It was a confluence of a few things that led to the new phone purchase.
* My son was now almost a teenager — in fact, he would be in just a couple months. Somehow, inevitably, he has become the dominant phone user in the house. No, we don’t want to get him his own phone, but maybe just one for the hallway, so we don’t have to listen to his pointless discussions about video games and magic cards.
* I was starting to get tired of screaming upstairs, over the CD player, through the closed bedroom door, over the sound of the washer or dryer, just to get the kids to come down to dinner, or clean up the mess they left in the TV room.
* Our primary phone was beginning to tweak out, almost randomly, and usually in the middle of a long-distance call.
“Don’t they make phones that double as intercoms?” My wife asked last Saturday morning, when we just happened to have an extra hour before we each had somewhere else we needed to be.
“Oh, phones these days have everything. It’d be trivial to add an intercom feature.” Thoughts of no more screaming up the stairs to wrest the kids’ attention from their card games and MAD Magazine danced through my head. “Why don’t we just pop up to Staples and see what they’ve got?”
An hour later, we returned home with not just a phone, but a communications system, with two handsets, Caller ID, 40-call memory, and the clincher, the handset-to-handset paging feature. “5.8 gigahertz!” I said. “What did our old phone have, 900 megahertz?” If 900 megahertz is good, 5.8 megahertz can only be better, right?
After the phone had been plugged in about 2 hours, I decided to deliberately flout the manual’s recommendation to allow it to charge a minimum of 12 hours before use.
“Does it work,” the wife asked.
“Yeah, I hear a dial tone, but it’s all static-y. How can there be static in a dial tone?”
“Let me try,” she said, grabbing the phone from me. “I don’t hear anything.”
I grabbed the phone back. “The static’s gone now. Maybe it just needs a little time to establish a connection with the base station. Maybe 5.8 gigahertz phones are different from 900 megahertz phones.”
Soon we had installed both phones, and excitedly showed the kids how we could page them instead of screaming up the stairway.
“It glows!” grinned my son, pointing to the bright blue logo on the base station.
“I know. It’s a little annoying, but at least it works.”
“I think it’s cool!”
We spent the next few minutes testing out the “page” feature. Thanks to modern Digital Spread Spectrum Technology, it was now possible to summon a child without howling like a banshee. It almost made me forget about the glowing blue logo and the dial tone static. That night at dinnertime, I was halfway to the staircase before I remembered: I could page them down for dinner! Soon we were dining pleasantly, without even a hint of parental vocal strain. A victory for technology!
The next day I called my mom, long distance to Arizona. Within minutes I discovered this phone’s achilles heel. While it worked great for paging the kids upstairs, it couldn’t accurately transmit my mom’s words. The static was worse than ever! I had to dig out the old 900 megahertz model just to finish the conversation. 5.8 gigahertz may look impressive on the box, but it sounds like a speech impaired bullfrog with a sore throat.
What’s going on here? What I need is some objective research on phones. Something like Consumer Reports. Hey, wait a minute! I subscribe to Consumer Reports, don’t I? I signed up for their online edition a few months back when I was buying a grill. Sure enough, I found an old password and logged on. Here’s what they have to say about cordless phones:
Cordless phones seem to be bucking the pervasive “digital is better” trend. In our tests, phones using analog transmission had the best voice quality. Many analog phones have another important edge over most digitals, we have found: They aren’t likely to interfere with other wireless hardware in the home.
You don’t say? Damn!
Needless to say, after about 45 minutes smashing the phone back into the box, I’ll be heading back to Staples today to trade my fancy digital phone for a cheap analog one. Then I’ll take my change and head over to Radio Shack to buy an intercom.