Insync Tech Talk , Tech Expert , technological change , training , upskill , | 2021/06/15 at 2:01pm

Microsoft Teams Rooms: Windows or Android?

By Damien Margaritis 

What a year it’s been. By now, I would have liked to say we’d be coming out of the worst of what COVID had to offer, but unfortunately, I’m writing this from Melbourne’s fourth COVID lockdown – here’s hoping it’s the last…

Melbourne’s lockdown woes aside, many organisations around the world are now looking to make the move back into the office. However, it’s not expected that we will be going back to the “old status quo”: we’ve fast-forwarded what was already occurring organically, and are now well and truly in the hybrid workplace era. This means that we expect to see a smaller percentage of employees back in the office, and a larger percentage of people continuing to work remotely. COVID has really been a forced experiment of sorts, and the results are in: hybrid ways of working are here to stay (hooray!)

Given that many organisations embraced Microsoft Teams to get them through COVID-induced remote ways of working, it makes sense that, as people come back into the office, the Microsoft Teams experience is extended all the way to the meeting room: using Microsoft Teams native meeting room solutions.

 

So what’s available?

If we put Surface Hubs to the side, for now, we now have two main categories of Teams meeting room solutions:

  • Microsoft Teams Room on Windows
  • Microsoft Teams Room on Android

 

What about Collaboration Bars?

If you’ve come across this term before, you aren’t mistaken: these were absolutely a thing and were first introduced in March 2020 with Yealink and Poly being the first to offer something in this category:

 

These were the first Microsoft Teams Android-based devices that were available, and keeping them in their own silo made a lot of sense at first release. On initial release, there were a number of differences between Android-based solutions and Windows-based solutions that had been around for some time:

  • Collaboration Bars only available in all-in-one bar form (hence the name 😊)
  • Teams Only – no backward compatibility with for Skype for Business
  • Limited control capabilities – the accompanying touch panels for meeting control (at first release, more in this later) did not look and feel like an MTR on Windows touch device
  • Single front of room display only
  • No HDMI Ingress for content sharing
  • No external camera support
  • 720p video only
  • No direct guest join (Zoom\Webex meeting join)

However, it wasn’t long after initial release that Microsoft decided to simplify naming for meeting room solutions and bring collaboration bars under the same umbrella as the Windows-based Teams Rooms Systems, from Ignite 2020:

“We’re now simplifying our portfolio of Teams devices for shared spaces by bringing collaboration bars into the Teams Rooms product family”

What’s New in Microsoft Teams | Microsoft Ignite 2020 – Microsoft Tech Community

With Collaboration Bars joining the Microsoft Teams Room stable, we still needed to differentiate between Android and Windows-based solutions, hence MTRoA (Android), and MTRoW (Windows).

 

 

Where are we now?

As we’ve touched on already, at the initial release there were a number of features and capabilities that the Android-based solution was lacking that, in my opinion, made them a non-contender. For starters, the interface on the tabletop touch controller was not fit for purpose. If you wanted to join a scheduled meeting, it wasn’t too bad, but if you wanted to set up an ad-hoc meeting and search for users? There was no on console keyboard: instead, you would use up-down-left-right arrows to select letters from a keyboard that appeared on the front of the room screen (similar to entering in a text string on your TV at home with a remote, but more difficult) – just not good enough for an enterprise-ready meeting room solution. The single screen was also the only option on release, not such an issue for smaller spaces but something that would not wash well in larger spaces. Finally, the lack of HDMI ingress to support content sharing from a laptop, or to allow the integration of a 3rd party content sharing solution (from organisation like Barco, Crestron, etc) was also not great.

The good news is that Microsoft has been working hard on these shortcomings, and at the time of writing we now have a much-improved meeting room touch console experience (very similar to the Windows-based MTR touch screen experience), and we now have dual screen support. HDMI content sharing is still on its way but is slated for release this month (June 2021), so here’s hoping that’s still on track also.

So, compared to where we were only a handful of months ago, Android Based solutions are much more desirable. Here’s an up to date comparison (at the time of writing anyway):

 

Feature

MTR on Windows

MTR on Android

More Info

OS Windows 10 Android
Front of Room Displays Single\Dual Single\Dual Dual if the device supports it
Video Resolution 1080p 720p  
Direct Guest Join (Zoom\Webex) Yes No On the roadmap, no ETA at this stage
Centre of Room Meeting Console Support Yes Yes
Whiteboard Yes Yes
Content Camera Support Yes No Not on the roadmap
Pin Video in Meetings Yes Yes
Spotlight Video in Meetings Yes No  
Roster Control Yes Yes
Personal Mode No Yes
HDMI Content Sharing Yes No Roadmap – slated for June 2021 release
Raise Hand Yes Yes  
MTR Premium Management Yes No Roadmap – slated for December 2021 release
Modular Solution Yes No Coming soon (see below)

 

Do keep in mind through, if you want any of the features outlined above that are highlighted red, for now you will need to use Windows based MTR solutions. HDMI shouldn’t be too far away, but if you want to join Zoom or Webex meetings from your Microsoft Teams room system, Windows is the only option today. It has been announced on the roadmap that it’s coming to Android, but not here just yet.

 

Modular Approaches

One other major differentiator between Windows based MTR solutions and Android has been the overall form factor. When initially released as Collaboration Bars, Android based solution where precisely that: a bar. The Android compute was built into the device, with no flexibility to use a different camera, 3rd party systems for speakers or microphones, etc. All you had to work with was a bar, suitable for smaller spaces only:

Whilst not available just yet, we are on the cusp of having solutions available that move away from this all-in-one-bar approach. Logitech RoomMate is one of the first modular Android compute solutions that will be available, which will allow you to deploy an Android-based solution into a larger space and pair it with a range of USB peripherals:

 

Poly is also working on a unique Android-based solution, with the Poly G7500 series codec also soon to be certified as a Teams Android device that can be used with separate peripherals:

 

What’s unique about this? Well, if you’re one of the many organisations that invested in Poly(com) Group series codecs to support Skype for Business meetings, this provides you with an upgrade path: simply swap out your Group codec for a G7500, and away you go. The G7500 is backward compatible with Group series cameras and mics (requires walta to IP converter for mics) so simply swap out the codec and turn your space into a Teams native space.

Both of these options should be available soon.

 

So What Should I Choose?

When deciding on what is the right solution for your meeting room or collaboration spaces, it’s important to start at your requirements. Before Android devices came onto the scene, we had an initial decision point: traditional video conferencing space or collaboration space? If the answer was a need for a more traditional video conferencing experience, Microsoft Teams Room (on Windows) solutions would meet these requirements. On the other hand, if collaboration was higher on the list, Surface Hub might be a better alternative.

Adding Android based Microsoft Teams Room solutions to the mix does mean that there’s an additional decision point, and given that we are not yet at feature parity between Windows and Android based approaches, knowing your requirements is key before making a decision. Use the table provided above to check to make sure you can do what you need to do on your chosen meeting room platform, and more important than anything else, talk to a Microsoft Partner that has a good understanding of what’s on the market, and what’s just around the corner – decisions you make now will have far reaching consequences.

 

Final Thoughts

Microsoft’s MTRoA offering is rapidly evolving, and they are not just for small\huddle spaces any longer. That said, we’re still waiting on some key features, so for now I don’t expect Windows-based solutions to be going anywhere in the short to medium term. If you want to know what’s on the roadmap, keep an eye on aka.ms/mtrroadmap – here you’ll find the most up-to-date list of what’s coming, and what’s been released to the public.

 

References

Microsoft Teams Room Windows and Android – what’s the difference? | OD437 – YouTube

Some differences with MTR Android and Windows | Graham Walsh [ Blog ] (graham-walsh.com)

Microsoft 365 Roadmap | Microsoft 365