Answering Machine Buying Guide

The basic purpose of an answering machine, or telephone answering device (TAD), is to answer a call on your behalf when you are not around. The response is a pre-recorded message, followed by 'taking' a message in an audio format from the caller. A majority of the present TADs use computer technology to record messages.

Voice-mail – A viable alternative

There are many local phone companies that provide voice-mail services, so that is also an option in case you do not really need a TAD since you are mostly home, or do not receive so many calls on the landline. One can also activate this service by deactivating the call waiting feature and recording the message of anyone who calls while you are already talking to someone else.

Standalone TAD or combined with phone

Contrary to earlier days, when TADs were tape based, and getting a combination of a phone and TAD was not a healthy idea due to the longevity of the telephone and the relatively shorter life of the answering machine, the present TADs are actually capable of serving you longer than the phone itself! Further, a combined package is actually just a tad more expensive than a regular phone, strengthening the cause for your to buy it instead of a regular phone, since you are getting something extra for a relatively small investment. However, in case you already have the required number of phones, you would obviously need to buy a standalone TAD. Another reason could be the freedom of usage, as you can palce an answering machine at any place of the house, by your bedside, on the coffee table near th door, etc. You might also connect different phones to a centrally located answering machine.

Message capacity

You needs to consider your message recording requirements in order to zero in on the perfect answering machine. There are varying message capacities in different models, and more capacity may or may not depend on the price. Further, there are also models that give you the option of setting a time limit to each message, i.e., 30 seconds, 45 seconds, etc. In case you receive many calls during the day, make sure you keep a lesser time slot for each message, otherwise you run the risk of the message memory expiring frequently.

The latest TADs have multiple mailboxes for different purposes. These could be segregated according to categories for work, friends, family, etc. Also, in case there are multiple members of the family, each could have their own personal mailbox. The caller would be presented with options regarding which member he/she wants to leave a message for. However, another consideration here is going to be the outgoing message, i.e., the one that says 'I am not available at the moment...' In case each member wants to have their own outgoing message, look for an answering machine that supports this feature.

Other features

These are a few nuances that you might want in your answering machine.

  1. a) Auto disconnect – This feature enables automatic stop/reset of the machine whenever you pick up the receiver to answer a call. In case this feature is not present, you would have to listen to the entire message of the caller if it has started, i.e., you can't receive a call in the middle of the answering machine's recording. There are many devices that have their own exceptions of this service. Some would reset only when the outgoing message starts playing, and not once the recording has commenced. Yet another variant can auto disconnect only when the phone directly attached to the answering machine is picked up, and not in case of an extension.
  2. b) Message alert feature – All the TADs presently available have alerts to let you know when there are incoming messages waiting. Some models might have a flash on the LED/LCD counter, while others may have a sound alert. The LED/LCD counter displays the list of messages received in most cases. However, in some lower-end machines this might only display the number of messages awaiting in terms of flashes. For instance, if there are five messages, five flashes in a sequence would be the indicator.
  3. c) Time/Date detail – Generally, TADs record the date and time a message was received, and display the same as well. This information is stored on the computer chip inside the machine before or after the message. Another variant of this feature is the display of these details on the screen of the machine.
  4. d) Call pickup - The TAD can be set to answer calls on the fourth ring for the first call of the day, and on the second or third ring for subsequent calls. This way, you can be sure that if you come home and there are more than the designated number of rings, there's no need to check the answering machine for new messages.
  5. e) Recording conversations – TADs can also be used to record telephonic conversations as well as leave messages for other members at home.
  6. f) Recording messages Some machines allow you to save or erase individual messages. However, activating this feature would not have any effect on the recording of fresh messages. Some advanced TADs also let you listen to only the new messages or all of the ones stored in the mailbox, according to your preference.
  7. g) Announce feature – Some machines also give the provision of an 'announce' outgoing message, indicating to the caller that you are currently unavailable and would be home at so-and-so time. This is vital in case there are memory constraints in the machine, and you want to store important messages without them getting overwritten by new messages.