Chris Mills, an attorney in the New Jersey office of Fisher & Phillips, wrote to me yesterday to say that he sometimes uses his iPhone as a speakerphone but wishes that the volume was louder so that it would be easier for others in the room to hear the speaker. He asked me whether the Scosche BoomCAN that I reviewed yesterday might be solution to this problem. It is, although there are some limitations. I've been asked about making the iPhone speakerphone louder in the past so I'm using this post to share my answer to that attorney with all iPhone J.D. readers.
First, the basics. Hopefully, you know that you can turn your iPhone into a speakerphone simply by pressing the "speaker" button on the phone:
Apple uses noise cancellation technology so that when the other person is speaking and that voice comes through the iPhone's internal speaker, that voice isn't picked up again by the iPhone's microphone and send back to that person (causing an echo).
If you find that your iPhone's internal speaker isn't loud enough when using your iPhone as a speakerphone, you can certainly use an external speaker to make it louder. The Scosche BoomCAN that I reviewed yesterday and which you can pick up on Amazon for around $20 is a very portable and inexpensive option, but obviously you can use more expensive external speakers to get even better sound.
Unfortunately, in my experience, when you use an external speaker there is a greater chance that the person on the other end of the call will hear an echo when speaking. I suppose the iPhone knows how to cancel noise when the source is the iPhone's own internal speaker, but once you add an external speaker into the mix, the iPhone will start to send back some of that same audio. You won't hear anything wrong on your end, but the person on the other end will hear a slight echo. It isn't horrible, but it might be enough to be annoying. You can eliminate this echo by manually tapping the mute button on your iPhone. The other person will still sound loud through your external speaker, and they won't hear any echo. Of course, once it is time for you to talk you'll need to turn off mute and then press it again when you are done so that the other person is talking. For some conversations this will be a real pain. Other times, though, you may find yourself on a big conference call where you don't plan on speaking much anyway and you would normally stay on mute for most of the call, and in these circumstances, using the mute button is not a big deal.
There are more expensive solutions to this problem, such as an external Bluetooth speaker that has a speakerphone function. Examples include the Soundmatters foxLv2 ($200), the Jawbone JAMBOX ($180) and the Uniden BTS200 ($100). I haven't had the opportunity to test a speaker in the category yet. They all advertise some form of noise and echo cancellation to eliminate the problem I noted above, but frankly I've seen both good and bad reviews of the speakerphone functions on these types of devices.
So if you find yourself wishing that you could get more speaker volume when you use your iPhone as a speakerphone, there are several solutions. It really just depends on how much you want to spend. If you are looking for something that is portable and inexpensive, and either don't mind the slight echo that it will cause or are willing to use your mute button to avoid it, then the BoomCAN that I reviewed yesterday is a good solution.