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Telephones and Answering Machine Glossary

Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.

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2-line capability
Lets you connect two separate phone lines to the same phone.

1.9 GHz cordless
This frequency was designated as voice-only to protect telephone users from the interference commonly caused by wireless home networks. This means that 1.9 GHz phones operate on a less crowded frequency than 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz phones, and can provide superior sound quality and range. Most DECT phones use this frequency range exclusively.

2.4 GHz cordless
2.4 gigahertz (GHz) phones operate at a transmission frequency that gives them a clear signal and decent range. However, they have to compete with Wi-Fi® signals and other wireless devices.

5.8 GHz cordless
This frequency range is less crowded than the 2.4 GHz range, which is also shared by some wireless computer networking systems.

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Announce-only mode
Delivers an outgoing message without accepting incoming ones. Businesses often use this feature after hours to give callers their hours of operation.

Answering machine
Answering machines store incoming messages for later review. Almost all built-in answering machines currently made are digital. Since the recordings are stored on chips rather than tape, a digital answering machine can be repeatedly erased and reused without any degradation of sound quality.

"Any-key" talk
Lets you answer a call by touching any key on your cordless handset, rather than searching for the "right" button. Great for phones located in the bedroom, where you might need to answer calls in the dark.

Auto disconnect
The auto disconnect feature ensures that the phone line won't remain tied up if the handset isn't properly placed on the cradle, or if someone neglects to hang up at all. If a set amount of time passes without any conversation, the telephone will automatically break the connection.

Auto scanning
Within any frequency band, there are many different "channels." If you were to make a call on the same channel a neighbor was using, you could hear static, or even part of his or her conversation. Auto scanning searches all the available cordless phone channels to find the clearest one — automatically — even before you pick up or dial out. This ensures the best possible reception and transmission from your cordless handset.

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Base keypad
Some cordless speakerphones offer a keypad on the base, which lets you dial out without using the handset.

Base-to-handset paging
Sends a beep tone from the telephone base to your cordless handset. This lets you page a family member or co-worker in another room, or locate a missing handset. Some systems also allow the handset to send a beep tone to the base.

Base unit
Most cordless phones come with a base unit that serves a number of functions. Base units usually have built-in charging cradles for their cordless handset. They can also have a speakerphone function, answering machine, base keypad and other features.

A short-range wireless technology that allows devices to connect to one another and transfer information. Current Bluetooth-enabled devices operate in the 2.4 GHz radio frequency range, but future versions will operate in the 6-9 GHz range to avoid interference from other wireless devices. Some home phones and other after-market devices use Bluetooth to wirelessly connect your home phone system to a compatible cell phone.

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Call Block List
Lets you store Caller ID information for unwanted callers, so that the next time they call they'll get a busy signal.

Call screening
Lets you listen to messages as they're being left, so you can decide whether or not to answer the call.

Caller ID
If you have a phone with Caller ID, and subscribe to the service through your local phone company, your phone will display the number (and sometimes name) of incoming callers. Models with Call Waiting Caller ID can also display information for incoming callers when you're already on the phone. Caller ID block (which prevents your name and/or number from appearing on someone else's caller ID) is also a service provided by your local phone company.

Lets you talk simultaneously with an outside party or two. Multiple-line telephones can achieve 3-way conferencing using two separate phone lines and a separate outside party. Multi-handset phones allow 3-way conferencing between one outside phone line and two handsets, or 4-way conferencing between an outside phone line and 3 handsets.

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DECT technology
Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) technology lets you use multiple handsets with one base; uses the voice-dedicated 1.9 GHz frequency range for reduced interference; and gives you the ability to make internal (intercom) calls.

Digital spread spectrum
An advanced form of transmission, digital spread spectrum phones offer higher power output for greater range, and constantly switch channels for improved security.

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Expandable multi-handset system
An expandable multi-handset system features a base station that can accommodate multiple handsets. Such systems only work with handsets compatible with the base station. Usually these are the same stand-alone handsets that initially come with the system.

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Lets you answer a call on the other line (if you subscribe to Call Waiting through your phone company), or end a call and get a new dial tone without hanging up.

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Handset speakerphone
Phones with this feature have a loudspeaker and microphone built into the handset, offering significant freedom of movement during conversations. It not only frees your hands while you talk, but provides some flexibility as well. You can keep the handset with you as you move about your home and use the speakerphone function anywhere within the phone's normal range.

Headsets allow for hands-free conversation. They generally have a single earpiece, and a small voice microphone on a flexible boom. While headsets for commercial businesses (such as phone banks) may have phone jacks, those for home use usually feature a minijack that plugs into the phone's handset.

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Illuminated handset
Some phones feature lighted buttons in the keypads of their handsets, which makes dialing in the dark easier.

On cordless phones, the intercom allows you to have a conversation between the base and the handset. It's a handy feature when you need to speak with someone in another room of your home.

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LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) screen
Located on the handset and/or base, it can display useful information such as channel number, phone number dialed, speed-dial memory, incoming call information for Caller ID, and battery strength.

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Memo recording
Allows you to record a message at the base unit of the answering machine, such as "Mom, call Patty at home tonight." It's handy when you can't find a pen or piece of paper, and provides a central location for everyone to pick up messages.

Message counter
Indicates how many new messages you've received.

Message transfer
If you're spending time at another location for an extended period, you may want to transfer your messages to that location's number. Each time you receive a new message, your answering machine at home will call you at the forwarding number. When the phone rings, an automated voice asks for your numeric PIN and then plays the new message. There's no extra charge from your telephone company for this feature.

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Night mode
Allows you to turn off the ringer on one or more handsets. Most phones with this feature also come with a light-up indicator, so you'll still be able to see when a call comes through.

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Out-of-range alert
On cordless models, it sounds a warning tone when you are approaching the phone's maximum range so you don't lose your conversation by wandering too far.

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Privacy mode
A feature on multi-handset units that prevents people on other handsets from listening in on your call.

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Dials the last telephone number called at the touch of a button.

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Phones with this feature have a loudspeaker on their base unit, which lets you answer a call or wait on hold without using the handset. It's also great for group conversations. For even more flexibility, some phones offer a handset speakerphone.

Speed dialing
Lets you preset your most frequently dialed numbers under a specific speed dial button. It can save you time and prevents unwanted misdials.

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Talking Caller ID
Talking Caller ID requires a Caller ID subscription from your phone company. If you have Caller ID, this feature will announce the name of the person or business calling, so you don't have to go to the phone to read the number on the display.

Most phones with this feature also have a Talking Battery Alert that tells you when it's time to recharge the handset. Some also let you program your appointments into your phone, and feature a Talking Alarm that announces when your appointment time comes up.

Time/day stamp
Records the time and day of the week for each incoming call, providing you with an accurate record of when your messages came in.

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Variable speed playback
Allows you to choose how fast or how slow you want to listen to your messages without affecting the sound quality. Slower speeds are great for jotting down phone numbers or directions. Faster speeds let you zip through a part of a message you've already heard, or get to the end of a message.

Visual pager
Some cordless phones have a light built into their antenna to alert you when a call comes in. This can be helpful when the ringer's muted, or for those with hearing disabilities.

Voicemail boxes
Some answering machines offer multiple mailboxes, each of which can be assigned to a specific household member or members. This allows callers to leave a message for a specific person. And it ensures that your messages remain confidential by asking you to enter your ID number each time you open your box.

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