Review: A week with the Panasonic Link-to-Cell home phone

Panasonic Link-to-cell.jpg

Brian and I live and work at home, and we have three phone lines and four handsets that are constantly demanding our attention from different parts of the house. It’s a little hard to keep track of. That’s why I was excited to try out the Panasonic KX-TH1211 Link to Cell &mdash a land line that can make and retrieve calls from up to two cell phones via Bluetooth. I figured it would solve the problem of too many phones if we just had one handset to keep track of. But while the idea is novel, it wasn’t actually as useful as I had initially expected.

First of all, there is not a single corner of our house that has good AT&T reception. (Yes, that’s right, AT&T has no reception in a popular San Francisco neighborhood. I have no idea why.) So we scrapped that idea of trying to link the Link to Cell to Brian’s iPhone. This is no fault of Panasonic’s, of course &mdash you just have to have reception. T-Mobile gets a couple of bars by my desk, so I linked my Sony Ericsson to the Panasonic base unit and used it for the past week.

The set-up was easy and pretty much the same as any other Bluetooth device. Once it was hooked up, I could use my cell phone minutes to make calls from the land line &mdash so I probably saved a few bucks on my home phone bill. That’s nice! One problem for me, though, is that Link to Cell didn’t allow me to link my cell phone to both itself and a Bluetooth headset. I like to take my work phone calls hands-free so I can type and talk at the same time. While I was testing, I had to disconnect my cell phone from the land line base unit it each time I wanted to do a phone interview.

Throughout the week, the phone talked to me &mdash it told me who was calling, which was convenient for screening calls while I was preoccupied, but also annoying when I needed my concentration not to be broken by a robotic voice. Also, if somebody’s using the land line, calls to the cell phone got routed back to my cell phone. In a high phone-traffic household, the whole purpose of the convenience of one phone is defeated.

If you’re the type of person who likes to come home, put your cell phone away on its charger in the second floor bathroom corner, and not have to worry about running upstairs to get it when you hear it ring, then for $80 this is a great phone for you. Or if you have your own office with a lot going on and no time to be fishing for one phone or the other or to check who’s calling on your caller ID or to keep track of appointments, then the talking robot voice may be a great help. But if you’re like me, and you’re just trying to keep things simple at the desk or at home in a single-story house that it’s not that big, then you probably don’t need it.

Product page [Panasonic]

About Lisa Katayama

I'm a contributing editor here at Boing Boing. I also have a blog (TokyoMango), a book (Urawaza), and I freelance for Wired, Make, the NY Times Magazine, PRI's Studio360, etc. I'm @tokyomango on Twitter.
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4 Responses to Review: A week with the Panasonic Link-to-Cell home phone

  1. technogeek says:

    Late update: I did spring for an XLink BTTN.

    It’s a tiny little thing, very lightweight — they didn’t bulk it up just to make it seem more serious. I like that, but it was somewhat startling when I first opened the box.

    So far, it seems to be doing exactly what I wanted — coupling painlessly to my fairly basic cellphone, passing caller-ID phone numbers happily through from either cell or my cheapo VOIP box (magicJack), accepting and making calls on either (defaulting to the VOIP line, which is what I want… though they really ought to make the default programmable).

    Downside, as previously noted: The strength of its Bluetooth connection does mean that the link is made when you get within about 20 feet of the bridge box, whether or not you’re in the middle of a call. I can toggle bluetooth on the phone, but that’s a bit more annoyance than I want. I can toggle the connection on the XLink, but there isn’t a mode where it goes offline automatically and stays there until you ask it to link up again… which I think I would prefer. Again, that’s something they could make programmable.

    The firmware is upgradable via USB; I’ll drop them a note suggesting these ideas.

  2. hohum says:

    I’d been looking at solutions like this, and then Google Voice happened.

  3. grimc says:

    I have a previous generation version of this. Oddly enough, it was the standby battery time that made me stop using it. I couldn’t leave the handset sitting around outside the dock for more than a day at a time, or else it would completely drain (I hope that Panny addressed it in this version). The answer, obviously, was to not leave it sitting around, but the loss of convenience is pretty marked when you’re accustomed to always having your cell phone on hand.

    And like Lisa noted, the robotic voice could be pretty startling/obnoxious when I was quietly concentrating on writing or something.

  4. technogeek says:

    I’ve been looking at widgets related to this one for a while — primarily the XLink, since it can be hooked up to feed the normal house-phone wiring rather than forcing you to go out and buy more wireless handsets. My ideal setup would be one of these bridges with a cheap VOIP (eg MagicJack) as the “land line” so outgoing (and extended) calls could avoid burning cellular minutes.

    The main downside of the XLink appears to be that it grabs the handsfree connection the moment the phone comes in range — so transferring a call from the cel to the house phone is rather abrupt. (It also defaults to outgoing via landline, but that’s actually what I’d want.) And there have been just enough complaints about it to make me nervous, though they seem to mostly be coming from less-clueful users.

    If anyone has a landline/cell (or voip/cell) combination which is really working well for them, and which doesn’t require a phone with high monthly charges (I prefer prepaid), I’d be interested. Otherwise, I may just have to try the experiment myself…

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