BT screens your calls

Steve Homer tries a box and some software that could turn you into your own telephone operator
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If your work involves a lot of phone calls, BT might have something to interest you. No, not cheaper calls but a very clever little device that plugs into your telephone and computer and lets you become 10 times as efficient.

Callscape 100 is a little white box and some software that turns your PC into an automatic phone management system, allowing even the most disorganised person to build up rapidly a useful phone database.

The system captures numbers in two separate ways. If you have Caller Display Service active on your line, when the phone rings, Callscape flashes the number on screen and instantly tells you which area the call is coming from by checking the dialling code against an internal database. If the number is in your PC's database, it tells you who is calling. A couple of bashes on the keyboard and you can display the notes you made on the last call, check a reference (Callscape includes a simple, but unusually flexible, flat file database) and so on.

Callscape has a second clever trick up its sleeve. It also captures the numbers you are dialling on your normal phone as you dial them. This may sound redundant, but it is not. If you do not realise someone is already in your database, Callscape will pull up the record for you even if you talked to them months ago. And if it is a number you have not stored, a couple of keystrokes and you can enter and store the details of the number you are dialling. This is another solid way of building your own phone database.

For most users, Callscape will simply be the most comprehensive telephone book they will ever have. As it is so easy to add details to a captured phone number, there is no excuse not to let it grow into a major tool. For some companies, however, Callscape will bring Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) right down to the single desktop.

So what is the down side? First, the system will only work with direct phone lines. If you have any form of private exchange you may be able to capture the dialled numbers but not the numbers from incoming calls. Second, the supplied software is really not up to the job. It works but it is very clumsy and lacks basic necessities.

The design philosophy for many parts of the interface is opaque in the extreme. With some experiment you finally start to understand what the designers were trying to do, but there is an immensely frustrating learning curve (and with scant documentation and appalling help files you can sometimes feel more than a little lost).

There are also bizarre idiosyncrasies. Given this is partly marketed as a call automation system, the alarm function is the oddest. You cannot simply pre-schedule calls, you have to write a note for the number and insert an alarm. Most bizarre of all, there is no audio alarm. If you are not looking at the screen when you should be making a call you will miss the reminder.

BT promises that it will bring out better software as soon as possible and it says third party companies are also developing software for Callscape.

While BT has certainly failed to launch the product it should have, Callscape 100 will still be a boon for many. For anyone who spends a lot of time on the phone or whose business depends on the phone, Callscape 100 looks a very sound investmentn

Callscape 100 (pounds 49.99 inc. VAT) is available through high street shops.