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Siemens's sleek Gigaset SL3501 looks more like a cell phone than a cordless model you'd keep at home. Measuring just 4.5 by 1.75 by 0.75 inches and weighing 3.5 ounces, this 2.4GHz phone is astoundingly compact. Unlike your mobile, however, the SL3501 is part of a system that can expand to include up to four handsets. Alas, its sound quality is terrible--inexcusable, considering its exorbitant price tag ($220 list for the base package with one handset).
In addition to its unique, buttonless charging station, the SL3501 comes with a black accessory base station, which houses the phone jack. Both stations have small footprints compared to those of other cordless phones we've seen. This setup lets you keep the handset on its base near any electrical outlet, which is handy if your only phone jack is in an inconvenient location. The tiny handset has a layout similar to that of most cell phones. A 1.5-inch (diagonal) grayscale LCD shows the date and the time, along with menu and redial options, while Talk and End keys flank both sides of a four-way rocking scroll button. There's even one-touch access for checking messages and another key that takes you straight to the onboard phone book.
The SL3501 has no shortage of features, including the ability to support an MP3 player attachment (not included). We particularly liked the SL3501's birthday and anniversary reminder service. Unfortunately, you can't enter a text name for the event, but you can choose from a variety of visual remiders; then, simply input the date and time, and an alarm is set. Other handy options include a Vibra Alarm ringer, a fully digital answering machine with 30 minutes of recording time, a built-in speakerphone, caller ID (if you subscribe to the service), and voice-activated dialing for up to 20 entries.
However, the SL3501's performance doesn't live up to its hefty price tag. In our tests, we expected a range of about 50 feet, but the phone started breaking up a mere 15 feet from the base station. And the audio quality was poor at best--voices on the other end sounded tinny and far away. The speakerphone's sound had similar issues, though we could hear the person on the other end without straining too much. Plus, the SL3501 suffered interference from just about every wireless device in our vicinity, notifying us with an alarming beep each time our neighbor connected and disconnected her cell phone. On the upside, the phone's battery life tested well. The SL3501 stayed alive for just less than 15 hours of talk time and about 250 hours of standby time (Siemens's ratings are 7 hours and 120 hours, respectively).