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CORDLESS TELEPHONES

 

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LOOK NO WIRES...

 

INTRO

If you work from home a cordless phone could be an alternative to having a second line installed. Rick Maybury has been trying out a selection of models, mostly designed for SoHo (small office, home office) users                  

 

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Working from home means staying in touch, but what happens if you’ve only got one telephone in the living room, and you work in a back bedroom? Then there’s those long hot summer days. It’s not something many home workers will admit to, but these days, with a laptop computer, you can be just as productive working in the back garden, in a deck chair with a cool drink. But inevitably, just as you get comfy the phone rings; you might not hear it, and even if you do, it’s a frantic rush to get to it, before the caller gives up!

 

The solution to both problems is a cordless telephone (CT). Most models compare quite favourably with the cost of having an extension socket fitted, or a second line. Quite a few also have intercom or paging facilities, and a couple of models in this month’s survey have built-in telephone answering machines.

 

Cordless telephones have rather mixed reputation. The first generation of phones (CT-1 in industry jargon), that appeared during the late 1970’s, were notoriously unreliable, and very insecure. In fact it used to be possible to wander around streets and shopping centres late at night with a handset, and by listening out for a dialling tone, make calls using someone else’s base-station. Allegedly, so we’re told... That can’t or shouldn’t happen nowadays. Virtually all models now have security coding systems, that prevent unauthorised handsets, working with an unmatched base-station. It doesn’t stop neighbouring cordless telephones interfering with each other though. Most recent models now operate on at least two switchable channels, minimising the chances of that happening.

 

Even with all these features modern CT-1 phones are still far from secure. All of the models we’re looking at here use analogue transmission systems, on frequencies that can be easily picked up on freely-available scanner receivers or more exotic multi-band radios. That means anyone who is reasonably determined can eavesdrop on your telephone conversations.

 

Digital cordless phones are available, that offer a higher degree of security, but the so-called CT-2 technology they use hasn’t been a great success in this country. You may recall ‘Rabbit’ the last CT-2 system to operate, that allowed users to make (but not take) calls from their handset close to public base-stations. Handsets and home base-stations still turn up from time to time, often at bargain basement prices, and it may be worth tracking one down if privacy is important, but the public base station network has long since disappeared. 

 

Analogue cordless phones tend to be quite noisy too; there have been some impressive developments in noise reducing and ‘companding’ systems which are designed to make speech clearer. Hissy lines normally only become a problem at the limit of the phone’s range. By the way, don’t believe everything you read about range. Most manufacturers quote a line-of-sight figure in their literature, i.e. with nothing between the handset and base station. In practice walls and buildings reduce the range considerably, typically to about 50% of the maximum quoted range, and even then the line may be too noisy to be useful.

 

Battery life has improved a good deal over the years and most users can expect to get at a full day’s operation out of their cordless phones after an overnight charge, some models will work in the standby mode for several days between charges. Be warned, though, the nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries used in these phones have a finite life. The average life-expectancy is between 600 to 800 charge cycles. That’s a couple of years with normal use, say, before the charge capacity begins to fall and the phone starts to expire halfway through the working day. Replacement batteries -- that the user can easily fit themselves -- typically cost between £10 and £20.

 

The five cordless phones we’ve been looking at are mid to top-end models, mostly aimed at SoHo and small office applications, ranging in price between £100 and £200. There are a lot of cheaper ones on the market, and if you shop around you could probably find a cordless phone for less than £40, but these are usually domestic products, that may not last the course, have inferior performance, and fewer facilities.

 

SIDEBAR 1

SOCKETS TONES AND RENS

Since the early 1980’s all ‘phone appliances, including cordless telephones, are fitted with standard BT modular plugs, which fit into telephone wall sockets. If you haven’t got one then you’re going to have to call your local BT Sales office, who will arrange to have one installed.

 

The majority of telephone exchanges in the UK now use tone-dialling systems, if your local exchange still uses the older ‘pulse-dialling’ system you may not be able to use a cordless phone, unless it has a pulse-dial option, so check first, or find out when your exchange is due to be upgraded.

 

The electrical power in a telephone line can only support a limited number of devices, whether they’re ordinary telephones, or more exotic gadgets, like fax or  answering machines, and of course, cordless telephones. This is determined by the ringer equivalence number or REN; a normal fixed BT line has a REN capacity of 4. To work out if you’re overloading your phone line simply add up the REN numbers printed on the base of each device connected to the line. Provided it’s less than 4 you’re okay. For the record most cordless phones have a REN value of 1.

 

SIDEBAR 2

THE TESTS

The best way to test a cordless phone is to actually try it out in a real home office, which is precisely what we did. We chose two locations, the first was a home office in a residential street in South London. This is an electrically noisy environment. It’s within half a mile of the two Crystal Palace TV and radio transmitter masts, countless cellphone sites, cab firms and several nearby cordless telephones. The other location was a small furniture restoration business in rural Norfolk, flat and remote; cordless phone heaven in fact.

 

The main test involved measuring the base-station to handset range, this we determined using two different methods. The first was to find the furthest point at which it was possible to access a line, dial out and hold an intelligible conversation. The second method involved working how far the phone’s pager/intercom facility would work. If practice we found there wasn’t a lot of difference between the two sets of results, so we’ve condensed them to a single figure, for each suburban and rural location. We also checked clarity of speech at both ends of the line, background noise, susceptibility to interference from a computer, and ease of use.

 

SIDEBAR 3

POWER PROBLEMS

BT regulations state that your main telephone must still work, even if there’s a power cut. That’s not a problem with a normal ‘wired’ phone which draws it’s power from the line, but what about households where the only phone is a cordless model? Manufacturers normally make provision for such an eventuality. Most models have their own built-in battery backup (usually half a dozen pen cells), that will keep the phone operational for several hours in an emergency. Others have separate battery boxes, that connect between the mains adaptor and the base unit.

 

THE TESTS

 

BT Freestyle 1000 £150

This is one of the two cordless phones in this survey with a built-in answering machine. Freestyle 1000 has been around for a while now, and the BT name inspires confidence, so it’s off to a fairly good start. It’s a two-channel model, selectable from the handset in case of poor reception. The handset is quite light, it has a 10 number memory, there’s a crib-card on the back for the owner to fill in. The keypad is large and easy to use though the talk/standby button could be a little bigger. The telescopic aerial looks a bit fragile and if past experience is anything to go by, it is easily bent or broken if handled roughly. Speech quality is fairly good within 25 or so metres of the base station, but it tails off quite quickly, if there’s walls or buildings in the way. The handset picks up interference from a computer screen within about half a metre. Definitely one for more open environments. The digital answering machine has a capacity of up to 7.5 minutes, it can also record memos; messages are time/day tagged with an electronic voice. It has remote access, and messages can be played back from any phone with a tone-dial keypad. Recording quality is good. The Freestyle 100 is a fairly average performer but the answering machine facility is a bonus. It’s beginning to show it’s age and we understand it is due to be replaced soon, so keep an eye out for reductions, in which case it could be well worth considering.

 

Make/model                  BT Freestyle 1000

Typical price                  £150

System             cordless phone, intercom and answering machine                       

Channels                       2, manual switching

Features                       10-number memory, last number redial, low-battery and out of range alarm, intercom, digital answering machine (7.5 min rec. time), time/day announce, call screening, remote access, auto security code

Range                           30 metres/55 metres

Battery life                     72 hours standby/5 hours talk-time              

Contact             British Telecom plc., 81 Newgate Street, London EC1A 7AJ or any BT Phoneshop

 

RATINGS

Performance            ***

Range               ***

Ease of use            ****

Value                ****

VERDICT             80%

 

 

Panasonic KT-T3856E ‘Easa Phone’, £130

The stylish handset is designed to stand upright on a desk, making it ideal for home office use, but not so good for carrying around in a pocket. The phone also stands upright in the charger/base-station for ready access, or it can be wall-mounted. The illuminated keypad is a good idea and the talk button is large and easy to find. Part of the reason the base station is so small is that the obligatory battery backup module is housed in a separate unit. The feature list is quite short; it has a 10-number memory and Mercury option. It works on 2 channels, selectable from the handset, and it has switchable tone/pulse dialling, so it can be used with older exchanges. The intercom works well, and speech quality at both ends is clear, though it can be a little choppy, if there’s a lot of background noise. The range is fairly average in a built up area moreover the short bendy aerial is very quite sensitive to movement and nearby objects, not a phone to walk around with, especially close to the limits of its range. On the plus side it doesn’t seem to mind being used close to a computer screen. Well built, it looks the part but a little expensive for what it is.

 

Make/model                  Panasonic KT-T3856E

Typical price                  £130

System             cordless phone and intercom                       

Channels                       2, manual switching

Features                       10-number memory, redial, intercom/pager, Mercury compatible, auto security code, illuminated key pad, intercom time-out

Range                           35 metres/75 metres

Battery life                     7-days standby/7 hours talk time

Contact             Panasonic Business Systems UK Ltd., ., Panasonic House, Willoughby Road, Bracknell, Berkshire RG12 4PF. Telephone (01344) 853214

 

RATINGS

Performance            ****

Range               ***

Ease of use            ****

Value                ***

 

VERDICT             78%

 

 

Sanyo CLT-3, £100

Sanyo have only just started marketing cordless telephones in the UK and the CLT-3 is one of their first models. The handset is a slightly unusual design, the flat base suggest it should be able to stand upright, and it will, though it’s a bit of a balancing act, and it will fall over at the slightest provocation. The large keypad is illuminated, and it is Mercury compatible. It looses a couple of points for the talk button, which is exactly the same shape as the number buttons, and not that easy to find in a hurry. It operates on 2-channels, and these can be manually selected from the handset. Other facilities include a 10-number memory, music on hold (don’t ask us what the tune is...), and a two-way intercom. Another fairly ordinary set of range figures, but within its operating area audio quality is quite crisp; interference from PCs is only a problem within 30 cm or so of the screen. Sanyo are rather proud of the Super Compander Noise Reduction system on the CLT-3, and it does seem to work quite well, though it can sound a little harsh at the limits of its range. Fair price and performance; worth considering.  

 

Make/model                  Sanyo CLT-3

Typical price                  £100

System             cordless telephone and intercom                       

Channels                       2, manual switching

Features                       10-number memory, redial, music on hold, intercom/pager, Mercury compatible, illuminated key pad, out or range warning, Super Compander noise reduction, intercom time-out,

Range                           30 metres/50 metres

Battery life                     72-hours standby/5-hours talk time

Contact             SANYO UK LTD., Sanyo House, Otterspool Way,  Watford, Herts WD2 8JX. Telephone (01923) 246363

 

RATINGS

Performance                  ***

Range                           ***

Ease of use                   ***

Value                            ****

 

VERDICT             82%

 

 

Sharp CL-A500, £200

Definitely the star of the show, this combined cordless telephone and answering machine has been designed for SoHo and small office users and includes a number of very useful features. The most impressive one is a hands-free speaker-phone mode, that works on both the base-station and handset. The handset can be placed either way up in the base-unit; and with the keypad uppermost it can be used for on-hook dialling. The handset has a flat base and will stand upright on a flat surface; it’s Mercury compatible and has a 12-number memory (a memo card for writing number on slides out from the base). The keypad is illuminated and the talk or intercom buttons flash when there’s a call. The only minor ergonomic niggle concerns the use of a separate (and rather small) ‘off’ button to terminate a call. The answering machine uses a micro-cassette, with up to 30 minutes recording time. The answering machine can be remotely interrogated, either from the handset, or any phone with tone-dialling facilities. The A500 operates on 8 channels, it automatically scans each channel to find the clearest one.  Speech quality is very good, and it’s largely immune to interference from a PC. The range is better than average too, up to 80 metres under ideal conditions, almost 50 metres in a built up area. Fairly expensive but this is the one to go for, particularly if you need the answering machine facility as well.

 

Make/model                  Sharp CL-A500

Typical price                  £200

System             cordless telephone, speakerphone, intercom and answering machine                       

Channels                       8, auto selection

Features                       12-number memory, one-touch auto-dial, redial, dual speakerphone, on-hook dialling, intercom/pager, 2-way conference mode, Mercury compatible, auto security coding, illuminated keypad,  micro-cassette telephone answering machine, remote access (outside line or cordless handset), memo recording, call screening

Range                           45 metres/80 metres

Battery life                     14-days standby/10 hours talk-time

Contact             SHARP UK LTD., Thorp Road, Newton Heath, Manchester M10 9BE. Telephone 0161-205 2333

 

RATINGS

Performance                  ****

Range                           ****

Ease of use                   ***

Value                            ****

 

VERDICT             90%

 

 

Southwestern Bell FF900 IQ, £170

Another cordless phone designed with SoHo users in mind. The main feature of this model is that it comes with two handsets, (a third handset is optional) thus expanding a single line into what amounts to a small exchange. Calls can be taken on either handset, or passed from one handset to another. The system also allows for a call to be put on hold and whilst using the intercom facility to talk to base station. Handsets can be paged individually, or together from the base station. This is the only phone in this survey to have a call-barring facility, it prevents calls being made using certain number combinations (including local, premium rate, international and Mercury), but without preventing emergency (112 and 999) calls.  The call barr is controlled by a 4-digit user-defined PIN. Other features include a 9-number memory, automatic selection of up to 8 channels and the second handset comes with it’s own desktop/wall-mountable charger cradle. Range is nothing special, fairly average in fact inside a building. Sound quality is fine in range of the base-station, though the aerial is fairly sensitive to movement at on the fringes of reception, it’s wise not to wander around too much. No problems with PC interference more than a few centimetres from the screen. Taking into account the twin handsets and call transfer facilities this one would be ideal for small two-person offices or busy households.

 

Make/model                  Southwestern Bell FF900

Typical price                  £170

System             multi-handset cordless telephone and intercom                       

Channels                       8, auto/manual selection

Features                       9-number memory, redial, twin handset call-switching, 2-way intercom, PIN-coded call barring, Mercury compatible, 

Range                           30 metres/55 metres

Battery life                     3-5 days standby/4 hours talk-time  

Contact             Audioline Ltd., 2 Enfield Industrial Estate, Redditch, Worcs B97 6HB. Telephone (01527) 584584

 

RATINGS

Performance                  ***

Range                           ***

Ease of use                   ****

Value                            ***

 

VERDICT             80%

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1995 1109

 

ADD COPY

 

Betacom Roma

Although the Roma is pitched more towards the domestic end of the market we thought it was worth including as the feature list includes a number of items that will interest SoHo users, particularly if they’re on a tight budget. Like the more expensive models it has an intercom facility and it operates on two channels, selectable from the handset. There’s a 9-number memory, it has security coding, to prevent it working with other handsets and it’s Mercury compatible, for cheaper long-distance calls. The telescopic antenna suffers from the usual fragility problems but the handset is well laid out and slips easily into a pocket. The range is surprisingly good, a creditable 35 metres inside buildings and 60 metres with nothing in the way. Speech quality is very good, a tad tinny but perfectly intelligible, thanks to reasonably efficient noise reduction and companding circuitry. The intercom bleeper is on the quiet side, though the normal phone ringer is loud enough to make itself heard in a noisy office. There’s no superfluous gadgetry and the styling is geared more towards a living-room environment, though in it’s optional black or mid-grey livery it does look quite businesslike. Definitely worth shortlisting.

 

Make/model                  Betacom Roma

Typical price                  £69.99

System             telephone and intercom            

Channels                       2, manual selection

Features                       9-number memory, redial, 2-way intercom, Mercury compatible, tone/pulse dialling

Range                           35 metres/60 metres

Battery life                     24 hours standby/3 hours talk-time  

Contact             BETACOM PLC, Unit 1 Ponders End Ind Est, Duck Lees Lane, Enfield, Middx EN3 7TQ. Telephone 0181-344 6200

 

RATINGS

Performance                  ****

Range                           ***

Ease of use                   ****

Value                            ****

 

VERDICT             90%

 

Betacom Roma

Although the Roma is pitched more towards the domestic end of the market we thought it was worth including as the feature list includes a number of items that will interest SoHo users, particularly if they’re on a tight budget. Like the more expensive models it has an intercom facility and it operates on two channels, selectable from the handset. There’s a 9-number memory, it has security coding, to prevent it working with other handsets and it’s Mercury compatible, for cheaper long-distance calls. The telescopic antenna suffers from the usual fragility problems but the handset is well laid out and slips easily into a pocket. The range is surprisingly good, a creditable 35 metres inside buildings and 60 metres with nothing in the way. Speech quality is very good, a tad tinny but perfectly intelligible, thanks to reasonably efficient noise reduction and companding circuitry. The intercom bleeper is on the quiet side, though the normal phone ringer is loud enough to make itself heard in a noisy office. There’s no superfluous gadgetry and the styling is geared more towards a living-room environment, though in it’s optional black or mid-grey livery it does look quite businesslike. Definitely worth shortlisting.

 

Make/model                  Betacom Roma

Typical price                  £69.99

System             telephone and intercom            

Channels                       2, manual selection

Features                       9-number memory, redial, 2-way intercom, Mercury compatible, tone/pulse dialling

Range                           35 metres/60 metres

Battery life                     24 hours standby/3 hours talk-time  

Contact             BETACOM PLC, Unit 1 Ponders End Ind Est, Duck Lees Lane, Enfield, Middx EN3 7TQ. Telephone 0181-344 6200

 

RATINGS

Performance                  ****

Range                           ***

Ease of use                   ****

Value                            ****

 

VERDICT             90%

 

 


 

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