Walter S. Mossberg and Katherine Boehret

Turning Your Cellphone Into Your Home Phone

Anyone with a cellphone is familiar with this scenario: You come home, take your jacket off, and set your purse or briefcase down near the door. A few hours later, you get your cellphone out of your bag to use it, only to find that you’ve missed three calls because you weren’t close enough to hear your phone ringing.

Cellphones rule in lots of places — we can call for car help when stranded along a highway, find friends in a crowd, and be nagged by co-workers or spouses at any time and place. But the old-fashioned wired phone wins at home. When someone calls your house line, extension phones all over the house ring, and can be used to answer the call. With a cellphone at home, you have to schlep it everywhere you go.

RCA Cell Docking System
RCA Cell Docking System by Thomson Inc. — $149.99/ www.rca.com

As more and more households continue to trade in their landlines for cellphones with better calling plans and free long distance, the inconvenience of toting a single cellphone around the house gets more annoying.

So, this week we took a look at two products that aim to solve that problem by tying your cellphone into your wired home phone setup. They allow you to use your home phones, including extensions in every room, to place and receive calls through your cellphone and your cellphone calling plan.

The two products are the RCA Cell Docking System from Thomson Inc. and the Dock-N-Talk Universal Cellphone Docking Station from Connecticut-based Phone Labs Technology Co. Each costs $150.

Both work by directing your incoming cellular calls to a wired phone — and allowing outgoing calls to be made through your wireless network using these telephones. The RCA product comes with a special cordless telephone that links to a cellphone docking station, while the Dock-N-Talk is a small box that connects any corded or cordless home telephone to your cellphone. To use the RCA system in multiple rooms, you need to buy additional cordless handsets for $70 each that work with the RCA system.

These products also allow users to toggle back and forth between a landline and a cellular line, though we tested it only in a house where cellphones had already eliminated the need for a landline. The RCA’s included cordless telephone has buttons labeled Home and Cell to answer or initiate calls using either line.

With Dock-N-Talk, you can also use a landline or your cellphone line by adjusting a switch on the box and buying splitters for your phone jacks. House phones attached to line one will ring for landline calls, and phones plugged into line two on the splitter ring for cell calls.

Docking Station
Dock-N-Talk Universal Cellphone Docking Station by Phone Labs Technology Co. — $149.99/www.phonelabs.com

Because cellphones use many different types of connectors, these products are compatible only with phones for which adapter cables exist, or which can be connected using Bluetooth wireless networking. The RCA Cell Docking System comes with cellphone adapter cables, but these work only with 57 models from three manufacturers: Sony Ericsson (a joint venture of Japan’s Sony Corp. and Sweden’s Telefon AB L.M. Ericsson), Motorola Inc. and Nokia Corp.

The Dock-N-Talk is a bit more versatile, but instead of using adapter cables that come with the device, you must buy them separately; most cost about $20 each. These cables are compatible with 418 different cellphone models from six different companies. If your cellphone has Bluetooth, a separate $80 Bluetooth adapter can be plugged into the side of the Dock-N-Talk for use with 267 cellphones from 24 different brands.

We took these devices home and tried them in real-life scenarios. The RCA device wasn’t compatible with either of our cellphones — a Palm Treo 650 and a Samsung SCH-A670. The Dock-N-Talk is compatible with the Treo 650 using Bluetooth.

The RCA device needed 16 hours for its cordless handset’s battery to charge, like most cordless phones. (This handset also functions as a regular phone, in case you ever stop using it with the cellphone docking system.) Thomson lent us a Motorola V551 cellphone for testing, and we used an included cable to plug it into the dock — a clear plastic cradle where the phone can rest.

We called the cellphone’s number, and as it’s designed to do, the cordless handset rang. We picked up the handset phone, and the connection sounded fine.

Using the Dock-N-Talk was rather straightforward, too. We connected it to a cordless home telephone and used the same Motorola V551 cellphone for testing. After setup, the Dock-N-Talk box had four cords running from it: a short phone cord running to the cordless phone, a longer phone cord running to a phone jack on the wall, a power adapter plug running to a wall socket, and a cellphone adapter cord attached to our Motorola.

We called the cellphone and it and the attached cordless phone both rang. We also plugged another phone into a wall jack in a room down the hall — remember, this was in a house with no landline — and both house phones and the cellphone rang without a hitch.

We also tested the Dock-N-Talk’s Bluetooth adapter, a small, flat piece that plugged in where the cellphone cable had been. Our first Bluetooth attempt with a Treo 650 failed — we never got to the pairing step for some reason that we think has to do with the Treo itself. However, we tried our trusty Motorola V551 cellphone once more, as it has Bluetooth capability, and it “discovered” and “paired” with the Dock-N-Talk. Calling the cellphone worked just as it had with the cable — the cell rang, as did the two house phones.

These devices have a practical use in any busy home where cellphones are used. One issue that might arise is the fact that in many homes, each family member has his or her own phone. The solution to serving multiple cellphones is to buy a different device for each phone, which could get pricey.

Though the RCA Cellphone Docking System includes a separate cordless phone and cellphone cables, its compatibility is very limited. It can work only with its own handsets, while the Dock-N-Talk works with various handsets. Dock-N-Talk also works with more cellphones, and is Bluetooth compatible.

If you’re looking for a smart solution to stay connected with your cellphone without the need to keep it in your pocket at all times, the Dock-N-Talk is the way to go. It stands out because it will work with more products, including house phones that you already have. Just be sure your cellphone is compatible before you make the investment.


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