Thursday, July 14, 2005


Onward and upward with digital technology

My trusty Panasonic dual cassette answering machine finally died. It was twelve years old, and is survived by a three-year old Plantronics cordless headset phone and an old wall-mounted phone of indeterminate age.

Why did I hold onto the Panasonic for so long? Is it because I'm super-thrifty and save string and old wrapping paper? No. Okay, I do kind of hate buying consumer electronics (read about my now 18-year-old TV here), but there are many reasons for that. Built-in obsolescence -- the linchpin of the consumer electronics industry -- really offends me. Those electronics superstores like Best Buy and Circuit City are super obnoxious. And the technology, when it comes to replacing your old model, doesn't always get better.

I replaced my old Panasonic with this--


-- the ATT 1726.

It's sleek, compact, digital, and has many features. It has not one, not two, but three mailboxes -- ideal for a household of two people who don't need to separate their incoming messages. It can record and store four outgoing messages. (Expressing your creativity with an outgoing answering machine message is so 80s. Mine just says: "Leave a message for Oscar or B." I don't even say the wholly redundant "... at the beep.") It has several features that are so cutting edge I don't even understand how they can help me.

Seems like it does everything but clearly record telephone messages.

That's right, the sound quality of the ATT 1726 digital answering machine is for shit. In the three days of deployment, it's recorded about 20 incoming messages, not one of which I was able to hear in its entirety. A transcript of a typical message would look something like this:
Hey, Oscar, [heavy static] this is Larry [inaudible]. You don't know me, but I've got something really important to tell you about your mrfblugfu. Basically, [garbled]. So can you call me as ...oo... possle at m55-123?
I look for fundamentally two features from an answering machine. It should record incoming phone messages. And it should allow me to listen to the messages while they're coming in so I can screen calls. (The common solution -- voice mail combined with caller ID -- is actually an inferior system, since a good answering machine allows you to screen from another room without having to get up and go to the phone to see who's calling.) Remote message retrieval would be nice too.

Because the ATT 1726 fails to transmit the incoming call audibly, its impressive structure of additional features -- call screening, remote message retrieval and the rest -- falls apart like a house of cards.

While the ATT 1726 totally sucks, the fault is not entirely with this model. I think all digital answering machines suck. The Panasonic had been cranky for a couple of years before its death, and I tried to replace it three times in the past. But apparently, they don't make dual cassette answering machines any more. They're all digital, and all the reasonably-priced ones have terrible sound quality.

Here's an example of the myth of progress. The new technology is not of a better quality, but it manages to compete better in a flawed market. Digital answering machines are worse than what they've replaced, but they're cheaper to make (at least the crappy ones are), and casette tapes are probably one their way out as a mass produced consumer good. VHS was inferior to Beta; Microsoft has outcompeted one better product after another -- starting with it's operating system, which is inferior to Apple's -- because the company is better at competing.

Meanwhile, I've ten days to find a replacement for my answering machine before the closing of my "no questions asked return" window at Staples. Any suggestions?


Excellent whine. So sorry that you missed the deadline. (Brightly) But perhaps something else will break next week for you to whine about!

I wish you'd tell my brother-in-law that expressive answering machine messages are so '80s
I used to like to screen calls, too, until rabid ex-spouses would leave 5 minute rants and use up all the tape and cause the children to burst out in tears asking "What's an asshole? And why is that mean woman calling Daddy that?" I much prefer the voicemail/caller ID (and phone block) nowadays, so I don't ever have to hear another rant like that again.

I suggest searching ebay or yard sales for another dual cassette player. And I've got about 300 cassettes in the house that you can erase and use, after I've converted the ones I want to keep to CDs.
ebay seach results

There are quite a few Panasonics listed. (well, 4)
I actually checked out Consumers Reports to find out which has clearest sound (I have a hearing problem). My digital machine is clearest ever --but one drawback: shorter 'attention' span; gabby folks have to redial and finish their message. For me, it's a tradeoff. I opted for clarity. But it's 3 years old. There may be better on market. Do check CR.
Phantom: Why doesn't the "whine week" start as of the announcement of the previous week's award? Can't my whine be grandfathered in to next week's context? Darn, I should have whined about this on Monday!

Wendy: the people I don't want to talk to are not crazy, to the dual cassette is a better choice.

Anonymous: thanks for the anonymous tip. Is it important to maintain the anonymity of the make and model of your answering machine?
Weird. I haven't had a land line in years. Land lines and answering machines are for fancy people.
Didn't give my CR recommendation because it's not 'new'; it's a Southwestern Freedom Phone, model FA980. Just because this one's good, doesn't mean their other models will be. And this one's not fancy.
Best to check latest CR listing. Anon 12:12
MT: Whom do you think you're kidding? You probably have one of those cell phones where the caller's photo comes up with their number. That's high tech screening.
I prefer to just hand my cell phone to Jeeves, the butler and let him deal with it.
"Whom"?? See...fancy.
Shop at your favorite stores 24 hours a day. Why go to the mall when you can shop online and avoid the traffic
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