Updated Review: Lenovo ThinkSmart View for Teams

Lenovo ThinkSmart Display

 

Updated: December 2020

Now, I don’t need to tell you just how fast #MicrosoftTeams is being adopted across organisations globally, but one thing we are seeing is the shire explosion of new form factor devices by leading (and new) manufacturers into the Teams Collaboration space. Some of these new devices fits into the new category of Microsoft Teams Displays.

Microsoft Teams Displays – are a new category of all-in-one dedicated Teams devices featuring an ambient touchscreen, and a hands-free / touch-free experience “powered by Cortana” (though this is currently only available in the US only at this point). 

One of these vendors is Lenovo, who are no means a “new kid on the block” when it comes to end user devices such as tablets, laptops, and desktops, but they are kind of new in the Teams Collaboration Device Space. Interestingly, Lenovo are now also supplying the “PC” component of, not only their new Teams Rooms Systems, but also that of Poly!

You may ask why, when employees have access to laptops, web browsers, smart phones and tablets, all more than capable of running Microsoft Teams, so we need a dedicated Teams Collaboration Display….

Introducing the Lenovo ThinkSmart View

The Lenovo ThinkSmart View is a dedicated personal business communications device for hosting and taking part in Microsoft Teams audio and video calls – the devices of which can be managed by the Lenovo ThinkSmart Manager software, a proprietary software application built for IT departments to easily manage their fleet of ThinkSmart devices.

Lenovo ThinkSmart Display
Picture of Lenovo ThinkSmart display for Teams

Designed and certified exclusively for Microsoft Teams, Lenovo calls this a “…collaborative smart device that works from an individual’s workspace…”  – it’s a collaboration device really designed for execs or those with a pop-up home office who want to be “free from their laptop or tablet” but still need a video rich and audio rich endpoint and a price point that really appeals.

Lenovo are attempting to “reimagine the personal workspace” with Microsoft Teams displays by integrating the Teams collaboration and communication experience into the home and workplace with high fidelity audio and video.

So, what can you use it for?

Meetings – and it’s really good at them too!

Most of what the device can do is set out by, and limited by what Microsoft allows the device to do since the collaboration device is powered by the Microsoft Teams Android client that runs on the device. Initially, and when first reviewed the device earlier this year, the device was really just for joining meetings and for Teams Phone features, however the update in September 2020 brought the FULL Teams Mobile features to the device including:

  • Phone
    • Teams Call / Video Meetings with full phone UX for Calls, Meetings & Voicemail
    • Common Area and Personal Phone Support
    • Hot Desking Support
  • Meetings
    • Support Live Captions / Subtitles
    • Full video calling, screen sharing / viewing
    • Ambient display support – for notifications, and activity views
    • Raise hand support
    • Better Together for Calling & Meeting
  • IM and Chat
    • Full support for starting, participating, navigating and interacting with Chat 
  • Files
    • Full access to your recent files and full access to your OneDrive
  • Organisational View
    • View your Team and company org chart

My other favourite is the ability for colleagues (or most likely, your kids to leave you a message, voice memo or video memo) on the device if you are away from your desk (more likely..in the loo or getting a coffee!)

What’s in the box?

This is really simple.  The ThinkSmart View device and a UK plug.

What’s the Price?

The retail for these is £229 plus VAT – so I definitely put them into the affordable gadget category for most managers/exec that work at home or need a dedicated Teams Video endpoint in their office.

What’s the Spec?

As I said – think of this as a giant Teams Phone. Its runs the same native Teams Mobile app but is perfect as a Teams On-the-go collaboration device – as long as you have a power-plug to power it up as it doesn’t have a built in battery. With this device you get:

  • 5MP wide angle (720p) with a physical camera shutter to cover it for privacy.
  • Supports software background blur in Teams meetings
  • Built in microphone with mute switch to temporarily cut the audio.
  • 1.75″ 10W full-range speaker
  • Bluetooth® 4.2 (LE) – pairing allows use with a headset and support auto device lock.
  • 8″ HD (1200 x 800) IPS touchscreen with auto rotate for landscape / portrait mode

Lenovo ThinkSmart View in portrait mode

Usage

The ThinkSmart View is an interesting form factor device from Lenovo. It’s not immediately clear as to the audience it has been designed for. I think initially it’s designed for the exec or manager’s office – but with the 2020 being the year of “remote working”, this is ideally suited as a second / dedicated Teams end-point… 

Audio is surprising good – rather than the often tinny sounds you get from laptop speakers, the 10-Watt full-range speaker in the ThinkSmart View has 2 passive tweeters allowing it to produce loud, crisp and clear audio, and testing on the receiving end (yes, I called my self), the audio picked up by the 360-degree microphone array was also “room system” quality in my opinion. Audio is important…. with virtual meetings, the spoken voice is the most important aspect of the call/meeting and while video is king, now more than ever, you can more easily forgive poor quality video as long as audio is sharp and clear.

For anyone working at home, this is much better than having a Teams Phone on your desk and it’s actually something that would be great in another room (or area) of your home/office, but of course it’s limited to use within #MicrosoftTeams which probably limits that – there’s certainly no danger in your kids or other family members using it for WhatsApp calls for example – though they might inadvertently video call your boss via Teams!

Within the “office environment”, the Lenovo ThinkSmart display can also fill the need for a “walk up and use” video collab device which can be placed in a small focus space or breakout area  – especially as it supports “hot desk mode” – the lack of a handset makes it a bit in practical for a common area but you can pair it with a headset (again – great to dedicated use, no so much for common area use).

I think for anyone working at home, this is much better than having a Teams Phone on your desk and it’s actually something that would be great in another room (or area) of your home/office, but of course it’s limited to use within #MicrosoftTeams which probably limits that – there’s certainly no danger in your kids or other family members using it for WhatsApp calls for example – though they might inadvertently video call your boss via Teams!

Competition

This a new(ish) form factor, though not entirely unique to Lenovo. The other Teams Collaboration device manufacturer in this space today is Yealink – who’s device is due to launch early 2021 and is rumoured to have a battery as well as being mains powered which is the main thing missing from the Lenovo in my opinion. 

Summary

As you’d expect from Lenovo, build quality is excellent. There is a premium feel to the device and its weighted on one-side, presumably to prevent accidental movement or repositioning. Its not heavy though – no heavier than a Bluetooth speaker the weight just helps with positioning and premium feel. 

At just over £200 (RRP is £240 as of Dec 2020), it’s a great device to buy a handful of, to test out the use case within your organisation – a few of the clients I work with have done just this. 

Click here to visit the Lenovo Website

What’s new in Teams for August 2020? – Spotlight, Call Merge, and more

Teams Aug 2020 Update logo

Microsoft has posted its August monthly wrap-up to look back at all the new features and capabilities added (or announced) in Microsoft Teams as part of the August 2020 update.  One thing to note (as my commenters often point out) is that, as with all these updates, as that Microsoft announce, the rolling out of these features and due to the gradual rollout, not all customers will get these at the same time!

Meetings and Calling Enhancements

With Teams Calling and Meetings being a constant area of innovation, demand (COVID and post COVID) and of course immense competition from the likes of Zoom in the meetings space, it won’t surprise you to hear there are tons of new improvements coming.  All these features have been designed of course to enhance the user experience in Microsoft Teams and include: –

  • The addition of Spotlight mode,
  • Enhancements to Meeting Recordings
  • New Call Merge option
  • Chat and Presence enhancements
  • Updated transcribe service (Speaker Attribution)
  • Teams Education Specific Enhancements

Spotlight mode

Said to be going live in the next couple of months (Sept to October), and not to be confused with the “Pin participant” feature, spotlight mode will provide presenters and meeting organisers the ability to lock an individual video feed for all attendees to see during a Teams meeting. This will mean presenters will be able to put someone in the spotlight by heading to the meeting video grid or directly from the Participants panel.

Teams Spotlight video window

Meeting Recording Improvements

Until now, Teams records meetings in Stream which is fine so long as Stream is available within the customers geographic region.  Until such time that Stream is available in all Office 365 Teams regions, a new admin setting is rolling out to let users to store meeting recordings in the Office 365 data centre closest to their region. In addition,

In addition, Microsoft have announced that Microsoft Teams is now fully supported with their “optimised experience” with VMWare Horizon 8, in additional to Citrix and of course, Windows Virtual Desktop, helping meet the increasing demand for collaboration tools to support remote workers and work across Virtual Desktop environments.

Enhancements to Teams Voice (Calling)

Microsoft announced new features for calling in Teams including a new call merge option for both Teams VOIP and PSTN calls which lets users merge several separate calls into a bigger group call.

Another new feature announced was new devices designed that will further enhance the collaboration and meeting experience. The list announced by Microsoft includes a new Windows collaboration displays from Avocor as well as various new Microsoft Teams Rooms setups powered by Yealink, Logitech, and HP.

Merge Calls in Teams

Chat and Presence Enhancements

After two years, Microsoft have finally “fixed” presence, although they announced this as a new feature since the tech behind it was rebuilt based on the updated and new communications APIs. 

Called “real-time presence”, this means that Teams will be able to provide a much more reliable and faster status updates.

Microsoft also announced that they are bringing enhanced Visio integration into Microsoft Teams to make it easier to access, managed and edit Visio files directly through a dedicated Visio tabs within a channel or chat.

Speaker Live Translation with Speaker Attribution

Microsoft is bringing a new Live Transcription with speaker attribution capabilities to Microsoft Teams which rolling out this month (September 2020)

The new Live Transcription feature will give users a new way to follow and review meeting conversations. Once rolled out, users will see two options in the meeting control bar – Recording and Transcription.

Transcripts will be viewed in real-time using the desktop client, or at the end of the meeting on the web application and will be attributed, in line with the speaker rather than the current simple subtitle / closed caption view today.

Teams Education – Enhancements

Teams in Education is different from Teams Commercial as has many discrete and dedicated features that empowers education establishments to use Team to deliver whole class teaching whether it’s for Academy, Adult Ed, Primary, Secondary, or Further/High Education.

There are new Education Insights that have been rolled out in public preview which allows “administrators to monitor digital engagement through system-level engagement monitoring reports which has been designed to provide enhanced visibility into educator best practices in remote instruction” – according to Microsoft. 

Microsoft Teams Edu Insights

Thirsty for more detail?

For the full details, refer to the wider Microsoft Blog here: 

https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/microsoft-teams-blog/what-s-new-in-microsoft-teams-august-2020/ba-p/1619717

 

 

 

New Enterprise Voice Plans PLUS Microsoft to include 120 calling minutes in E5 plans from August 1st

Teams Phone

Microsoft have just announced some changes and enhancements coming to the way their Microsoft Teams “Cloud Voice” services are purchased and licensed.

Firstly, from August 1st, all Office E5/A5 and Microsoft E5/A5 plans will now include 120-minutes per month domestic user calling plans in eight countries at no additional cost. This will be for new and existing E5/A5 users including the following countries: –

  • UK
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Netherlands
  • Spain

Secondly, Microsoft are also adding new Microsoft 365 Enterprise Voice Plans. This will make it easier for customers to add voice to Teams since these new bundles will include That means, in those countries, E5 now ships as a full phone system with PSTN connectivity and user phone numbers/minutes included in the single license.

The new Enterprise Voice bundles are a new offering / add-on that will includes.

  • Phone System,
  • Audio Conferencing, and
  • Domestic calling minutes

The new Voice bundles will come in different sizes and will include a different number of inclusive minutes (similar to how the Calling Plans are purchased today).

Voice Plan 1 works out around £4.50 per user per month cheaper than the previous separate items of Phone System, Audio Conferencing and 120 Minute Calling Plan

Office 365 E5/Microsoft 365 E5 will include PLAN 1 which equates to 120 mins.

About Microsoft Enterprise Voice

Microsoft 365 Enterprise Voice

…is a cloud-based telephony solution that enables users to make and receive PSTN calls in Microsoft Teams. It includes Phone System, Audio Conferencing, and Domestic Calling Plans. These will be now be available in a Plan 1 and Plan 2.

Calling plans

…are what Microsoft call the associated DDI and calling minutes which are assigned to users or common are phones for example and gives users a PSTN phone number and inclusive out-bound minutes to make PSTN calls outbound. Inbound PSTN calls are not minute capped or charged. E5 licenses already include “Phone System” which enables the ability to use Microsoft Teams as a phone, but there is a still a requirement to add either a Microsoft Calling Plan or to use Direct Routing (an SBC and service from an approved Telco) to enable a user to make and receive phone calls.

Pricing

Enterprise Voice Plans (for A3/E3/F3 users)

  • Voice Plan 1 (incudes 120 mins a month): RRP £9.80 
  • Voice Plan 2: (includes TBC mins per month) RRP £16.60

Note: Voice Plan 1 works out around £4.50 per user per month cheaper than the previous separate items of Phone System, Audio Conferencing and 120 Minute Calling Plan

Find out more

To find out more, you can refer to the announcement here:

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/partner-center/announcements/2020-july

Microsoft Teams goes into innovation overdrive with host of new features…

After being criticised for several months now as playing catch up to Zoom, Microsoft has just announced a host of new innovate features in Microsoft Teams that will make virtual interactions much more natural, more engaging, and ultimately, more human.

Microsoft say these new features offer three key benefits

  1. They will help you feel more connected with your team and reduce meeting fatigue.
  2. They will make meetings more inclusive and engaging
  3. They will help streamline work and save time

Microsoft say that it is all about “enabling people everywhere to collaborate, to stay connected, and to discover new ways to be productive from anywhere” and it’s all backed up by months of scientific research and analysis to how people have been working, the pressures and announces they have faced as people have and continue to spend more time in virtual meetings than physical ones.

Let’s start with the Official Microsoft promo video

1. Feeling more connected and reducing meeting fatigue

Together Mode

“Together Mode” is a new meeting experience that will help reduce fatigue during remote collaboration. This feature will place participants in a shared virtual background to make it feel like everyone is sitting in the same room/space with all other meeting participants. Here, Microsoft is aiming to make your video meetings more engaging by helping us focus on the faces and body language of other attendees so that you can pick up the nonverbal cues that are vital for human interaction and something that is often absent from virtual meetings. According to Microsoft “Together mode with auditorium view” is already in private preview and will be rolled out to everyone else by August 2020.

Dynamic View

Also related to video aspect of meetings, the upcoming “Dynamic View” uses AI to dynamically personalise your video meeting view to suit your preferences and needs. Microsoft acknowledged that whilst the new “Together Mode” will offers a great new meeting experience, it’s not intended or suited for every meeting. With Dynamic View, users will be able to access new controls and get the ability to show shared content and specific participants side-by-side as well as have content and layout dynamically adapt to the meeting, number of attendees and content and other activities being drawn upon during the meeting.

An image of the new Dynamic view.
Microsoft image of Teams “Dynamic View”

Dynamic View will build on the other recent meetings enhancements, including the ability to see up to 49 participants (still rolling out) at once on a single screen, and virtual breakout rooms, which is coming later this calendar year.

Video Filters

Microsoft is bringing video filters into Teams to allow users to better customise their online appearance before joining a meeting with the help of common filters you are most likely used to on social media photo tools like Instagram etc. These filters are designed to subtly adjust lighting levels and soften the focus of your camera to make your video more “real”.

Reflect Messaging Extension

Also said to be coming in the next “few” weeks, Microsoft announced a new “Reflect messaging extension” is coming to Teams. Once installed (it’s an extension) Microsoft say it will make it easier for managers, team leaders, and teachers to track their teams’ performance, the status of a project, current events, or a change within the organisation for example. Note: IT admins will need to install the Reflect extension from GitHub, and then make it available to employees in their organization in the message extension menu

Reflect Messaging Extension

Reflect Messaging will also provide the ability to add custom questions to create a poll-like experience for team members.

2. Making meetings more inclusive, engaging, and effective

Live Reactions

Microsoft Teams will soon allow meeting participants to use emojis to share how they feel about the event. Emojis will appear on everyone’s screens, and the instant feedback experience will be similar to the Live feedback feature already available with PowerPoint Live presentations and in Skype Consumer as well as other popular Video Conferencing platforms such as Zoom. The latter will also be available in Microsoft Teams in the future, the company said today, while the Whiteboard app in Teams will be improved with faster load times, sticky notes, text, and drag and drop capabilities.

Emoji Feedback in Teams

Microsoft also is said to be raising the maximum number of Teams meetings participants from 300 people (just rolled out) to 1,000.

Chat Bubbles

Microsoft research suggests that during meetings, “chat has become a much more lively space for conversation and idea-sharing, and offers an option for people to participate in the discussion without having to jump in verbally. But it can be challenging to pay attention to video feeds, presentations, and chats all at the same time“. Currently, Teams users need to manually open a chat window to view the chat screen. This is set to change as Microsoft Teams meetings will soon get support for what they call chat bubbles, which will make chat messages appear on the screen for chat participants while they are in a meeting.

Speaker attribution for live captions and transcripts

Microsoft is also enhancing the live captions features for teams and making transcripts more accessible and fluid also making it easy for participants to see who is speaking. Thsi is similar to what Cisco have done with WebEx in the latest update and it’s great to see this coming to Microsoft Teams later this year. Teams will also get support for more languages, as well as Live transcripts participants can download once the meeting has ended. speaker attribution

New Live Translations with Attributions in Microsoft Teams

Interactive Meetings for 1,000 attendees

Microsoft will soon allow for interactive meetings for up to 1,000 participants to allow for large groups, to come together for meetings or classes. As an alternative to Live Events (which are for town hall and broadcast sessions), Teams will now also allow you to bring more people together to watch a presentation or discussion where Teams will soon support a view-only meeting experience for up to 20,000 participants.

Teams Whiteboard Updates

The Whiteboard feature in Teams will soon be updated with a host of new features making it more aligned to the Windows and iOS version of Whiteboard. This will include faster load times, sticky notes, text, and drag and drop capabilities and will also be optimised for users that don’t have access to a touchscreen device or Surface Hub to participate in whiteboarding sessions during Teams meetings.

An image of Microsoft Whiteboard updates.
Enhanced Whiteboard feature in Teams Meetings

3. Streamlining work and saving time

New Task App

Microsoft have announced a new Task app that will be available in late July/August. The Task app will give Teams users a tab within Teams that unifies all of their tasks and actions across Outlook, ToDo and Planner. In addition, it will support smart lists which will dynamically group things like “Tasks Assigned to me” and will unify tasks across different shared plans, whether you’re on desktop, web, or mobile.

Task App in Microsoft Teams

Suggested Replies

Suggested replies will enable users to utilise quick “AI-generated” responses based on contextual understandings of previous messages. These will work in a similar way to the newly rolled out “auto-replies” in text messages or email, allowing users to reply with a single click to common responses without having to type out a full message in their response.

Suggested Replied in Teams – coming July/August 2020

Microsoft Teams displays

Microsoft has also announced new extended partnerships with Yealink and Lenovo to bring what it calls the “Microsoft Teams display initiative”.

This will allow Teams users to make use of a centralised hardware offering that makes use of an ambient touchscreen coupled with a microphone and a camera to host meetings. Lenovo already have a product about to ship and yesterday announced an extended partnership with Yealink to bring new device categories into the mix later this year / early 2021.

New Teams devices – coming 2021

Touchless Meeting Experiences

Whilst Teams already has support for touchless proximity join, Microsoft has announced a host more touchlessness for its meetings which will include voice commands for leaving a meeting, adding participants, muting and unmuting rooms, adjusting audio volume, turning cameras off and on as well as wirelessly casting to any Teams enabled device.

In conjunction with this, new companion features will be rolling out to the Teams mobile app to provide Teams Rooms remote control features that will allow users to be able to be conduct entire meetings, brainstorming sessions, and presentations without ever having to physically touch meeting room equipment with their hands!

An image of Room remote for Microsoft Teams devices.
Upcoming room remote for Microsoft Teams devices

Summary

This must be one of the biggest sets of updates announced by Microsoft and shows the commitment to driving innovation, inclusion and accessibility.

Teams is the place where people everywhere come together to get work done and I’m seeing an explosive pace of deployment and adoption within my customers at @Cisilion.

One thing is for sure, with all the innovation, new features and changes to Microsoft Teams, a solid and robust Adoption and Change Management programme is needed to ensure users are educated about the changes, given the opportunity to learn and test the new features and that IT and your Teams champions have the chance to help users embrace the new features.

One last time – the new Microsoft Teams

When are these rolling out?

FeatureRoad mapped Launch Date
Together ModeSept 2020
Dynamic viewSept 2020
Video FiltersDec 2020
Reflect Messaging ExtensionAug 2020
Live ReactionsDec 2020
Chat BubblesDec 2020
Speaker Attribution for live captionsAug 2020
Speaker Attribution for live transcriptionsDec 2020
Interactive meetings for 1,000 peopleDec 2020
Whiteboard UpdatesSept 2020
Tasks AppAug 2020
Suggested RepliesAug 2020
Current Roadmap dates for new features