenne.com kindly sent me this unit for review, after we expressed interest in the Yealink line.
The T56A is designed for Skype for Business use. It does support expansion modules, as well as Bluetooth & Wi-Fi connectivity, and plays nice with Office 365.
Would Yealinks serve as a good alternative to Polycom phones, if we couldn’t get a Polycom (or the customer didn’t like them)? Will they stand up to the daily grind? How well do they work with Skype for Business?
Let’s find out!
I unboxed the T56A as soon as it arrived. Pulling it out, I did a quick comparison to the Polycoms we have around the office. The T56A weighs about the same as those, but it’s wider. You’ll need a little desk space for it.
It’s a pretty straightforward phone console. Buttons for hold, transfer, volume, mute, etc. Build quality’s solid; nothing about this feels flimsy or loose.
The phone comes with a big touch screen attached. You can’t adjust the touch screen on the T56, but at least it’s low-glare. You can lower its brightness too, under Settings > Basic > Display > Backlight.
The T56 doesn’t need a separate power adapter if you use PoE (but one is optional). I plugged this in to a PoE network cable.
Issues: Signing In
The phone booted as soon as I plugged in the PoE cable. It brought me to a nice simple start window within about 20 seconds.
Once the phone finished startup, it brought me to a Sign In menu right away. I had three choices: An Extension/PIN sign-in, a Skype for Business sign-in, or a Web sign-in.
(Side note: Since the phone sent me straight into Sign In, I didn’t realize for several minutes that I could just hit Back a few times and reach the phone’s main menu!)
Now, here’s where I had the one issue. I had some difficulty getting signed in. It wanted me to use an extension and PIN at first, but I didn’t have those. (I did try my previous phone’s extension and PIN, but alas, no use.)
Next I opted for the Skype User Sign In. We run Skype for Business Server 2015 on-prem, and this phone used a PoE cable to connect. Should be no problem at all, right?
I entered my sign-in address (email), username (the same email), and my Skype4B password. Took me a couple tries to figure this out; the instructions didn’t specify the format.
When I did get the right combination, I saw the following error: “Cert web service not found.”
Hmmm. Did we have an issue with our on-prem Front End? I checked with the Consulting team. No, the Front End’s fine.
I checked online and found the solution: In default settings, the T56A only accepts Trusted Certificates. This can inhibit initial sign-ins, even on secured Skype for Business Front Ends.
Luckily, the fix is simple. Yealink has it documented on their Support site: Phone Cannot Get Provisioned with Certificate Error – Yealink Support
The phone also has a Web administrative menu. You access it by entering the phone’s assigned IP into your web browser, like most such devices (e.g. “http://192.168.1.1”). The instructions contain the default login & password for this admin menu.
The fix involves disabling the Trusted Certificate Only option in the admin menu, under the Security tab. Once I did this, I discovered a very handy shortcut. Instead of returning to the phone and re-entering my login, I could sign into Skype4B right from the admin menu!
All I had to do was click the Account tab, enter my login & password, and boom. The phone recognized the sign-in and displayed its main screen. Ready for testing!
Using Skype for Business on the T56A
The T56A main screen shows favorited Skype contacts. You have a bottom toolbar with four options: Favorites, History, Contacts, and Menu. Menu gives you the Calendar, Voice Mail, Status, Setting, and Meet Now buttons. All styled consistently with Skype for Business.
The phone’s DEAD-simple to work with (heh heh). I replaced my normal desk phone, a Polycom CX300, with it to test out. I anticipated some learning curve, of course…it would take me a couple days to familiarize myself with the different ways to make & handle calls, right?
Nope! Within minutes I had this phone down. Unlock PIN set, favorites configured, and I know where & how to change my Presence status in two taps.
I connected my Jabra Motion Office headset to the T56A as well, using the headset port on the back. No configuration necessary.
Now, the most important aspect of a phone: Call Quality.
Since I replaced my Polycom with the T56A, it handled all my calls for the past week. The handset is marked HD, and judging by call quality, it’s true. Everyone’s voices came through as clear as could be, whether co-worker (internal) or customer (external).
(Even the recorded spam message came through nice and clear. No idea how they got my number…)
To illustrate the call quality, let me draw a comparison. When you talk with your co-workers on one device, and then switch to another, you can tell which device is clearer, can’t you? You already know their voice. Your brain knows how they should sound. So when one device carries their voice sharper than the other, you notice.
That’s what happened during my T56A testing. Voices came through sharper on the T56A than on my prior phone (the Polycom CX300).
I found out afterward that this happens, at least in part, due to Yealink’s “Noise Proof” technology. The phone actually blocks out background noise while you’re on a call. I’ve seen this demonstrated on other phones before. The fact that I didn’t think of it until well after my calls says Yealink did a good job with their own version.
The Web Admin Menu: Yealink’s Secret Superpower
The Web administrative menu is incredible on these phones…I can configure every aspect of the phone from my browser. From changing ringtones to upgrading firmware.
Not only does that save a HUGE amount of provisioning time, it means I can totally avoid hunching over the phone, tapping out letters on the touch screen.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s great that the T56A has a touch screen in the first place. The screen has a good response rate, analogous to an Android smartphone. But if I can save a few minutes typing on my laptop’s keyboard, so much the better!
Having a comprehensive Web admin menu makes a big difference for IT professionals. It means we can provision devices remotely, with ease.
All we need is the phone’s IP address when it’s plugged into the network. The IP address is under Settings > Status. With that, we can take care of Skype for Business configuration, security updates, directory control, and so on. The user just has to plug the phone in!
The Verdict: An Excellent Desk Phone for Skype for Business Users
I showed the T56A to a colleague. He handles hardware deployment for most of our Skype for Business customers. Most of the time he deploys Polycom phones, with Jabra or Plantronics headsets.
He saw what this device can do and his eyes almost popped out of his head! “Why didn’t we have this before?!” He started throwing out names of customer sites where he could place them. I stopped him at #5. He could have kept going. Coming from him, an IT pro who’s worked with dozens of device manufacturers over the past 25 years, I consider that high praise.
You can get the Yealink SIP-T56A from Jenne.com.
Next up I’ll test the T56A’s brother, the Yealink T58A. I’ll include a comparison of the two models, and good use cases for both. See you back here next time!