CUTTING THE CORD

A cordless phone lets you call your friends while you make a cup of tea, have a bath or even wander around the garden. Our panel helps you get well connected
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The Independent Culture
Two telephone scenarios. One: you're in the middle of an important telephone conversation. You realise that your soup is boiling over on the stove, you stretch your phone cord as far as it reaches only to knock over the saucepan before the cord is ripped out of the wall, bye-bye soup, bye-bye phone-call. Scenario two: you've bought yourself a cordless. After all, it's a smart invention. Instead of installing a telephone in each room of your home, one handy cordless will suffice. You can do just about anything while talking on your cordless: make hot chocolate, take a bath, garden, do the dishes. Never again will a telephone conversation confine you to certain parts of your home. Now you can just walk away from distracting noises. Some phones feature extra enticements: speakerphone facility, two-way intercom, built-in answerphone, LCD display.

And yet ... scenario two: you're speaking on the cordless and suddenly, you can't hear very well; too much static, a crossed line. What seemed like the ideal solution can turn out to be far from perfect, if you don't get the right cordless phone: you can miss out on half the conversation, or find yourself hearing the base-station ringing with the handset nowhere to be seen. We checked out a few models, including two of a new breed of digital cordless phones, to advise those who are thinking of cutting the wire.

THE PANEL

Avid phone-users and flatmates living in a sprawling warehouse flat in the centre of London: Bashabat Hussain, Elaine Toogood, Khalid Memhood and Joshua Berry.

THE TEST

Five different cordless telephones were compared by the panel and rated for various criteria including how easy they were to use, how adequate their ringer volumes, sound quality, the usefulness of their features, appearance and value for the money. The telephones ranged in price from about pounds 100 to pounds 250.

**SOUTH WESTERN BELL FF900

pounds 129.99

This phone features two handsets, each with its own base-station, presumably intended for larger homes or where several people live together. Options including a two-way intercom and transfer between handsets were considered useful. Bashabat Hussain commended the reception, which he attributed to the eight-channel operation. The talk button was praised as being in a useful place on the handset by Elaine Toogood, but Bashabat complained that it was "too cumbersome to press." One problem that testers agreed upon was size: the phone was found to be too heavy and the handset too large. Elaine thought "the shape of the phone made it feel a bit like a toy, the ringer was annoying and I didn't like the colour."

*****BT DIVERSE 1000

pounds 229.99

The BT Diverse is the first digital cordless to be available in Britain. These phones behave more like mobiles than standard cordless with a far smaller and lighter handset, multi-number memories, a range of up to 300m and a handset which switches between any of 120 channels to ensure the best possible reception throughout your call. Up to six handsets can be operated from one base station and extended battery times means these have only to be re-charged about once daily.

In spite of the price this was the panel's favourite. Its appearance was considered to to be impressive and the panel praised its compact and solid handset. Elaine Toogood thought that the design is what you pay for, and said it was a "good office or home phone with the possibility of additional handsets." Bashabat Hussain thought it could have some more features, and was expensive for just the ones it did have. The only real disappointment was that neither the Diverse 1000 nor the other digital phone tested, the Dancall, were as simple to use as the standard cordless phones when it came to simple functions - like making a call.

***PANASONIC KX-T4066E

pounds 99.95

Comfortable and easy-to-use, the Panasonic was considered attractive and very good value for its price. Although it did not offer every additional function, the panel found that the features it did have were useful and basically all they needed from a cordless: remote channel changing and two-way intercom, as well as a base unit speaker phone which allows for hands-free operation. Ringer volume and sound quality were fair, aspects which did not appear to vary widely across the range of phones tested in spite of the variance in price. This seemed an ideal phone for those looking for a practical and pleasant cordless to simplify life around the home.

****SHARP CL-A500E

pounds 160

Joshua Berry summed-up the panel's verdict on this phone saying it is a "good-looking, solid piece of technology. Decent value, with good features. My favourite." The features which were particularly popular on the Sharp included the two-way speakerphone which allows you to use the phone without lifting the handset, and the answering machine which can be operated from the handset.

The panel also spoke positively about its appearance. Bashabat Hussain said that he would certainly consider buying this phone. The only reservations were about the handset which Bashabat felt was bulky. Elaine Toogood suggested another use for this phone: "It could double as a Christmas tree," she said, referring to the multi-coloured illumination of the keys which she found had a particularly clear layout and were well spaced.

*AMSTRAD DANCALL 8200DECT

pounds 250

The second digital in our test, this phone was not favoured as highly by the panel. Elaine Toogood exclaimed, "I couldn't believe that it cost that much, I thought it would have been one of the cheaper ones." Neither the reception or sound quality were considered appreciably better than in the less expensive phones, although Elaine did note that its claimed range of 300m was very impressive and also practical: "certainly useful for talks at the bottom of the garden," she commented. Furthermore the panelists found the features tricky to master and certainly not immediately clear to use. Elaine added: "I can imagine that a visitor would not be able to answer the phone."

The testers agreed that the phone's appearance was pleasing and they liked the fact that it resembled a mobile. Bashabat Hussain said, "It had a nice look and feel." But they agreed that looks aren't everything and don't justify spending pounds 250 on this product. Amstrad is bringing out other phones in its digital range which offer much the same functions at far lower prices.

STOCKISTS

Southwestern Bell: Argos, Comet, Dixons, John Lewis Partnership; BT: BT Shops, Argos, Comet, Currys, Dixons, John Lewis Partnership; Panasonic: call customer services on 0990 357357; Sharp: call customer services on 0800 262958; Amstrad, not available until January, call 01277 228888.

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