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High hopes dashed, but we'll probably learn to be content with it
on November 29, 2013
I was looking for a cordless phone/answering machine to replace our 10-year-old Panasonic (which was interfering with our microwave and wifi, had poor sound quality on the recorded message playback, and lacked features like caller ID announce). Since sound quality was important to us, I first went to Consumer Reports and found their most recent testing of Cordless Answering Systems (from October 2011). There was an AT&T model (84100) listed as excellent (top rating) for sound quality on both voice and message playback. When I typed this model into Amazon's search window, it offered me the chance to "See newer model of this item". Following that link led me to the CL84102. Since it had newer features that we wanted, and I couldn't imagine AT&T deliberately scaling back the sound quality on a replacement model, after reading mostly positive reviews here I bought it.
Having used it for six weeks now, it's clear that either (a) AT&T has indeed pulled a bait and switch on sound quality from the old model to its replacement or (b) sound quality in the land line phone industry has regressed so drastically over the past decade despite advances in integrated circuit technology (perhaps because they figure most people use cell phones and these things are just "backup devices" for the hopelessly luddite), that this level of "quality" is now the best of a bad lot. In any case, while the sound during message playback is somewhat better than our old (horrible) Panasonic's, the voice sound on the cordless unit is so bad that it's almost unusable except in speakerphone mode. Imagine a poor cat down in a 200-foot well purring out his last breaths and you've basically got it. That's on max volume. I can't imagine what possessed AT&T to consider this acceptable.
The voice quality on the (corded) base unit is pretty good, but has an unwelcome new aspect to it that we didn't experience in our old Panasonic. Your end of the conversation seems to frequently be in a kind of "voice activation" mode. This means if you breathe wrong into your mouthpiece, it cuts out the incoming sound completely. I have no idea what this technology is doing on a base unit, which should require no digital communication between your microphone and the actual phone line. I guess they tried to implement a two-way (duplex) call on a one-way (simplex) circuit EVEN on the base (corded) unit. Very annoying. I guess I'll learn not to breathe whenever I'm listening. It's interesting how technology sometimes trains us rather than the other way around.
The caller ID announce is nice to have, but I would guess we can only make out what it's saying well enough to guess the caller about 70-80% of the time. Still, that's 80% of telemarketers flouting the do-not-call registry that we don't jump up to answer now, so it's a step forward.
The 14-minute recorded message storage space is on the very short end of the range these days (according to the CR article I started my search with), which makes it especially disappointing that this model doesn't have a way of telling how much space you've currently used. Our old Panasonic had this - did someone un-invent that very simple capability too?
One more step backward from our tossed-aside Panasonic: after you've played any new incoming messages once, to hear them again you have to start from the very first stored message and cue forward until you get to the last one. On our old unit, you could simply hit the "back" arrow key from the outset, and it would play the last call.
I suppose at this point I sound like the guy whining to his partner "why can't you do these things that my ex- whom I unceremoniously dumped could do?", so I guess I should note the things I like about our new phone. Um... it doesn't appear to be interfered with by the microwave, and I'm pretty sure it's not messing with our wifi. Though I have to point out that I don't think any newer model will, since the industry has moved to a different spectrum region. Um... the black and silver looks super cool? Oh! The visual presentation on the base set is eminently readable with big buttons and big clear high-contrast font on the LCD readout (very helpful for 50-year-old eyes). Now if only the buttons weren't so wobbly when you pressed them that you're afraid you're entering the number twice. On our old Panasonic...
Oh heck. I'm trying here. Maybe our old Panasonic wasn't so bad. I wonder if she'll take us back if we plug her in again and beg her forgiveness?