One thing that we’ve always ‘keep meaning to buy’ has been an answering machine – with plans for our wedding hotting up we’ve often found that we’ve missed calls from people such as florists, photographers and the people we are inviting. So a few weeks ago (which also happened to coincide with pay-day) I went into town with the intention of buying a standalone answering machine. A look in Argos didn’t really reveal much, so a trip over to Currys was undertaken. It’s here that I found the V-Tech Mirage on special offer for £50 – a bargain I thought. Instead of buying just an answering machine, I ended up getting a DECT cordless telephone with built in answering machine instead! A DECT phone is the next-generation in cordless telephone, standing for Digitally Enhanced something or other (sorry, can’t remember) they offer crystal clear sound – kind of like having a normal phone’s quality, but with none of that buzzing and interference you often find with normal cordless telephones. Plus they often have many features you would expect to find on a mobile phone: For example, you can store up to twenty names and numbers in the phones memory – searching through a phone-book much like you would on a mobile phone, you just scroll to the name of the person you want to dial, find their name and press the ‘dial’ button – a very handy feature for me to keep all those important numbers stored. It also has a quite decent range that you can take the phone away from the base station (the charger that it sits on when not in use), I think that the range is up to twenty metres, which allowed me to take the phone out into the garden on the weekend and still get a terrific signal when talking to people. Other features include the ability to set up a ‘network’ in your home with other handsets – this might be useful if you live in a big h
ouse, you can call another phone for free and speak to someone in a different part of the house. My house isn’t exactly a mansion though so it’s a pretty redundant feature for me! The design of the phone is simple enough, coming in silver it has a LCD display screen that shows the battery life left, the number you are typing in to dial and also the number of messages you have on the phone. I’ll come to the answering machine aspect of it in a minute, but discuss the features of the phone a little more first. As I mentioned, the phone comes with an LCD display – the only complaint I have is that this display is not illuminated. It’s not difficult to illuminate a LCD screen, and it would have been a real bonus to have this included. It can sometimes be a little tricky to read the screen in poor light and you may often find yourself angling the handset in the light to read any text on screen, but it’s only a minor inconvenience. Operation of the phone is quite simple really, basically enter the number of who you want to call and press dial – not too tricky was it! The number you are entering is displayed on the screen as you enter it, but if you enter an incorrect digit you can delete them one at a time until you’ve put the right number in – another nice little feature. The navigation around the phones various menus’ are handled in a similar fashion to a mobile phone too. You’ve got a ‘menu’ button, a ‘down’ button to cycle through the sub-menus and a ‘select’ button. It would have been nice to have an ‘up’ button too though. I’ve often went past the option I wanted to select, meaning that I have to scroll through everything again in order to get back to the option I wanted to select. Another minor quibble is the option for switching the answer machine on/off is quite far through the various menus
– it would have made more sense to have it as one of the first things you could select as obviously it’s something you’ll be using quite a lot. The actual quality of calls though is a vast improvement over my older cordless telephone – much smaller and lighter too, so I’ve no complaints on that front. Onto the answer-machine aspect of the machine then. Instead of using those little tapes that we used to have with answering machines, this unit stores your messages inside the phone – so no more wear and tear on tape, and no degradation in quality either – the messages will always come across nice and clearly. This phone can record up to 15 minutes worth of messages – after looking at various other phones in the shop this would seem to be the average really and it’s more than enough for what we use it for. You can listen to your messages in two ways – either through the handset earpiece, or if you put the phone on the base unit, via a loudspeaker on the base. Each message is preceded by the date and time of the call too. As well as having messages stored, you can leave a voice message for someone in the house too – just say that you are popping out somewhere, you can leave a voice message on the machine for someone else to get when they return home. A number on the LCD display on the phone indicates new messages, although there is no display on the base unit itself, which would have been handy. It would also have been a good idea to have a button to activate/deactivate the answer machine easily too, but alas this is not the case. The base unit itself is quite dinky too – a simple slot to stand the phone on to charge and that’s about it. There are no cumbersome aerials like those found on more traditional cordless phones and the loudspeaker on the back gives very good playback of your messages. The instructions that came with the phone are a
bit cumbersome though - it took us ages to figure out how to record a message on the machine, and the guide wasn't too helpfull sadly. A bit of perserverence though soon got it set up and running. You can even have two different outgoing messages for people to hear when they call - so that you can have a standard message, and another to give out other numbers to reach you on if you wish. Features such as 'last number redial' are here, as are mute and a handy list of the last ten calls your phone received. If you subscribe to BT you can also have caller display activated - this means that the LCD display shows the number of the person who is ringing you. If you have that person stored in your phones memory it will also display their name, so it will show 'Mum' on the display for example. I bought my phone for £50 – which I think is excellent value for money given the cost of standalone DECT telephones, never mind those that come coupled with an answering machine. Easy to use and a quite stylish design can only leave me with high recommendations for this phone.
I have long been a subscriber to the Consumer Association's Which? magazine. Whilst I don't often buy household goods, I was in the market to replace my ageing Panasonic Easa-phone answering machine, and thought I would go with the Which? magazines 2001 recommendation. The Panasonic Easa-phone had been a great phone/answering machine for ten years or so, and it was only age that was letting it down (a couple of the buttons no longer worked). Having read Which? magazine, I plumped for their recommended DECT cordless Answerphone - the Vtech Mirage 100.... oh dear! I bought it from Comet at the suggested price of £79 inc VAT. The base unit was a pleasantly simple looking silver stand, and the handset was a matching, nicely weighted unit with interchangeable coloured fascias. Overall it was very pleasing to the eye, but sadly it's performance didn't live up to what I'd expect from a Which magazine "Best Buy". It has most of the features you'd expect from a modern DECT answerphone, so no problem there. However, it was let down by three things. First - the sound quality, both from the handset and the base unit was well below that of other DECT phones I'd heard. The sound was muffled, and ajusting the volume did just that, so the choice was quiet muffled or loud muffled. I took the unit back to Comet and changed it for another, but that was muffled also. Ok, I'll put that down to being a sub-standard speaker. Second - the LCD display is not backlit. This means that in anything other than a brightly lit room, it is hard to read. Finally, there is no separate message indicator. This means that when you get home, the only way to tell if you have messages is to pick up the hadset and squint at the LCD display to see if it says "MESSAGES". So, not terribly ergonomic. I have since relegated the VTECH phone to my spare room and use it simply as a cordless extension. I went
out and purchased a Binatone MD2000 (£69) which is far better. It has all the features of the VTECH, plus a backlight, plus there is a small green light on the base unit that flashes if you have messages waiting.