Sorry, cellphone: Why landlines still rock

Some old tech is still good tech. Consider the telephone, which was invented back in 1876.

Certainly cell phones, Internet calling, texting and other forms of digital communication are more flexible and more efficient, but the plain old telephone service (POTS) has two major advantages.

First and foremost is call quality. To put it nicely, cell phone call quality stinks. And it stinks on every carrier, everywhere. Scratchy, choppy, tinny audio is the price you pay for mobility (at least, that's their excuse). Land line calls are still far superior when it comes to being able to actually hear what someone is saying and who is saying it.

Roughly 64 percent of American homes still retain a land line phone.

Second, storms and power outages often knock out digital communications more quickly than you can say "World Wide Web," while analog phones plugged into land lines are often untouched. During the Great Northeast Blackout nearly a decade ago, cell phones died and Internet calling failed. There was no TV, no Web, and no news. I found out what was going on because a friend called me from Los Angeles--on my land line analog phone.

So people who keep land lines--and I'm obviously one of them--are not just stubborn Luddites willing to be overcharged for phone service (although we are being overcharged). And that's why roughly 64 percent of American homes still retain a land line phone.

Consequently, electronics companies haven't abandoned land line phones either, developing more flexible and full-featured phones for those of us still clutching a POTS handset. The latest models from companies like Panasonic, AT&T, and V-Tech use a standard called DECT 6.0 for adding wireless handsets in the home. These models deliver clearer audio, and even let you feed an incoming cell phone call through to a home handset. This is a particularly convenient option if the base station is positioned at place in the home that receives a good cell signal, which can then be passed though to a DECT handset anywhere else in the house where cell service may be patchy at best.

Panasonic's latest DECT 6.0 models include the $110 KX-TG7872, which comes with a base station and cordless handset, plus one remote handset. In addition to the usual array of features, including an answering machine, intercom, and audio caller ID ("Call from wireless caller 555-1212"), there's a slew of features to appeal to cell phone users.

To begin with, there's a USB port on the base station for charging your cell. You can also transfer thousands of contacts from your mobile phone to the home phone. Alerts will apprise you of text messages on your cell phone, and you can transfer those snazzy, ain't-I--cool iPhone ringtones from the cell to the base station to distinguish incoming mobile calls from regular home line calls.

When you're not at home, the Panasonic DECT 6.0 model can be set to call your smart phone when someone leaves a message on your land line. You can then play back the message.

AT&T's CLP99383 offers similar features, plus an additional handset for $120. There's the ability to charge your mobile phone, and alerts for incoming Android messages--including calendar reminder alerts--plus the cell phone relay feature. Like the Panasonic model, you can pair two different cell phones to the base station, as well as play iPhone ringtones and download thousands of contacts.

In all, the newest DECT 6.0 models should appeal to those cautious individuals who want to keep their land line, while acknowledging that they use their cell phones more often. Two caveats should be noted, however.

First, in spite of the DECT 6.0 designation different handsets from different manufacturers will not work together. So if you buy the AT&T model, for example, and later decide you need a fourth handset (you've got a really big house; the system can handle up to 12 handsets), you'll need to buy it from AT&T. A Panasonic DECT 6.0 handset won't work.

Second, these phones still require electricity. Panasonic says its backup battery will keep the line alive for a couple of hours, but for an extended blackout like the 2003 Noreaster, you'll need a plain, no-electricity-needed analog phone. Proof that after more than 130 years, that old technology is still good for something.