The BT8500 is quite simply the phone I’ve been waiting for since February 2009. That was when I first reviewed the rather-brilliant TrueCall device, a clever little box that screened and blocked calls so you only talked to the people you wanted to talk to. Finally, we now have a phone that comes with thistechnology built-in, the BT 8500.
BT has taken the TrueCall technology and streamlined it in two respects. Most obviously it has done away with the extra box, along with extra cable and power adaptor, with the technology instead being built discretely into the typically-sized base unit of the BT 8500. Secondly it has simplified the way you set up call screening with you simply pressing numbers 1-to-4 in order to handle calls.
For those who aren’t familiar with the technology, TrueCall acts a guardian for you phone. When a call comes in the BT 8500 answers it without ringing, so you’re not disturbed unless necessary. If it doesn’t recognise the number, it will ask the caller to leave a brief message saying who they are and then press the hash key on their phone. The phone then rings and plays the message to let you know who’s calling, while putting them on hold.
Having listened to the caller’s message, you can then press a button. 1 accepts the call on this occasion; 2 adds it to a list of verified callers, so that when they call in future the phone will ring as normal; 3 blocks the call this time and permanently; 4 sends the caller to the answerphone, telling them you’re not able to take the call at this time.
Using these four options, a cheat sheet is provided to put by your phone for easy reference, you can quickly create a list of verified callers, and block repeated calls from salesmen. Using the phones menu system you can review your blocklist, add numbers from your phone’s memory to your permitted callers list, and change options, such as automatically blocking overseas calls, or calls who withhold their caller ID. It can store up to 1,000 blocked numbers, so you shouldn’t run out anytime soon.
In order to recognise the incoming numbers your phone line has to have Caller ID enabled of course. The handset will work without it, but it will then have to screen every call, as it won’t know who’s calling. Caller ID is free with BT if you pay for your line rental for 12 months upfront, which gives you a significant discount anyway. Sky and TalkTalk both offer the service for free, while Virgin Media (among others) charges for the service, £2.25 a month in Virgin Media’s case. There’s some political pressure to make allcompanies provide this service for free, but there’s no planned changes yet.
The blocker also lets you activate a ‘do not disturb’ mode, the phone then won’t ring or light up at all, so you can take a break from things. You can tag some callers as VIPs though, so your family say can get through to you anytime they need to.
In addition to call-blocking the BT8500 has all the features you might expect of a good cordless phone. The base unit has a built-in answer phone with a 60min memory, which works with the handset’s 1.8in colour display, it will show how your messages are from, so you can choose to listen to them in the order you want. The base unit has big rubbery keys for controlling the answerphone from there too.
The handset is comfortable to hold with a textured back for extra grip. It runs off two AAA rechargeable batteries, which are supplied. The buttons have great feedback and the keypad is backlit for making calls at night, the function buttons above are not backlit but you quickly get used to using them by feel anyway. Call quality was excellent, with both us and callers finding it clearer than our current phone. You can also the use the handsets as intercoms, so you can call upstairs rather than bellow up the stairs.
If you have Caller ID on your telephone line then I can’t recommend the BT8500 highly enough. The fact that many nuisance calls are blocked before the phone even rings is a huge bonus I think, especially if you struggle to reach the phone quickly already. The downside is pretty minimal too, with genuine callers dealt with courteously by the system. It’s a great buy and a very reasonably priced one too, shop around and you can find a twin-handset pack for just £35. That’s much less than the original TrueCall costs standalone. It’s a clear Best Buy winner, I just wish it had come along sooner.
In further call-blocking news BT has recently announced that it’s rolling out a new service to block even more calls. The service doesn’t yet have a name but it essentially works just like the spam filter you have on your email account. BT will be using huge amounts of data to identify numbers that are making very large call volumes; it then diverts any calls from those numbers to a special voicemail box without bothering you. You can go and check the messages in that box if you’re worried you’ve missed anything important, but let’s admit it, it’s not very likely. You can register your interest for the scheme by heading to this BT page.