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RCA Cell Docking System
Cell phones have become so ubiquitous and user-friendly that some people have abandoned landlines altogether. But this arrangement can present a problem. Smaller cell phones can become uncomfortable to hold after a long period of time, and cell phone reception inside a building isn't always reliable. On the other hand, while dependable, a cordless phone isn't the sexiest or most feature-filled device around; it lacks goodies such as Bluetooth, and you often have to pay for caller ID. Electronics companies have begun to take notice of this discrepancy by introducing products that combine the convenience of a cell phone with the comfort of a landline phone. RCA's Cell Docking System, for instance, has a dual purpose. With an otherwise normal cordless phone, you can make both standard landline calls and calls using your cell phone's network. A landline connection isn't a requirement, though, so if you have or want only a cell phone, you can simply dock it in the cradle (see below) and start yakking away. Be advised, however, that not all cell phones are compatible. At present, the docking system accommodates only Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Nokia handsets, so be sure to check RCA's Web site to see if your mobile will work. On the upside, the device is fairly priced at $149.
RCA's product consists of two parts: a traditional 2.4GHz cordless phone with a charging base and a docking cradle for your cell phone. While we like the minimalist black-and-silver color scheme, the handset's plastic construction feels a little cheap. That said, the phone itself looks much like any other cordless model, with a stubby external antenna and the usual array of controls, such as buttons for speakerphone, call holding, call flash for call waiting and conference calls, handset programming (date, time, and the like), volume control, redial, and call mute. Two buttons that stand out, however, are the twin controls marked Home and Cell. They're used to toggle between cell phone and landline calls--but we'll get to that later. Completing the handset's design is a rectangular monochrome display that shows the phone's status and the caller ID. The small silver-and-black charging base is a simple affair. It has just two LED lights to show whether the home or cell line is in use and a paging button to make the headset beep if you can't find it. On the bottom are ports for the charging cable and a standard phone line.
The cell phone docking cradle is a more complicated affair. On the top is a clear plastic cradle for holding your cell phone. Our Motorola V551 slides perfectly into the holder, but larger cell phones, such as the , have a tighter fit. You connect your mobile through a short cable that plugs into the battery port. There's a cable for each of the supported cell phone models; you simply choose the one that fits your phone. Below the cradle you'll find a dim display and buttons for programming such information as the user language and the call timer, which lets you keep track of how many cell minutes you're using. We were surprised that the docking cradle and the phone-charging base don't require a connection. You just need to plug it in, though you must use a very large and heavy AC adapter. The device also comes with a USB cable that you can use to download software updates from RCA.
Using the docking system was relatively easy. To start, you plug in your cell phone to the charging cradle (flip phones must remain open to work properly). The system doesn't need to be programmed in order to recognize your cell phone, so we were off and running in no time. To place a call from the cordless phone, you first choose which line you want to use. For a landline call, you press the Home button; for a cell phone call, you press the Cell key. When a call comes in, a small light will indicate which line it is from. To pick up, just press the corresponding button. As stated previously, however, you don't need a landline at all to use the docking system with your cell phone.
Cell phone calls using the cordless handset were clear, but keep in mind that audio quality ultimately depends on your mobile's reception. If you place the docking cradle where your signal is patchy, call quality will suffer. The cordless phone lets you choose a specific ring-tone setting for cell calls; it also supports a 40-contact phone-book memory for caller ID. During a cell call, the cordless phone will display the caller's number, but unless the name is programmed into its own memory, it won't show up. On the upside, we liked that the cell phone cradle also charges your mobile when it's docked.