There are so many products announced at the January Consumer Electronics Show, a few of them always manage to slip off your radar. For me, one such product was the new line of GE-branded cordless phones from Thomson. I know what you're thinking--"Thomson" and "GE" are yawner brands that have no place among your carefully groomed hipster-approved gadget lineup. Well, think again: I was able to spend some quality time with the new GE phones last night, and each of them offered at least one compelling leg up on competing products. Each model is a DECT 6.0 product (Digital Enhanced Cordless Technology), meaning it operates on the 1900Mhz wireless band that's free of the interference issues that can occur on the more-crowded 2.4Ghz band (which competes with everything from microwave ovens to Wi-Fi to wireless speakers). A quick roundup of the key models follows:
Ultra-Slim cordless (pictured above): Nothing more than a good ol' cordless phone, the Ultra-Slim is billed as the world's thinnest home handset (just .54 inch thick). It's available in two versions--the standard GE 28115FE1 ($60) and the GE 28118FE1 ($70), the latter of which includes a 20-minute digital answering machine. Both are available now, and each can be expanded to up to six handsets (the $50 GE 28106FE1, which will be available in August) which wirelessly link to the main base station.
GE 28310 dual-mode Skype phone: We've reviewed dual-mode Skype phones from Philips, Linksys, and (soon) Netgear. All of them are extremely similar, offering you the ability to talk on your standard landline or a Skype account without the need for a computer. But the new GE 28310 adds a nice upgrade not available on those aforementioned models: it can toggle between landline and Skype calls, and can host three-way conferencing between both lines. The 28310 is available now for $180, and it will support up to four additional handsets.
GE Cell Fusion: At first glance, the GE 28128EE2 is yet another expandable DECT cordless phone system. But this one's got a twist: in addition to a standard landline connection, the system can be paired with one or two Bluetooth-enabled cell phones, on which it can send and receive calls as well. The $180 28128EE2 system includes a main base station (which also offers contact and calendar features via PC USB hookup) and a bundled extra handset (it can support up to seven total). Just pair up your cell phone with the main base station--while it's recharging, for instance--and you can answer any incoming calls or make any outgoing calls on from any of the cordless DECT handsets. It's a great idea for a variety of reasons--using the larger home cordless phones (I find them easier to cradle on my shoulder than, say, a tiny cellular flip phone), using extra rollover or night and weekend minutes, or just being able to answer your cell phone from elsewhere in the house.
During the couple of minutes I spent with the 28128EE2, I was able to make a call on a nearby (paired) Bluetooth smart phone. Except for hitting the "Cell" button before dialing, it was as transparent and easy as calling on a landline.
GE InfoLink: It won't be appearing at retail until the fall, but the Thomson folks were also showcasing the GE InfoLink phone. Using a broadband Ethernet connection on the base station, the InfoLink phone can pull pretty much any RSS feed to the handset's screen, so you can do a quick check of news, weather, sports--or pretty much any favorite Web site or blog--without having to power up your PC. VOIP functionality wasn't mentioned as a baseline feature, but a Thomson rep hinted that downloadable upgrades for the phone could unlock compatibility with a variety of Internet telephony providers.
While I'd like to see the bulk of these GE phones get a more stylish makeover (the Ultra-Slim is a welcome counterpoint), I was impressed to see that each model was offering a welcome step-up feature versus the competition--while the prices remain well in the range of affordable.