What Cellphone






If you run a small business or work from home you probably already have a telephone answering machine and fax, but wouldnít it be more convenient to have them both in one box, sharing a single phone line? Rick Maybury looks at six fax/answering machine that do just that, costing between £250 and £600



Combining the functions of a fax and answering machine into one compact desktop unit has been a most welcome development for the rapidly expanding small-office/home-office (SoHo) equipment market, the only real surprise is that it has taken so long, and that no-one has come up with a snappy name for them yet...


Thereís clearly a need for such a device, many small businesses are run by one person, who cannot afford or justify the cost of a permanently-staffed office; this is especially true for those working from home, who have an even greater need for an efficient message handling service. Even the expense of a second phone line -- exclusively for a fax machine -- can be prohibitive, particularly if the volume of fax traffic is low. Various gadgets have appeared, that enable a fax and answering machine to share a single line, but whilst they are relatively cheap to buy, and simple to install, they can be difficult or frustrating for callers to use.


We have been looking at six of the very latest fax/answering machine combos,  ranging in price from just under £250 to almost £600. They have all been designed more or less exclusively for the SoHo market and take up only slightly more space than a normal office phone. The price differential is largely accounted for by the sophistication of their fax systems. In general the dearer models have extended memories that can store faxes as digital data -- rather than on paper -- either for reception or transmission. In theory they also have better resolution and image processing capabilities, more efficient error correction systems, and convenience features such as message relay and remote paging.


These machines all have the same basic facilities, i.e. they automatically store voice messages, plus they can receive and print faxes while youíre out, and function as a multi-function memory phone when youíre in. In common with most fax machines these days they can double up as photocopiers as well, though the print quality is not that wonderful -- compared with a plain-paper copier -- moreover fax paper is nasty thin curly stuff, the image fades over time and it can work out quite expensive.




Our tests reflect the kind of use these machines will receive in the real world. We used each machine to send and receive test faxes over local and noisy lines and noted the time each transmission took using the standard resolution and fine/photo resolution modes. As a matter of interest there was hardly any difference in the quality of in-coming faxes received on these machines. We assessed the audio quality of both the outgoing message (OGM) and in-coming message (ICM), at both ends of the line. Ease of use for both the user and caller was an important consideration, and we paid particular attention to the document feeders (where fitted). Past experience has shown this to be weak point in fax machine design, and a major irritant for users. Finally we took a long and hard look at build quality, this is especially important in this application, where they may be subjected to quite heavy use.




All of the machines weíve been looking at use thermal paper printing systems, the cost of fax paper varies considerably so it is not possible to give a definitive price per page but in general, because of their compact design most of them use relatively small (15-30 metre) rolls that cost more than the larger (50-100 metre) rolls used in dedicated office fax machines.  


They are all BABT approved and Group 3 compatible (the current international standard). Additional features, that you may or may not consider useful, include grey or halftone resolution mode, which allows photographs to be sent with minimal loss of detail; fax memory, for storing incoming or outgoing documents as digital data; remote polling, so that other fax machines can retrieve documents from your machine; timer-controlled and broadcast faxing, for sending faxes to specified numbers at pre-set times; selective reception, to prevent the machine from receiving unsolicited faxes, and bulletin board operation, where a document stored in the machineís memory can be retrieved by other fax machines.  




Digital voice recording systems have largely superseded tape in low and medium cost answering machine systems. This technology has a number of advantages, itís fast -- thereís no delay whilst the tapes shuttle back and forth; sound quality is normally quite good nowadays and thereís no deterioration of the outgoing message, because thereís no tape to wear out, or recording heads to get clogged. They also tend to be more reliable as there are no moving parts. The downside is relatively short recording times -- less than 10 minutes in some cases -- messages cannot be easily archived, for long-term storage, and they may be lost in the event of a lengthy power failure.



£246.74 (inc. VAT and delivery)

Amstrad have taken the unusual step of selling their office equipment and computers direct to customers by mail-order, so the FX-700 is not, as they say,  available in any shop. Itís the smallest and cheapest machine in this roundup by a considerable margin, the footprint is about the same as a sheet of A4 paper. Needless to say the specification is quite basic; it doesnít have a paper cutter, sheet feeder or journal printout, and the fax is limited to send, receive and poll. The answering system has a 14-minute capacity and the phone has a 50-number memory, with hands-free Ďspeakerphoneí operating mode. The rectangular phone handset isnít very accessible at the back of the box, and itís not very comfortable to hold.


There are two auto-answer modes, for fax and voice messages/fax with separate OGMs, in the latter the caller is invited to leave a message or send a fax after the bleep.


Voice message were quite bassy but intelligible. Fax performance is generally okay, copy quality is a bit rough but outgoing faxes in the standard resolution mode were clean and easy to read. Copies sent in the grey resolution mode were a little lighter with slightly more detail but transmission speed was excruciatingly slow. A good budget buy, and a real space saver but donít look for any frills.


Performance                  ***

Features                       ***

Ease of use                   ****

Value for money            *****


Features:            50-number memory (10 one-touch, 40 speed dial), hands-free operation, Mercury button, local/remote polling, remote control

Dimensions:            190 x 280 x 60mm

Contact:            AMSTRAD DIRECT, Brentwood, Essex CM14 3EF Telephone (0800) 338844


Personal Office Verdict 90%


BT  DF200

£410.08 (inc VAT)

The DF200 is another very small machine, only a little wider than a sheet of A4 paper. The feature list is quite short as well, thereís no paper cutter, only the bare minimum of faxing facilities and it doesnít have a Mercury button, (surprise surprise...). Nevertheless,  it does have a useful autodialler with two, 10-number/one-touch memories, for fax and voice calls, and full remote operation from a touch-tone phone. The voice recorder has a 15-minute capacity (depending on the length of the OGM and any memo recordings), and thereís a built-in 24 hour alarm clock.  In the auto-answer mode the caller has the option to leave a voice message, or send a fax, by pressing their start button after the bleep.


Full marks for the 5-page document feeder, it worked faultlessly, and the digital voice recording system also deserves a small pat on the back. Both OGMs and ICMs sounded crisp and clear, thereís some slight sibilance, but it doesnít affect intelligibility. Print quality is average to good, standard resolution is a bit grainy but the fine setting looks very good, albeit a bit light, transmission speed at this setting is about average. It works well enough and it could be worth thinking about if space is at a premium and youíre faxing needs are simple.  


Performance                  ****

Features                       ***

Ease of use                   ****

Value for money            ***


Features:            50-number autodialler (2 x 10 one-touch, 30 speed dial), memo recording,  5-page document feed, local/remote polling, timed transmission, remote control, alarm function, on-hook dialling

Dimensions:            315 x 265 x 100

Contact:             BT, 81 Newgate Street, London EC1A 7AJ.

Personal Office Verdict 90%




£470 (inc VAT)

Beauty is only skin deep, which is just as well as the Brother 490 is not an especially pretty sight, but whoís quibbling?  It is an unusually sophisticated design with a 1 megabyte memory that can store up to 50-pages of fax. This can be used to keep sensitive documents from prying eyes, it will also take over fax reception, should the paper run out, or it can be used to store documents for automated transmission, polling or broadcast to specified numbers. Other fax facilities include a smoothing mode, that irons out jagged edges on the printout; an overseas setting, that overcomes communications problems associated with line-echo; it has an anti-curl feature that really works, and it will automatically generate a customised cover page if needed.


Two features stand out, they are the Message Manager, which governs how the 490ís memory is used, and a paging facility, which automatically calls the user at a nominated number when a fax or voice messages has been received. As well as looking after incoming and outgoing messages one of Message Managerís other jobs is a memo recorder that alerts the user with a pre-recorded message at a specified time and date, up to a week ahead. The machine has three auto answering modes: auto is for fax-only operation, F/T auto-answers with a fax tone, if it doesnít detect a fax signal it bleeps, signalling that the phone should be answered manually, finally in the TAD (telephone answering device) mode it responds with a pre-recorded message that asks the caller to leave a message, or send a fax by pressing their start button. If the paging facility has been enabled the 490 will automatically ring the nominated number as soon as the incoming call has finished.


Most operations are reasonably straightforward, though itís not a very easy machine to get to know, mainly due to the almost impenetrable instruction manual which runs to almost 150 pages. Fortunately the machine has a simple Ďhelpí facility which prints out shortform instructions. The machine is supplied with a roll of Therma Plus paper, this gives excellent results, better still, it doesnít feel like fax paper, though it will work quite happily with normal paper and it can take 50 metre rolls. Resolution and contrast are both good in the standard modes, the photo transmission mode is excellent, lots of fine detail and itís fast too, though itís quite noisy and documents go through the machine with a unusually jerky motion. The document feeder didnít do very well, it bunched pages after the second or third sheet. Otherwise a credible performer, very flexible with some genuinely useful features. Good value, recommended.


Performance                  ****

Features                       ****

Ease of use                   ***

Value for money            *****


Features:                      60-number autodialler (20 one-touch, 40 speed-dial), message paging, fax forwarding, 50-page fax memory, time/broadcast transmission, job queuing, remote retrieval, remote/local/sequential/delayed polling, paper cutter, anti-curl system, 15-page document feed, Mercury button, help function (instruction printout), out of paper receive, memo record, on-hook dialling, telephone index, remote control operation, overseas mode, secondary keypad

Dimensions:            376 x 311 x 127mm

Contact:            Brother Business Machines, Shepley Street, Audenshaw, Manchester M34 5JD. Telephone (0161) 3306531.

Personal Office Verdict 95%



£470 (inc VAT)

The SF2800 is a solid, middle-of the road design with just enough convenience features and gadgetry to make it stand out from the crowd. The phone section boasts a 98-number autodialler and the digital answering machine can store up to 30 minutes worth of voice messages.


The rather routine fax section has a delayed transmission facility, plus remote and local polling. Unusual features include a world-time clock and a fast-playback option on the ICM recorder, which comes in handy when thereís a lot of messages to plough through. Thereís also a simple to use paging system, that calls a specified number after each message has been received. When this function is engaged a red LED flashes incessantly on the front panel, even when the machine is in the manual answer mode, and this can become quite annoying after a while. The user can play back the recording, and access pretty well all of the machineís main functions remotely, via a touch-tone phone.


Itís very easy to set-up and use, the hefty instruction manual is well laid out, there are short-form instruction on the underside of the top panel, and it will even print out an instruction crib sheet by pressing the help button. The machine has four operating modes, for automatic fax reception, manual telephone/fax answering, automatic fax answering and automatic answering machine/fax recording. The OGM asks the caller to leave a voice message, or press the start button on their fax machine.


Standard resolution faxes are a little darker than average, and quite contrasty. Faxes sent in the super-fine/photo mode look a little washed out though resolution is good, however, it was very very slow, taking over 8 minutes to complete one page. Audio on the digital voice recorder is a little bass-heavy, though speech remains understandable. Multiple document handling is poor with bunching after about the third or fourth page. The 2800 has fairly average fax performance, but good phone and TAM facilities, at a sensible price, worth considering as a small office workhorse.


Performance                  ***

Features                       ****

Ease of use                   ****

Value for money            ****


Features:            98-number autodialler (18 one-touch, 80 speed dial), memo recording, 2-way recording, on-hook dialling, 10-sheet autofeeder, auto redial, call transfer (paging), delayed transmission, remote /local polling, help (instruction printout), world-time clock, time/date stamps

Dimensions:            359 x 280 x 104

Contact:            SAMSUNG UK LTD

Unit 1, Hook Rise Business Centre, 6225 Hook Rise South, Surbiton, Surrey, KT6 7LD. Telephone 0181-391 0168


Personal Office Verdict 90%



£499 (inc VAT)

The UX254 was launched late last year, itís the first Sharp machine to feature a digital voice recording system, the TAM in question has an 11-minute recording capacity with a somewhat meagre single 14-second OGM. The phone side is quite well appointed with a 50-number autodialler and on-hook dialling. The fax facilities comprise remote and local polling, timer transmission and an unique paper save feature. This has two settings: mode one reduces the white spaces between lines but doesnít affect text or graphics, mode 2 reduces the entire page by 50%.


There are two auto answer options: fax only, or TAM and fax, the latter is fully automatic with the OGM inviting the caller to either leave a voice message, or start their fax machine. The initial set-up routines are easy to follow and should take no more than a few minutes. Most operations are very straightforward, though it pays to keep the instruction book to hand.


Audio quality on the OGM is good but incoming messages sound quite bassy, occasionally making them difficult to understand. Full marks for the document feeder, a faultless performance with no bunching. Faxes sent in the standard resolution mode looked fine with a good range of contrast. Copies sent in the fine/halftone came out very light, though there was a lot of detail, and it was very quick at just under 4 minutes per page. Capable but pricey.


Performance                  ***

Features                       ***

Ease of use                   ****

Value for money            ***


Features:            50-number autodialler, 10-sheet autofeed, paper cutter, remote control and message retrieval, paper save mode, remote polling, memo record, 2-way record, timed transmission, Mercury button,  on-hook dial 

Dimensions:            340 x 255 x 115

Contact:            SHARP UK LTD., Thorp Road, Newton Heath, Manchester M10 9BE. Telephone 0161-205 4255

Personal Office Verdict  85%




£586.32 (inc VAT)

This is Panasonicís newest machine, closely targeted at the top-end of the SoHo market. The fax section is particularly impressive with a large (1Mb) memory that can store up to 50 pages of information. This has a variety of uses, including automatically storing received documents in the event of the paper running out; storing messages on an electronic bulletin board, for retrieval by other fax machines, and as a personal mailbox, for holding sensitive messages which can be relayed to another fax machine using a message transfer facility. It has a selective reception mode, to screen out junk faxes, and 64-level halftone resolution.


The digital answering system shares memory with the fax section and it can theoretically record up to nine minutes of audio, (or 99 messages) though only if itís not being used for faxes.  It can also be used to record telephone conversations, or to store voice memos. The machine has full remote control operation and a handy help feature, which prints out relevant instructions.


Most of the set-up routines are fairly easy to follow, though itís just as well it has the on-line help facility as there are so many features. It can be set up to respond to incoming faxes only, or as an answering machine with fax option, with the caller given the option to indicate they want to send a fax by pressing the asterisk button on their phone twice. Alternatively it can be set to auto answer incoming calls with a short message and fax tone, if the phone isnít picked up it responds with a second message, inviting the caller to send a fax.


The 10-page document feeder actually works, and fax quality is outstanding, particularly in the super-fine and half-tone mode settings, which incidentally was the fastest of the lot at under 4 minutes per page. OGM sound quality is fine, though itís little quiet -- you have to speak quite loudly when recording the message -- ICM audio is also very clear, certainly as good as the better tape systems. Itís nopt cheap but this is the one to beat, as far as fax performance and flexibility are concerned, accordingly it is the winner of Personal Officeís award of excellence.


Performance                  *****

Features                       *****

Ease of use                   ***

Value for money            ****


Features:            20-number autodialler, (5 one-touch, 15 speed-dial), music on hold, Mercury button, voice memo recording, 2-way recording, fax broadcast, auto re-transmission, auto memory reception (if paper runs out), 10-page document feeder, 64-level halftone, fax bulletin board, secure message mailbox, remote operation, verification stamp, time/date stamps, selective reception, help function (instruction printout), on-hook dial, paper cutter

Dimensions:            404 x 269 x 126mm

Contact:             Panasonic Business Systems UK Ltd., ., Panasonic House, Willoughby Road, Bracknell, Berkshire RG12 4PF. Telephone (01344) 853235

Personal Office Verdict 98%




R. Maybury 1995 0303



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