Technology

A Cut Above the Ordinary Cordless


Vtech_6042_110x100
Editor's Rating: star rating

VTech has put together a package that looks good, sounds great, and couldn't be easier to use. What's not to like?

While technology these days is as much about fashion as function, most cordless-phone makers seem to have missed that particular page in the how-to manual. Not so with VTech Holdings (VTKHY), the Hong Kong maker of corded and cordless phones.

Its new 6042 digital phone and answering system not only sounds good, thanks to a new cordless-phone technology, but also passes muster in terms of design and setup.

The Benefits of DECT

VTech was one of the first to make a cordless phone that transmits in the 5.8-gigahertz radio frequency, thereby avoiding the interference of the 2.4GHz band left by the clutter of Wi-Fi computer gear, microwaves, and other home devices. Now VTech is adding DECT 6.0 technology to the mix with the 6042.

DECT, short for Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications, has long been popular in Europe. But it wasn't until late 2005 that a path was cleared for DECT in the U.S. by the Federal Communication Commission, which set aside the 1920-1930MHz wireless band for unlicensed personal communications devices.

The technology essentially "listens" for interference before transmitting and chooses another frequency if it detects a conflict. Switching channels is also possible with Wi-Fi routers, but you have to do it manually. DECT also offers greater range—I walked down into the basement and 20 feet outside my home without dropping a call—and increased protection against wireless eavesdropping.

A Handsome Handset and Easy Setup

It's neat technology, but its implementation by other manufacturers often has been clumsy. The 6042 system, however, turns heads, starting with its stylish brushed silver-and-gray handset and base unit. The handset also borrows a page from the Motorola's ubiquitous Razr cell phone, with recessed metal keys and a thin form that fits nicely in your hand. You plug the 6042 base into a phone jack, then simply plug as many as six handsets into wall outlets. Additional handsets are sold as the VTech 6030.

VTech throws in all the requisite phone features—from a digital display for call waiting and caller ID, to last number redial and speaker phone—with a few other goodies. My favorite was an intercom button that rings any of the other handsets in the home. Another nice feature was the ability to transfer calls between handsets, an appealing option for elderly and disabled users or those just feeling too lazy to walk into the next room.

The 6042 also wins kudos for Energy Star green technology compliance, thanks to a backlit LED screen. While the screen isn't color, it's pretty readable from a few feet away, displaying relevant information such as battery status, time, and voice-mail status. The digital answering system, with 15 minutes of recording time, was easy to set up.

Frankly, there's not much to criticize. It would have been nice to include a headphone jack and the aforementioned color display. The 6042 also uses rechargeable batteries that are harder to replace than regular AA or AAA batteries. But these quibbles are worth overlooking for a product at this price ($90) with such handy technology in a very attractive package.

Edwards is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau.

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