Panasonic has dominated the residential phone system business for about 20 years. Lately, they’ve had to compete not only with other phone system makers, but also with cordless phones and cellphones, which offered portability, small size and features that traditional wired phone systems didn’t provide.
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The new Panasonic KX-TAW848 “Advanced Hybrid & Wireless telephone system” is an extremely well-thought-out response to the new competition, and the needs of upscale homes and small businesses.
The KX-TAW848 is a perfect upgrade for anyone who already has a Panasonic phone system — even a 15-year-old KX-T616; or for someone who is starting from scratch. It provides important and innovative features that were either unavailable or extremely expensive just a few months ago.
Like previous Panasonic KX-T and KX-TD series phone systems, the KX-TAW848 lets you connect multi-line proprietary wired “system” phones, as well as single-line phones and devices such as fax machines, modems, answerers and TiVo boxes — with no big-buck adapters or tedious programming.
But the major new feature in the 848 is its innovative wide-coverage Multi-Cell wireless operation that allows you to wander through a large home or yard, as your call is “handed off” from one cell station to another, without interrupting your call.
This is accomplished by installing multiple cell stations (transceivers) in your home, and connecting them to the KX-TAW848 control unit. You only need one pair of wires connected to each cell station, and no power connection. Each cell station can be up to 1640 feet away from the KX-TAW848 control unit, and uses “home-run” wiring – you can’t chain several together on one pair of wires. The cell stations are not weatherproof, but you could install them outdoors in a suitable housing made of fiberglass or plastic.
Range from cell station to wireless phone varies with the environment, but is fine for a big home and a big yard. You should be able to go the length of several football fields, and up or down three floors, with excellent voice quality.
One cell station can support two calls simultaneously. You can connect up to four cell stations to a system, and up to 28 wireless phones can be registered with the system (but only eight can be in use at one time).
Figuring out the maximum capacity of this system can be confusing, and even its 848 model number is a misnomer. “KX-TAW851” would be a more accurate label, because the system could be set up for 51 phones (23 wired and 28 wireless); but few people would use that configuration. A maximum of 25 phones can be in use at one time, or 24 if you have a voicemail system connected.
Intercom traffic is “non-blocking.” You can have as many intercom conversations going on, as you have active pairs of phones.
Wireless phones can be registered on more than one KX-TAW848 system, so you can take your handset from your home and use it on your office system, or vice-versa.
The KX-TAW848 works with two new 2.4GHz digital wireless phones: KX-TD7680 and 7690. Both have speakerphones and hands-free intercom, but can’t receive voice paging announcements.
The premium “executive” model KX-TD7690 is silver, sleek, extremely lightweight, and looks like a cellphone. It can easily fit into a shirt pocket. It has a 5-line backlit LCD screen, a navigation key for line selection and feature access, and is equipped with a convenient 2.5mm headset jack. It has a long-life lithium ion battery pack, and can be used with an optional belt holster.
The lower-cost standard wireless handset, the KX-TD7680, is slightly larger (more like a “pocketable” home cordless phone) and it has a 3-line backlit LCD display, navigation key, line selection and feature keys and a 2.5mm headset jack. It uses a NiMH battery pack, and comes with a belt clip.
Panasonic has offered hands-free speakerphone operation in consumer cordlesses before, but this is the first time the feature has been available in “system phones.” Voice quality is quite good, and volume is adequate for table-top use. You can also hold the phone in front of you and talk Nextel-style, but you won’t have to push to talk.
Most people will probably also want some wired phones around the house, where you need more buttons, bigger buttons, bigger displays, louder speakerphones, less expensive phones, and paging announcements.
The KX-TAW848 is designed for installation with Panasonic’s current line of KX-T7700 series wired telephones as well as older models like the KX-T7000 and KX-T7300 series telephones. KX-T7700 series phones are available in a beautiful charcoal color, and an off-white that’s fine for kitchens, baths and bedrooms, or next to an off-white PC.
There are four models to choose from, with different features and prices. All models have 2.5mm headset jacks and 24 programmable buttons – 12 with multi-color LEDs. The top model is the KX-T7735. Its display can show three lines of text, making it the best choice if you have Caller ID, because it can display a caller’s name and phone number at the same time. For business use or a really large house, you can install a “DSS/BLF” panel that shows the status of all the phones in the system, and allows quick intercom calls and transfers.
The KX-TAW848 has a simple-to-install modular design allowing you to tailor your system to your specific needs. It is initially configured with hardware to support four outside lines and four phones. By adding expansion cards, it can grow up to its maximum capacity of eight lines and 51 telephones.
Other circuit cards provide optional features, including:
* Caller ID with Call Waiting: This feature lets you see the caller’s name and phone number on the display of a system phone, so you can decide to either answer the call or let it get dumped into voicemail (if you have voicemail). Each phone has an incoming log that automatically stores information on up to 30 calls. Even if a second call comes in while a line is in use, the second caller’s name and number will be shown on the phone’s display. A separate optional circuit card can provide Caller ID on up to eight single-line phones, display boxes and PCs. This is a feature that Panasonic customers have wanted for a long time.
* Direct Inward System Access (DISA)/Fax Detection: This allows people to call into the system to use various features such as automated attendant, that can direct outside calls to specific phones (generally not useful in a home, where people move around from room to room). This circuit module can also detect an incoming fax tone and automatically transfer the fax call to your fax machine or PC. This feature requires that calls be answered by the auto attendant instead of ringing your phones. This is OK for an office, but generally not a good idea in a home. If you want a line to be shared by a fax and human beings, a separate automatic fax/voice switch connected ahead of the phone system is probably a better choice.
* Door intercom and door opener: For convenience and safety, the KX-TAW848 works with up to four door intercom speakers and four electrical contact closures. If a visitor presses the button on a speaker at one of your doors or at the driveway gate, there will be a distinctive ring on your phones, and the phone displays will show where the visitor is. Someone inside the house can then speak to the visitor from any phone, and even let him or her in, by dialing a code if the system is connected to an electric door strike or gate opener. If you’re creative, you can use the contact closures for other remote control functions, such as turning on whole-house music, or outdoor lighting.
* 8-Channel echo canceller card: This optional circuit module improves the voice quality of multi-person conference calls. The system can support up to 10 3-person conference calls, or three 8-person conference calls. Previous Panasonic phone systems were limited to 3-person conferencing.
The KX-TAW848 has “digital integration” for use with Panasonic’s KX-TVS series Voice Processing Systems. Digital integration speeds up installation and call handling, and enables advanced features. It also allows one jack in the phone system to operate two ports in a voice processor, so your system can accommodate more phones or a bigger voice processor. Panasonic voice processors provide a wide range of features including voicemail, automated attendant, live call screening, conversation recording, Caller ID call handling, remote notification, interview service and message forwarding.
This is the first Panasonic system with PC software provided for the end-user, not just the dealer. The Windows-based program has a pompous name (“maintenance console”) but it’s well designed and easy to use. You can program your system from a PC with either a DB9 serial connector or a USB port, or remotely by modem (with an optional card in the system).
The KX-TAW848 system uses a Secure Digital (SD) card to store its operating system, and also to store the back-up of data programmed into your system.
Installation is simple, even for the do-it-yourselfer, because all connections use ordinary modular jacks. There is no need for special tools or training, and you get a full set of paper manuals.
The new system is virtually “plug and play.” When you install optional circuit boards and go through a simple initializing procedure, the 848 recognizes the new additions and makes new features and increased capacity accessible through the software. Unlike the KX-TD systems, there is no need to tell the system what kind of expansion modules you’ve installed in which locations.
If you already have a Panasonic phone system, it’s very easy to upgrade to the multi-cell wireless features and larger size of a KX-TAW848. Just unplug the cords from your old system, take the old box off the wall, put the 848 on the wall, and plug the cords back in. You can reuse your old telephones and cabling, saving a lot of time and money. (You can’t use KX-T7200 or KX-T7400 series phones.)
The cabinet is lightweight and compact (about 10-3/4″W x 14-3/4″H x 4-1/2″D). You can mount it on a wall, put it on a shelf, or install it in a standard 19″ rack and use it with a patch panel and other rack-mount accessories.
The KX-TAW848 does so much, and does so much so well, it’s hard to criticize. I can only think of two things to nitpick about: the manual pages are half the size used in other Panasonic systems, with itty-bitty teeny-weeny type; and you can’t make paging announcements through the speakers in the wireless phones. If a perfect phone system rates 100 points, this one gets 98 – and that’s certainly good enough for most people.
If you’re looking for a smaller and simpler phone system, consider the new Panasonic KX-TA308 (not the same as the KX-TA308 available outside the US). Other than phone choice, there are no options. It’s set up to handle up to three lines and eight phones, has built-in Caller ID and door intercom circuitry, and is the only Panasonic phone system that has indicator lights for phone company voicemail. Installation is extremely easy, and it works with both wired and wireless phones (NOT multi-cell).
The KX-TAW848 and KX-TA308 are available from Panasonic phone system dealers nationwide. If you’d like to install your own system, see www.ablecomm.com. You can find a local dealer at http://www.panasonic.com/consumer_electronics/communication_systems/default.asp.
Michael N. Marcus is president of AbleComm, Inc. (“the telecom department store”), and a writer who specializes in telecommunications and consumer electronics. He has been the audio/video editor or Rolling Stone magazine, a columnist and equipment reviewer for Teleconnect magazine, the phone system guru on CompuServe, and has written about electronic products for scores of other publications ranging from Esquire to Country Music.