Low End Theory: Can't Stop Cutting the Cord


By Brendan I. Koerner

I imagine that being a cordless-phone designer is pretty similar to playing for the Atlanta Hawks, minus the big money, groupies, and VIP strip-club privileges. I mean, you're technically in the gadgets game, which is nirvana for a geek—certainly beats working a Store 24 cash register. But you've also got to realize that you're rarely going to get props from consumers, let alone the media. That's because, let's face it, cordless phones have pretty much topped out in terms of technological sophistication—just as the Hawks seem to perennially top out at, oh, a dozen or so games under .500.

The difference between the Hawks and the cordless-phone industry? The Hawks can be—and probably should be—avoided. But millions of Americans, including your humble narrator, still have landlines in this otherwise Unstrung Era. And having a landline means basically means having a cordless phone.

But which phone to choose if you're a low-ender loath to spend over $50? Specs aren't much of an issue here—those 5.8 GHz phones aren't demonstrably better than the 2.4 GHz models, and caller ID is ubiquitous even on the most ludicrously cheap Unidens. So it's best to go for the aesthetic frills. After the jump, a rundown of four gimmicky cordless phones I'm considering, and an appeal for your advice. PLUS: Best Chinese manufacturer names!

Motorola MA357 (pictured above)
Pros In a word, camouflage. I can imagine few better ways to demonstrate one's inherent machismo than with a hunting-ready cordless phone. On top of that, it offers a veritable Wild Kingdom of ringtones: bear, duck, elk, "couger" [sic], coyote, loon, and a few others. Includes belt clip.
Cons I wonder if camo is sort of impractical for a handset. Seems like it would easily get lost amid the piles of clothes and whatnot that litter my cramped apartment. Also, the base station's girth seems excessive.
Bottom Line The front-runner, though a little pricey at around $40. (Remember, I'm cheap as all get-out.)

Spectra KT2015 (a.k.a. the Hello Kitty Phone
Pros Will make my wife happy. The most innovative design in this price range—I dig the curves. 40-number speed dial, which is a lot for $40. Handset will stand out amid piles of junk. Affordable relative to other notable Hello Kitty products.
Cons Pink. Potentially emasculating.
Bottom Line Highly unlikely for my household, though I appreciate the designers' efforts—the Josh Smiths of their industry, so to speak. Wish the Tony Stewart NASCAR phone was cheap enough for consideration.

GE Cordless Bedroom Phone
Pros Transformers-like multifunctionality. Unobtrusive design. Programmable snooze, which is a feature I've been yearning for on my antiquated Sony Dream Machine.
Cons Do I really, truly need another low-end clock radio? Does anyone? Also, the handset is a throwback to the pre-mobile era—very rigid lines, not the elegant curves of today's more Razr-inspired numbers.
Bottom Line Another valiant attempt to make the cordless phone halfway interesting, but not sure an AM/FM radio really does it for me.

Low End Theory: Can't Stop Cutting the Cord

Uniden Submersible Cordless Phone
Pros Ostensibly waterproof, though I'm sure that "water-resistant" would be the more accurate description. Handset is yellow, the international color for ruggedized gadgets. Handset is also described as "floating," which can only be a good thing. Oh, and "Rubber Side Grips"? Yes, please!
Cons Ugh, an antiquated model operating at 900 MHz, which means you can expect lots of interference issues. Weird upright base station that'll probably tip over if placed on the floor instead of screwed into the wall. A low-end Uniden, a brand not known for its reliability (in my personal experience, at least).
Bottom Line I'd be enchanted if this were a 2.4 GHz phone, and the price was 10 bucks less. But if ifs and buts were candy and nuts...

As you can tell, I'm definitely leaning toward buying myself the Motorola camo phone. But I'm going to put my telephonic fate in your hands, comrades—am I making a mistake by bringing ursine ringtones into my life? Am I letting machismo cloud my judgment of the Hello Kitty phone's technological charms? Please, I beg of you—shower upon me your bountiful wisdom.

BRILLIANT SUCCESS: Engrish has always been a topic of great fascination 'round these parts. So, too, should its entertaining corollary—the hyper-optimism of Chinese corporate names.

I'm compiling a list of the sunniest-sounding Guangdong firms, inspired in part by a recent spam I received from one Ms. Dong Happy (who, unfortunately, is employed by the comparatively bland-sounding Qingdao Univer Import & Export Co., Ltd.). So far, my best catch is Brilliant Success Electronics Technology, based in the delightful gadgets mecca of Shenzhen. Anyone got something even more positive? Please share with the group in comments. The sunnier, the better—having an awful week over here, what with a slow leak causing my century-old hardwood floors to buckle, and my corner bodega no longer stocking Sapporo tall boys. Definitely could use the psychological boost of, say, a Wonderful Amazing Happy Smile Electronics Co, Ltd.

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for both The New York Times and Slate. His Low End Theory column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.

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