You never want to be out without your cell phone, but what happens when you get home? You leave it on the front seat of your car, park it with your keys and coins on top of the dresser, or plug it in someplace to recharge. Then it rings, and you go racing through the house looking for it before your caller gets redirected to voicemail. There's a better way.
I've been playing around with a gadget designed to let you reap the benefits of your cell plan from your home phone. Called Dock-N-Talk, it's made by a tiny company called Phone Labs Technology Co. There are about as many options as a Lego set for hooking it up, but the basic idea is that it links a regular corded or cordless phone with your cell phone to provide the best features of each.
That means that you can use a regular phone to make and receive cell-phone calls -- a great thing if you find today's tiny cell phones hard to hold or if you're worried about the radiation they give off. The system offers a nifty solution to dead zones in your house where your cell phone doesn't work. And you still have all the freebies on your cellular plan: long distance, family calls, and off-peak minutes, not to mention voice dialing and voicemail.
For the simplest configuration -- turning one desk phone into a cell phone -- I plugged the $140 silver box, about four inches square, into a electrical outlet in a room with good cellular reception. Using the phone cord that comes with it, I plugged the box into my desk phone, which was no longer jacked into the wall. Then I hooked Dock-N-Talk up to my cell phone. (For this last part, you need a $15-to-$18 adapter cable, and Phone Labs has them for more than 150 different Nokia (NOK ), Motorola (MOT ), and Sony Ericsson models.)
SURE ENOUGH, NEXT TIME A CALL came in on my cell, it rang on the desk phone. I could use that phone to place calls as well. I just dialed as I would on a landline, and the call went out over Cingular's cellular network. As for dead zones, just make sure Dock-N-Talk is anchored in a room with decent reception, then use a cordless handset anywhere in the house.
How about landline and cell service on a single phone? For that, hook Dock-N-Talk up to a two-line phone, with the other line plugged into a wall telephone jack. I used a Uniden TRU8866, a new two-line cordless phone that costs about $150. That gave me a handset that I can take all over the house and make or answer calls on, either over the cell network or my home line from the same handset. And when I added Phone Labs' $70 Bluetooth module and synced it with my cell, I moved up to yet another level in home telephony. Now, when I pull into the garage, I leave my phone in the car but still have cell service in the house. How cool is that? Phone Labs, in fact, is going to start selling a $200 two-line desk phone, called Unity Phone, in late August, with the Dock-N-Talk technology built in.
I also tried a product called CellSocket ($140) from WHP Wireless that does much the same thing as Dock-N-Talk. It uses a docking cradle instead of an adapter cord, but it only works with some Motorola models, and its voice quality isn't as good.
But wait, there's more. It's a little-known secret that most houses are wired with four-wire telephone cable, but a single telephone line uses only two wires. So your house probably is already wired for a second line. Plug Dock-N-Talk, connected to your cell phone, into any phone jack and set its switch for Line 2. You'll have both landline and cell service from all the phone jacks in your house.
You see where this is going. Whenever you're ready, you can unplug your local phone company.
Stephen H. Wildstrom is on vacation.
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By Larry Armstrong