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Zoom Just Launched a New Device for Your WFH Battle Station

Zoom’s DTEN ME is a $600 tablet designed specifically for video conferencing

Photo: Zoom/DTEN ME

As Covid-19 continues to keep offices shuttered around the world, businesses are scrambling to adjust to the “new normal,” with many employees stuck working from home. Now, tech companies are jumping at the opportunity to sell gadgets that facilitate an extended work-from-home reality.

Last week, Zoom debuted a new category of dedicated video calling devices under Zoom for Home branding. The first home device, the DTEN ME, costs $599, and is an oversized 27-inch tablet with three video cameras, eight high-definition microphones, and easy access to Zoom calls when they’re scheduled.

Unlike traditional meeting-room hardware, like Google’s Meet devices, which are designed for use with a large TV and microphones dotted across a meeting-room table, Zoom’s device is designed to live on a desk alongside a computer and be used by one person at a time.

For remote workers, like me, who spend much of their day in virtual meetings with their teams, the idea of a dedicated device for video calls sounds ideal. Not only are the webcams and microphones embedded in most laptops terrible, but I also find that my laptop is a distraction when I’m on video calls — there are too many tempting distractions just a few clicks away.

And up until now, it’s been too much work to dramatically improve your call quality by upgrading your webcam and audio setup. My own approach involved fiddling with expensive DSLR cameras and studio-quality microphones. Most people won’t bother with that at all.

With a dedicated calling device like these new Zoom for Home tablets, that’s all taken care of at potentially less than the cost of building your own rig. Previously, buying high-quality dedicated meeting-room hardware like Google’s would have cost upwards of $1,999 and required a contract with the company.

In my new remote work situation, I share a home office with my partner, but we both need to leave the room to take turns making calls, dragging our laptops and headphones with us. If I had a Zoom for Home device, I’d likely set it up in a corner of the spare room and step in there to take calls, as if it were a tiny meeting room.

Alternatively, companies could issue employees dedicated tablets for a reduced price. While that might be the route smaller companies take, larger businesses prefer dedicated meeting hardware since it’s easier to manage — the user’s level of technical skill is irrelevant, because all they need to do is put something on their desk and tap on their next meeting. Out of the box, these devices are personalized for the user, which levels the playing field for everyone by providing consistent video and audio quality across the board.

Microsoft unveiled its own vision for Teams Displays, which function as a work hub for a single employee.

That’s important for industries that historically were resistant to change and are only adapting to remote work as a result of the pandemic, such as lawyers, civil engineers, and accountants. In Toronto, for example, city councillors are conducting planning and voting sessions over Zoom for the first time in history, and in New York, you even can get legally married via video call for the first time.

Unlike most laptops, Zoom’s calling hardware also adds the ability to draw on a shared virtual whiteboard using the touchscreen, which makes it easier to explain an idea or work through a design problem. While it was possible to create a shared whiteboard using tools like Microsoft Whiteboard, doing so properly required a touch-friendly device or, even better, one that supports a stylus for drawing. Most people don’t own these already, meaning companies would have to provide them in addition to their laptops.

Zoom is early to the “home meeting” space, but it isn’t the only company building these devices. Microsoft unveiled its own vision for Teams Displays, which function as a work hub for a single employee (though the company hasn’t released actual hardware yet). Facebook’s Portal TV attaches to any TV to provide instant video calling, but it only supports Messenger and WhatsApp or the company’s Workplace meeting tool.

Both Microsoft and Facebook are currently marketing their products for home use, but it’s easy to see them being repositioned for use in post-Covid-19 offices as well, whenever they’re safe to reopen.

In that future, where most staff remain remote but some choose to go to an office, those spaces will likely trade meeting rooms for simple calling booths equipped with these dedicated calling devices. When it’s time for a meeting, participants may step into their own closet-sized space to join virtually, rather than sitting around a table, to retain their commitment to remote-friendliness.

Zoom’s push into the home is a smart bet that almost every company will support remote work for years to come. Offices might not be entirely dead, but it’s clear that the future of work involves a lot of working from home, even when this is all over.

Fascinated by how code and design is shaping the world. I write about the why behind tech news. UX Manager @ Shopify. https://twitter.com/ow

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