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November 18th, 2002

Phone Design is Awful

We have a cordless phone, as many Americans do. It’s a VTech, and I purchased it to replace a Sony that had a number of problems. The Sony was giving me grief with its volume: the volume control started to stick and jump, causing the person on the other end to sound both shrill and mousy at the same time. The VTech was a nice solution.

Then, of course, its volume control started going south. On the loudest setting, it’s extremely difficult to hear the other person. Imagine whispering during a Stones concert, and then degrading that to phone quality. Ick.

So, naturally, we want a new phone. But I have to tell you that this has been worlds harder and more frustrating than I could have ever imagined. The reason, simply put, is that phones today are designed quite poorly. It’s as if the phone makers decided to make just slightly larger versions of cell phones for home phones.

The biggest gripe I have is that I have yet to find a phone that is comfortable to sandwich between the ear and the shoulder. Long distance is still cheaper on landlines (at least for us), and, heck, long conversations are more common on landlines. Thus, one needs a phone that’s good to hold and good to sandwich. Most phones are small, rectangular, and uncomfortable.

Oh, don’t get me wrong – there are some larger phones out there… but they’re either enlarged bricks, or have uncomfortable earpieces. Believe it or not, but this Disney phone is probably one of the best out there: it’s curved, not very heavy – but still substantial – and felt good in the hand. Of course, it was lacking the features we needed (Disney-free stuff)… and it’s for kids.

Above and beyond the comfort thing, phones are starting to shed their super-generic looks for a bit of that mini-stereo system appearance: gaudy, chrome-filled, etc. I’d really like to have a phone that looks good and functions just as well, but that seems nearly impossible.

All I want is a comfortable, feature-filled phone that doesn’t look silly, has excellent usability, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

Posted in Technology

FROM: Chris [E-Mail]
DATE: Monday November 18, 2002 -- 10:41:41 am
We have two Vtech cordless phones. We originally bought one because our daughter recognized the brand and decided that was the phone we should have. (Vtech makes a bunch or really cool electronic educational toys). I was pleasantly surprised by the phone. I've had a very diffucult time getting Sony, GE or any other major phone to last more than a year. Th Vtech phone is 3 or 4 years old and still works great.



FROM: Rob [E-Mail]
DATE: Monday November 18, 2002 -- 12:50:02 pm
We have a Panasonic cordless that we got, I think, 2 years ago. Might've been longer than that now, actually. Anyhow... never had any problems with it at all.

Still have the sandwiching difficulty, though, but it's a spiffy phone.



FROM: Matt
DATE: Monday November 18, 2002 -- 1:26:40 pm
The phone I've been using for about 12 years is a GE. One of the really cheap ones, only problem is the cord is all twisted. I would suggest picking up a phone that has one of those shoulder rest pieces. The older phones tend to have better quality, as I have seen people with phones dating back to the 80's still actively using them.



FROM: Qwik
DATE: Wednesday November 20, 2002 -- 10:25:21 am
I also have a VTECH 2.4GH ccordless phone. I bought it at Best Buy and it was like $120 with a base station with speaker phone and an extra charge and handset so you could put one upstairs and one downstairs. it also has a built in speaker phone in each of the hand sets.



FROM: Vince
DATE: Wednesday November 27, 2002 -- 1:23:15 pm
The sandwiching problem is awful. We just bought a new cordless phone, but I couldn't name the brand without looking. I tried to chat with someone using the sandwiching technique, and I just couldn't find a comfy position.

Maybe the phone designers know something about human evolution that the rest of us don't.



FROM: Marcus Mackey
DATE: Wednesday November 27, 2002 -- 3:45:24 pm
The crux of the problem? The fascination with miniaturization. That's the problem. Everything keeps getting smaller and smaller, to the point where it's bordering on useless at that form factor. I mean, at first miniaturization was cool, it helped improve products, make them lighter, smaller, more comfortable than a bulky, gigantic, colossal brick. Yet, the question any designer needs to ask is "How far is too far?" You can only go so far with the design when it's design and minute size render it in such a way that it's going the wrong way, unusable, unpleast to use, or just outright ridiculous.

I agree with Paul, what do we gain with a cordless phone that is tiny, small, chrome, has buttons that require 20/20+ vision (for me, it's fine, I have beyond perfect vision; but for my parent's and relatives... it's atrocious) to read and cipher, and have no logical tactile layout. His beef with TV remote controls he's had in the past was only but one element of poor design out there, the phone itself has gotten as bad or worse than the remote control in my opinion, because it serves one "DISTINCT" purpose, and yet the quality, reliability, and usability has gone downhill, even on the "BEST" of our phones today. I remember when you could get a corded "princess" or corded generic phone design (fast becoming extinct) that while klunky, large, and rather inelegant "looking", it definitely carried a "form follows function", if not perhaps to the extreme. Yet, who cares how beautiful something is to look at if it doesn't work? I'm a designer (with experience in Product Design), and even I find it ridiculous.

Imagine if OZO had to make a "Good Grips" cordless phone? Especially with that demographic they cater to. I really wish they would, especially a 2-line phone, as I'd be all over it, even as a 27 year old male that is waaaaaaay outside of their target audience (I still think their products are amazing). Can you imagine? Big "LEGIBLE" buttons that anyone can use, a tactile and useful layout, logical placement, and there'd be a "mass" to the phone by default just because it has to have phones and a layout that is usable by people with arthritis, an elder demographic, that also favors legibility, simplicity, and ease of use. I'd be willing to bet if it came to pass, you'd see someone like Paul considering it as well... it's not just about the age, it's about good design, and I really feel OZO has some of the best out there because it takes it's market demographic and usability as seriously as it does the look of the design.

In a world where you can get a cell phone that's as small or smaller than a box of Altoids, where does the insanity end? If I have to hold a spec of dust in my hand to call someone, I swear... it probably wouldn't be the end of it all. LoL Yet it'd probably be a time when I just quit calling people altogether!



FROM: Marcus Mackey - fixing a typo...
DATE: Wednesday November 27, 2002 -- 3:48:08 pm
Quoted from above:

"...going the wrong way, unusable, unpleast to use, or just outright ridiculous."

Unpleasant... sorry 'bout that. :)



FROM: Marcus Mackey - egads... must be a bad day LoL
DATE: Wednesday November 27, 2002 -- 3:51:58 pm
"...because it has to have phones."

buttons... gotta' have buttons. Arghhhh... LoL Must be too much thinking about Thanksgiving, brain is shutting off and preparing for football and being stuffed. ;)



FROM: Ergolad
DATE: Wednesday April 13, 2005 -- 5:11:13 pm
I'll keep this alive. It's 2005 and we are still in the same boat. Stop the insanity.



FROM: Joseph
DATE: Thursday April 14, 2005 -- 12:42:27 pm
We have a Vtech,
In fact, we have two!
One that is red and
One that is blue!

Enough Dr. Seuss.

I like them. They seem like Buicks compared to cell phones.

The first red VTech phone died under warranty, so we got it replaced. I think the microphone died. I could make a call, hear the person on the other line, but they couldn't hear me. It was only three months old when it died, too.

The replacement has been working for three years now. (God, I know I'm jinxing it now). It has been totally abused, too and keeps on going. For example, the mother in law (who liveD with us) couldn't figure out how to hang it up in the wall mount (design flaw?). She sent it crashing to the hard tile kitchen floor twice a week. She'd leave it for me in a pile on the dishwasher. I'd come home, put the battery back in, or sometimes put the whole receiver back together because the entire back popped off, totally expecting it to be dead. It's been fine. It's the exact same model as the babied one that died prematurely.

Most home phones are pretty crazy looking now. It's like growing up with old standard blue and white Jox running shoes and trying to pick out a pair of athletic shoes now. Do they really need to look like silver and white marshmallows on my feet, with pink stripes and da-glo laces? And what's with the soles? And why do they cost the same as a car payment?

Just another fine example of supply driving the economy, and not the market. I got to have something on my feet when I run--but why do I have to look like a fool?



FROM: Panasonic
DATE: Friday April 15, 2005 -- 9:43:37 am
We've got one of those base-station concepts by Panasonic (5.8Ghz) and every phone has a built in speaker so I tend to just set the thing down next to me when I talk to people. Seems to work pretty damn well. Batteries die anually, looks like. phone book is non-centralized ... nor is any other information (last calls, missed calls) ... though missed calls USUALLY is consistent across phones since they all "see" it. It varies when one phone is out of batteries for a little while.



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