3 ways to improve smart phone call quality

New technologies such as HD Voice have promise, but here's what you can do now

Published: May 16, 2014 10:00 AM

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Despite the current fascination with smart phone cameras, streamed content, games, and other apps, voice quality is likely to re-emerge as a critical feature simply because the U.S. population is aging and more people rely on their smart phones as the main phone in their households. As I pointed out in "3 Reasons Voice Quality on Smart Phones Still Sucks," smart phone makers have been dragging their feet on the road to better voice quality.

One of the most promising developments for improving voice quality is HD Voice, a technology that works by transmitting voice calls over wider frequency ranges at higher sampling rates. Sprint, which has HD Voice in about two dozen of its phones, demonstrated the technology for me at a press preview in New York City two years ago—and it seemed to work well. During the demo, it was as though the Sprint rep was speaking directly into my ear.

The other big carriers are set to roll out their own HD Voice networks and compatible phones over the next 12 months.

But before you get too excited, be aware that Sprint's HD Voice network currently reaches only a few million of its customers, though the carrier promises "nationwide coverage" by midyear. Also, even when HD Voice becomes more available, it will work only between compatible phones within a carrier's networks. So, for example, Sprint customers won't be able to have HD Voice-quality conversations with their Verizon friends.

It's uncertain when these drawbacks will be addressed, if ever. In the meantime, here are three steps you can try to make your conversations as clear as they can be.

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1. Pump up the volume

Your phone's default volume setting is probably less than optimal for making and taking calls in noisy situations, such as when you're outdoors. While in the phone app, push the volume-up button to maximum. This advice may sound simple, but sometimes people go into settings and mistakenly turn up "sound" volume for multimedia playback—which doesn't raise call volume. If privacy isn't a concern, you can even switch to speaker phone during the call.

2. Stick it in your ear

Consider a set of stereo headphones. Many are designed to work with cell phones. Generally, over-the-ear-designs, particularly models with noise-canceling mechanisms, do a better job of eliminating the background noises. And some claim their microphones can reduce gab-garbling noises for the person to whom you are speaking. Just remember to take them off when you're driving.

3. Check the settings

Some Android phones, such as those made by Samsung, LG, and Sony, let you fiddle with voice-quality settings in the main settings menu. On late-model Samsung Galaxy phones, for example, these menu items are called Noise Reduction and Personal Call settings. On LG phones, there's a Personalize Call Settings tab.

Sony Xperia Z phones do something a little more interesting: Their Slow Talk setting literally puts more of a delay between each word spoken by the person to whom you're speaking. It seems like a great way to manage the rapid-fire repartee of a would-be auctioneer. It's not clear if these settings actually make calls sound "better," but they alter the sound coming from the phone's earpiece. And you may find that's all you need.

—Mike Gikas

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