Telecommunication manufacturers have invested millions into their sector advancing the technology of cordless phones and when I purchased the iDect C51, manufactured by Binatine, I assumed a small portion of that investment would have been spent on this handset but my purchase was proof enough that you shouldn't make assumptions where technology is concerned.
I purchased the iDect for just under £50.00 for which I received, two charger cradles (one of which is the main base), two mains adapters, a phone cable, identical twin handsets and the bare minimum number of attributes a manufacturer could get away with before a cordless handset is rendered useless. 8 language settings, 50 number phone book, caller ID, last number redial, call transfers between handsets, 10 ring tones, speaker phone, mute facility, up to 100 hours standby, 10 hours talk time, answerphone with 15 minutes digital record time (with a message count brightly displayed on the main base), indoor 50 meter range and 300 meter outdoor range.
First impressions and Binatone have fallen slightly short of triumphant with the iDect's design although the light weight handsets do offer a reasonable build quality being fairly durable, with tough, glossy, black polished exteriors which contribute to a sleek, modern appearance, echoed by the chargers. An ergonomic, arched curve near the base of each handset allows them to comfortably reside, not just in their cradles but also in the users hand. The iDect is compact and stylish with a good functioning design but it's lacking in visual edge resulting in a lean more towards the cheap side which is a shame as there are handsets in the same price bracket which offer more by way of style and features.
Initial set up is childs play. Connecting both chargers to mains electric and the base into a phone jack is all that's required. Mains cables are a generous length (just under 145cm each) offering plenty of cord if your phone jack and mains socket are not located in close proximity, although this will only ever be a problem with the base. From empty to fully charged, handsets took a good ten hours, or there abouts. Almost instantaneously after "plug in" calls could be received (although limited to a quick "hello" before the battery drained) however, within an hour or so they held enough juice to make a couple of short phone calls. Fully charged and the secondary unit no longer requires a constant mains connection and will hold it's charge for a good four days, in line with Binatone's promise of 100 hours standby. A word of caution though, the secondary handset goes from hero to zero in a matter of minutes although a continual bleep will sound to alert that the set needs charging, an annoying but effective feature.
The iDect offers a 4cm x 3.5cm illuminated blue display providing a bright, clear screen making black fonts and characters easy to read although the high blue contrast, in certain lighting also provides a distracting view of the dot matrix which does effect the screens overall clarity. The result. The screen looks a bit cheap, blocky and dated. Function keys fair a little better. Laying flush against the handset, keys are a good digit size which allows precise and accurate use and the characters are large and bright enough to clearly read but this is let down by the response. Keys are not high quality and require fairly forceful pressure to activate, anything lighter than a good push and there's no response what so ever although a gentle tap is all that's required to light the characters (momentarily when in use) which makes for easy dialing in poor lighting but in general handling, overall does feel awkward.
Navigating is, thankfully a simple task largely due to iDect's basic features keeping the menu intelligible and straight forward. The menu amasses to nothing more than the phone book, date and time settings, personal settings and answerphone with the odd sub menu for handset tones, language and the like. Everything about the menu reeks of simplicity and I really can't see many users needing to refer to the instruction manual for reference.
Programming should be a relatively easy procedure and for the most part it is. Setting the date, time, volume, languages and the like are straight forward enough but if your expecting a quick fix for the phone book then don't hold your breath. No blue tooth, no memory card and no way to transfer your phone book from your mobile device so all entries are manual only. Storing names and numbers into the phone book is a cumbersome task and the iDect restricts the user to a rather paltry ten displayed characters (which includes spaces). It's just not enough to input even a short name and so most entries in my phone book have been adapted to annoying abbreviations which I hate. My last phone was a cheap, basic model yet still allowed a more manageable fifteen characters and the LCD display was roughly the same size as the iDects.
Binatone have done wanders (intentionally or not) to keep everything about the iDect simplistic although this concept seems to have been taken a little too literally for my liking managing to make a mountain out of a mole hill turning what should be the straight forward task into a cumbersome procedure because every handset pertaining to this set (thank God I only have two) needs to be programmed individually. Now, perhaps this is the norm, perhaps I've got lucky with previous handsets because every other cordless phone I've owned has only required the handset pertaining to the main base to be programmed. It's an irritating problem that quite frankly, for the fifty pound price tag should not be there and matters are made worse if I have miss-programmed the ring tones as I end up with two phones ringing two different tones.
One feature in the iDects favour however is the dual ring tone function. I'm fully aware this is not unique although it is useful, more so than caller ID. The idea is simple. Every number you store to your phone book can be assigned a different ring tone, limited only by the number of ring tones the unit has stored (in this case 10). Personally, I prefer most of my contacts under the same ring tone with the exception of my hubby and some family members and friends which makes life easier if your screening calls. It's a good, practical feature and one which could work perfectly had the programming of the individual handsets not been such a kerfuffle but as it stands, for the first few days I found myself constantly resetting ring tones so both handsets had matching melodies.
It's the one function you expect any telecoms manufacturer to get right. It's fundamentally the most important aspect of any phone and if you can't hear there's really no point. Volume set to maximum and the ringer is quiet (unless of course the handset is in the same room as you) and the line is equally lacking in a quality output. The line, not constantly I hasten to add, suffers from interference. Light hissing and echoing being the main culprits that dog the sound quality of an active line, a problem not previously encountered and after numerous checks my suspicions were confirmed. It does all come back to the phone. During most calls voices are so faint I struggle to hear and those on the other end struggle to hear me and the only way around the problem is to take every call on speaker phone. Even the answerphone offers poor replay quality. Playback is the only area where the volume is loud enough to hear but the sound emissions are always slightly fuzzy and whilst it's a good idea that messages can be accessed from the handsets it would be nice (rather than fumbling through the menu to replay or delete) if they could be controlled from the base which only displays messages held.
Where audio quality is grossly impaired the indoor and outdoor range work surprisingly well, although an active line still suffers interference. I can not comment however on the 300 meter range but I can happily confirm that at near half of that and the phone still works (and that's with obstructions such as brick walls and trees in my garden)
---- Overall ----
I feel like I've reverted back to an era where our modern day technological innovations were on the cusp of being great. The iDect should be a nice cordless phone but it struggles to overcome the hurdles of perfecting it's basic functions so probably just as well any innovative features have been excluded. The iDect is a bit "all looks and no brains" as Binatone have asserted all their energies into appearance and almost none what so ever on the technical substance within.
The iDect C51 is, in all honesty, the runt of the telecommunications litter, and an expensive one at that for the little it contains. Those who seek modern and stylish portable handsets will not be disappointed with it's sleek exterior, probably happily putting up with it's time consuming programming but those who crave a practical set will find it damn frustrating, not least because of it's price. Almost everything about this set feels awkward. I've had to dig deep to find positives to write in this review and I'm struggling even now to think of reasons for you to buy. In honesty I just can't recommend. There are better handsets on the market within this price range offering more for your money and you'd do just as well to purchase one of those, which after just four months of owning is exactly what I'm going to do. I do not feel it's worth the money I paid and I can't say I would be any happier if I had purchased for half the price. Two stars. One for durability, one for style. Two words. Completely useless.