Phones are a pain -- fact. They have this tendency to ring and, when you answer them, people at the other end usually want to drone on and on about something. Usually, whatever they're talking about is boring and of little interest to you, and almost certainly would be better put in an email, so a searchable record of it exists. But, for those times when you absolutely have to use a fixed-line phone, you want it to be a decent piece of hardware.
It's taken a few years, but it seems that, while we were trying to avoid answering our cheap, plastic BT Dect phone, Gigaset, a Siemens company, has been inventing phones of interest to your average geek.
The SL400 feels like a mobile phone. It has a sturdy metal case and a small but very readable, colour LCD screen that allows you to access advanced menu options, including Bluetooth, photos of your contacts and a 500-entry phone book.
We were especially taken with the Bluetooth functionality, which enabled us to pair our Jawbone headset with the phone and walk around the house doing things that are 50 times more interesting than talking about how long it's going to take to fit a shower, and how it shouldn't cost £2,500. Wearing a Bluetooth headset makes you look like an idiot, but, in the privacy of your own home, that's fine.
But all of this is just normal phone stuff, and, as charming as the high-end SL400 is, we're geeks, so we need more. That's where the Gigaset S685 IP comes in. Basically, it's another handset and base, but it adds VoIP support. The plastic S685 handset isn't as pleasant to hold as the SL400, but it still has a colour screen and the same features. It also has a headset connector on the side, enabling you to plug in a wired microphone and earphone, which might appeal to people who work from home.
The VoIP portion of the S685 is superb too. We used Sipgate as our VoIP provider, and there are instructions online about what to do with the Gigaset phone. Setting it all up from the handset is a complete pain, but, brilliantly, Gigaset has a Web-configuration option too, which enables you to set the phone up using a Web browser. It didn't take long for us to get the phone online, and, from there, making low-cost calls via the Internet was dead simple.
The SL400 costs around £120 and comes with a base station. You can also buy the handset on its own, to pair with your existing Dect phone system, but it's not really any cheaper. The S685 costs around £100, and comes with the phone and base. In an ideal world, Gigaset would release a VoIP base with the SL400 handset, but this isn't an ideal world, as proven by the existence of Lady Gaga.
The handset that comes with the S685 is less impressive than the SL400, but it has the same functionality and excellent sound quality. Assignable buttons enable you to create fast links to various functions. Here, we've opted to have buttons that allow us to chose either our fixed phone line, or VOIP line to place a call.
With power, ethernet and normal phone line cables, the base does look a bit of a mess. It also requires your Internet router is close to your phone line, which it probably will be, but it might cause problems for some people.