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DIGITAL ANSWERING MACHINES

 

STANDFIRST

A telephone answering machine is a basic necessity for the home office or a small business but what features do you really need, and how much should you pay? Rick Maybury has been auditioning six SoHo models, costing from £40 to £250 

 

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If youíre setting up a home office from scratch, and youíre on a budget,  donít cut corners when you come to buy the telephone answering machine. Itís tempting to consider a cheap domestic machine, but many of them use a single tape cassette for both the outgoing message (OGM) and incoming messages (ICM); they can be painfully slow -- especially once a few messages have been recorded -- callers can find the wait, whilst the tape shuttles back and forth, very irritating.

 

The alternative is digital recording, using memory microchips instead of tape, to store audio. The quality used to be a bit rough, and recording times were limited to only a few minutes but they have got a lot better in the past year or two. Digital recording has one other big advantage over tape, thereís no deterioration in the sound quality of OGMs or ICMs over time. Since there are no moving parts to wear out, they are inherently more reliable as well.

 

In addition to instant access and rapid message replay, callers get an immediate response, recordings are time and date stamped, and manufacturers can build in additional convenience features, that are simply not possible using analogue tape technology.

 

Most low-cost answering machines are stand-alone designs, that need to be used with an existing phone. On a crowded desk it makes sense to get a combined telephone and telephone answering machine or ĎTelTAMí. The majority of models have extra SoHo oriented features, such as multiple number memories, one key dialling, hands-free operation, mute and hold functions. Remote access is another common feature, allowing you to retrieve messages when youíre away, moreover theyíre generally easy to use, with informative displays. Weíve brought together six models, they span a fairly broad price range, which should give you a fair idea of whatís available.

 

AUDIOLINE TAM-937, £54.99

This smart-looking and remarkably compact TelTAM is available in black or white which rightly suggests it is equally at home in the living room or office. The digital recording memory has a 14-minute capacity, which is okay for office use, provided youíre not going to be away for too long. In any event it has full remote access, so messages can be retrieved from any touch-tone phone.

 

Key TAM features include fast message retrieval, date/time stamp, memo recording  and a pre-recorded OGM option, if you donít want to use your own voice. An LCD display shows the number of messages stored and the answering machine can be remotely turned on, if you forgot to do it before going out.

 

Sound quality is quite reasonable and it is easy to use. For small businesses with modest TAM requirements it is a very good deal indeed.

 

Recording duration: 14 minutes

TAM features: voice prompts, time/date stamp, memo recording, remote access, pre-recorded OGM, LCD display 

Phone features: speakerphone, call timer, clock, on-hook dialling, 13 number memories

 

Ease of use                               ****

Features                                   ****

TAM quality                               ****

Transmission quality               ****

Value                                        ****

 

85%

Audioline, (Harry Moss), telephone (01527) 584584

 

BETACOM DIRECTOR,  £44.99
Betacom have a good reputation for value for money telecomms products, that the Director does nothing to tarnish. As the low price rightly suggests it is fairly basic with only simple answering machine facilities and a fairly routine list of telephone features, though Mercury compatibility is quite unusual at this end of the market.

 

Itís also a neat design -- it looks very businesslike in its grey/black livery -- and the logical and clearly labelled controsl means it is very easy to use; no messing around with menus or multi-function buttons. The only real limitation is the two number memory, which seems a bit mean, even for domestic applications.   

 

The recording system works reasonably well, voice prompts tends to sound a bit nasal, however. On line audio quality is satisfactory. Itís good value and performance is fine, itís a shame about that mean little 2-number memory, though.

 

BETACOM DIRECTOR

Recording duration             15 minutes

TAM features                 Voice prompts, message counter, time/date stamp, remote access, memo recording

Phone features              2-one-touch number memory, Mercury compatible, desk or wall moutnable

 

Ease of use                               ****

Features                                   ***

TAM quality                               ***

Transmission quality               ****

Value                                        ****

80%

Betacom, telephone (01277) 208440

 

BT DIVERSE 1015, £229.99

The Diverse 1015 is one of two models in this round-up to have a cordless handset. Bearing in mind the price, the answering machine facilities appear to be quite basic, however, the cost is almost entirely due to the fact that the cordless phone uses the latest DECT digital technology, which has some interesting implications for SoHo users.

 

Extra handsets can be used, to which calls can be transferred, or it can be used as an intercom so thereís no need to install extension sockets. Unlike analogue cordless phones, calls cannot be overheard, moreover range and quality are noticeably better (30 metres indoors, 300 metres outside). Each handset has a 10 number memory and the keypad is backlit.

 

Two outgoing messages can be recorded, recording capacity is a meagre 12 minutes. There is a message counter, and remote access from a handset or an outside line, but thatís about it. Recorded message quality is good and within the operating range it performs as well as a normal phone. Worth considering if you have a use for the multiple handset feature.

 

BT DIVERSE 1015

Recording duration 12 minutes

TAM features            two OGM, memo record, message count, remote access, time & date stamp

Phone features            DECT cordless handset, 10 number memory, call barring, use with multiple handsets for call transfer, intercom and paging

 

Ease of use                               ***

Features                                   ***

TAM quality                               ****

Transmission quality               *****

Value                                        ****

 

78%

BT (0345) 908070

 

MORPHY RICHARDS TX271, £40

With a recommended selling price of just £40 the TX271 represents quite remarkable value for money. Admittedly it doesnít have as many bells and whistles as some of the other machines in this round up, but those it does have are aimed at small business or home office use. Recording time is 15 minutes, it can handle two OGMs and thereís an LED call counter. Messages can be remotely accessed and it can record memos.

 

The phone has a 10 number memory and an illuminated keypad.  It is reasonably compact and due to the simple design, it is very easy to set up and use. Morphy Richards havenít cut any corners on performance, normal line quality is good, and although the digital recording system isnít as crisp as tape, speech is perfectly intelligible. It is modestly equipped but its fine for undemanding applications, and you canít argue with the price.   

 

MORPHY RICHARDS TX271

Recording duration 15 minutes

TAM features            time/date stamp, remote access, voice prompts

Phone features            10 number memory, illuminated keypad

 

Ease of use                               ****

Features                                   ***

TAM quality                               ***

Transmission quality               ****

Value                                        *****

 

88%

Morphy Richards, telephone (01709) 582402

 

PANASONIC KX-T2886, £179.95

Designed specifically for the small office environment, the KX-T2886 has a wealth of features designed to make a homeworkerís life easier. The TAM has two independent voice mailboxes with up to 30 minutes recording time. The transfer facility is especially useful for those with a mobile phone; it can be programmed to relay messages to another nominated number, in addition all functions can be remotely accessed. Incoming messages can be rapidly scanned -- it replays the first 5 seconds of each one -- and each one is automatically time and date stamped.

 

The telephone functions are equally comprehensive. It has a hands-free speakerphone facility, up to 8 numbers can be programmed for one-touch dialling, itís Mercury compatible thereís a hold facility plus a clock and alarm.

 

Recorded sounds have a tremulous quality, and itís quite bassy but speech is intelligible. Normal phone audio quality is good at both ends. Pricey, but superbly well equipped.

 

Panasonic KX-T2886

Recording duration: 30 minutes

TAM features: 2 voice mailboxes, message scan, voice prompt, time/date stamp, message transfer, 2-way/memo recording, remote access

Phone features: hands-free speakerphone, 8-number out-touch dialling, Mercury compatible, clock, alarm

 

Ease of use                               ****

Features                                   *****

TAM quality                               ***

Transmission quality               ****

Value                                        ****

83%

Panasonic UK, telephone  (0990) 357357

 

PHILIPS XALIO, £249.99

Xalio is different, itís a digital cordless telephone with a built-in answering machine facility, rather than the other way around. It looks for all the world like a cellular telephone, the base unit has just one button, all of the controls are on the handset, which also has a built in speaker. In common with other DECT phones, the base station can be used with additional handsets (up to 6). They can communicate with one another, like an intercom, and even used as a baby monitor.

 

The TAM facilities are brief and to the point; message capacity is limited to 12 minutes, and thereís a time/date stamp, memo record facility and 3 voice mail boxes. Messages can be access from any handset and retrieved remotely from a touch-tone phone. Sound quality is good, thereís a small amount of warble but speech is good at both ends of the line, within 30 to 50 metres of the base station. Expensive, and not especially user-friendly but it is compact, a solid performer and worth considering if the multi-handset facility can be put to good use.

 

PHILIPS XALIO

Recording duration 12 minutes

TAM features            time/date stamp, remote access (via handset and external touch-tone phone), voice prompt, memo record, 3 voicemail boxes,

Phone features            DECT cordless handset, 25 number memory (per handset), speakerphone, SOS rapid dial, intercom facility, baby alarm (with additional handset), 

 

Ease of use                               ***

Features                                   ****

TAM quality                               ****

Transmission quality               ****

Value                                        ****

78%

Philips Consumer Communications, telephone (01256) 372828

 

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R. Maybury 1998 1301

 


 

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