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The world is becoming a techno-geek's paradise, with machines playing an increasingly crucial role in how efficiently your business runs. One of the best tools for boosting your company's image is the digital answering machine, which is rapidly pushing traditional analog units toward the graveyard where rotary-dial phones and eight-track tapes rest.
Instead of recording on tape, digital units use microchips that deliver higher-quality sound with less static. They have fewer mechanical components to wear out, and they can retrieve messages without waiting for the winding of a tape. (One drawback: A power loss can wipe out stored messages, but most machines now come with 9-volt battery compartments or backup systems.)
When purchased integrated with a phone, these units--and the multitude of features they offer--are often all a small business needs to handle telecommunications.
We've attempted to feature the spectrum of what's available in digital answering machines integrated with telephones. Prices are generally determined by the number of extra features, so don't get carried away, or you may pay for more than you need. Evaluate what's out there and select a system that can play a starring role in your business.
Model: Cobra Cordless Phone and Digital Answering System AN-8630-25
Phone features: Intenna system; voice scrambling; 25-channel, 10-number memory dial; two-way intercom with page/find; seven-day battery life; receiver volume control; Secur-Loc; hearing-aid compatible
Answering machine features: Five mailboxes, 20 minutes of recording time, time/date stamp, voice help menu, remote access, battery backup, six greetings, auto standby/auto answer, message search, auto interrupt
List price: $279.95
Phone/Web site: (773) 889-3087, http://www.cobraelec.com
For a no-frills system, the AN-8630-25 has lots of frills. The five voice mailboxes are handy for routing calls to different people or departments, and you can create up to six greetings--one general and five individual--to go with them. It's nice not to have a protruding antenna, especially when the reception is just as good.
The voice help menu is great for those who find it easier to listen to a voice than flip through a pesky manual. Speaking of listening, Cobra's Private Call Scrambler Circuitry cuts down on eavesdropping by scrambling your voice, while Secur-Loc prevents unauthorized phone use.
Model: VTech VT1970ci
Phone features: 900 MHz, auto channel scan, alpha-numeric call waiting, caller ID, spare battery charger with power backup, 50-caller ID memory with time/date stamp, 20-number speed-dial memory, out-of-range indication, programmable ringer, digital volume control
Answering machine features: 18 minutes of message storage, number display, Answer and Announce Only modes, message retention in event of power failure, time/date stamp, remote access, memo capability, call screening, extension-in-use indication, message-waiting indication
List price: $319
Phone/Web site: (800) 835-8023, http://www.vtechphones.com
The 900MHz digital spread spectrum technology is the newest and best there is, so if your business revolves around the phone and you're looking for a good cord-less, don't be scared away by the higher price. The answering machine lets you do almost everything--screen messages, access messages remotely, leave voice memos, screen calls and more. The phone itself has a whopping 50-caller ID recognition and 20 speed-dial numbers as well as a battery charger.
Model: Uniden XCA 550
Phone features: Page/find, 14-day battery life, hearing-aid compatible, Random Code, 25 channels
Answering machine features: Outside line remote, 13 minutes of recording time, time/date stamp, backup message protection, 10-number memory speed dial
List price: $139.95
Phone/Web site: (817) 858-3300, http://www.uniden.com
If you don't want to be chained down by a cord, check out this 25-channel model. The 14-day battery life is quite generous for a cordless. The Random Code feature prevents static and interference.
The answering machine features are fairly bare-bones, but sufficient for a one-person show. Look for Voice Dial, a speech recognition capability that allows dialing by simply speaking into the phone, to be integrated into most of Uniden's phones in the future (it's available in some models now).
Model: Sharp CL-990 Cordless Phone
Phone features: 900 MHz, autodial, three-way handset, 10-number speed dialing with lifetime memory retention, Any Key Talk, 20-channel auto scan, electronic memo pad, three-hour quick charge
Answering machine features: Paging capabilities, two voice mailboxes, time/date stamp, 14 minutes of recording time, two-way paging and intercom function
List price: $280
Phone/Web site: (800) BE-SHARP, http://www.sharpusa.com
Sharp's CL-990 is an excellent high-end buy, with goodies such as Any Key Talk--a "no-fumbling" feature that lets you begin talking immediately by pressing any key except Off, Mute or Volume. The answering machine allows you to separate personal and business messages. Two-way paging and intercom functions are useful when the handset is away from the base--either for finding the phone or for use as a direct intercom with someone in your office.
Model: GE 2-9976 Two-Line Digital Speakerphone Message System
Phone features: Auto busy redial, conference call, individual-line electronic hold, 24-number memory, programmable ring select, toll saver, distinctive ring for each line, flash function
Answering machine features: Two lines, time/date stamp, timed outgoing announcements, message forward, pager forward, phone conversation record, changeable security code, auto disconnect, speakerphone
List price: $189.99
Phone: (800) 447-1700
GE's phones have a good reputation, but that's not the only reason to consider the corded 2-9976 a wise buy. The two-line system allows incoming calls from two lines at once, and you can program a distinctive ring for each line. You can time outgoing messages and record conversations--useful for note-taking, order-taking or training employees.
Model: Casio IT-380 E-mail Link
Phone features: E-mail indicator, Internet- and online service-compatible, LCD display, speakerphone, 20-name/number autodial, clock, distinctive ring, flash memory message protection
Answering machine features: Remote access, variable speed message playback, two greetings, three lines, 14 minutes of recording time, selective erase and save, voice-assisted operation
List price: $149
Phone/Web site: (310) 618-9910, http://www.casiophonemate.com
Casio offers the first phone you can check your e-mail with. The IT-380 works with all compliant ISPs and online services without requiring a PC connection. It alerts you to new e-mail messages and displays the sender, the date and time received, and the subject.
The IT-380 is a solid machine with the ability to receive calls from three incoming phone lines and record two different greetings. The Message File feature lets you store especially lengthy messages in a different location so they don't take up as much space.