State-of-the-art -- and expensive -- telephones come to the market

Americans far from Paris now can ''capture the Left Bank'' with a French-style ''Fashion Fone,'' replete with Continental-style buzzer and ornamental handset, and ''create a mood of European elegance'' - for only $59.95 .

Radio Shack, a nationwide electronics store, also sells an Imperiale Classique (the ''phone fit for royalty'') for $79.95. Their ''cutie'' decorator phone - ''the ultimate petite phone'' - rings in at $59.95.

These are just a few examples of a wide range of telephones Americans are buying for their homes as regulatory changes set out in Federal Communications Commission (FCC) orders early this year, as well as American Telephone & Telegraph's divestiture, begin to open up the market.

While many Americans continue to pay a small monthly fee for telephone rental , others are buying telephones, either from department stores, mail-order catalogs, or phone centers. Others purchase their own ''in-place'' telephones from local telephone companies.

Some areas of the country still have only rotary dialing service. Others have touch-tone dialing. (Some push-button models can work with rotary dialing, other units are specifically designed for tone dialing.) So before shopping for high-tech telephones or speed-dialing systems, consumers should find out what services are available and what will actually work in their areas.

If a consumer is interested only in having the basic telephone equipment - that is, a basic desk-top or wall phone - the prices offered by phone companies on in-place equipment may be slightly less than phone center or catalog prices.

In 34 states, for example, a consumer's present standard rotary desk-top telephone can be purchased from the local telephone company. The price varies from $18.25 in North Dakota to $35 in New York. The same reconditioned telephone may be purchased out of the company's stockroom - if available.

But Arthur Curtis of the Telephone Users Association, a consumer group in Arlington, Va., says the phones purchased from the telephone company may not be the best deal around.

''The price may be lower than buying a new one, but it's probably an old phone that's been sitting in your home for years,'' Mr. Curtis says. Quoting 1983 figures from US District Court in Washington, Curtis points out ''there are 175 million phones in the United States. Of those, 80 percent are owned by Bell - that's 140 million phones Bell is trying to sell, and that's billions of dollars for Bell, if they can get the consumer to buy the phone.''

The rotary-dial, desk-top phone is available from various manufacturers for approximately $30 to $40. ITT's model sells for $34.95. American Bell offers theirs for $35. Radio Shack's lists at $39.95. GTE's standard telephone is also priced around $40. Push-button, desk-top phones from all companies fall into the functions available.

There are some telephones, however, that just barely meet FCC standards and sell for about $9 or $10 at many electronics and department stores.

These ''throwaway'' phones are made in Korea, Japan, or Taiwan with lead rather than copper wire, says one industry analyst. They are prone to misdialing , wear out very quickly, and do not stand up to being slammed down on a desk. Hence the low price, the analyst says.

Most phones now on the market, including those bought from local phone companies, surpass FCC standards and come with a warranty. Even though your present telephone may never have been serviced and may never need service, it is a good idea to find out how long the unit is guaranteed for and what service arrangements are available. This is especially true for sophisticated, state-of-the-art systems.

Panasonic, for example, offers a combination telephone/answering machine with various features such as automatic dialing and 10-number storage for about $260. Panasonic also markets a combination telephone/speaker phone.'' This model redials a busy number as many as 15 times in 12 minutes.

Radio Shack has an auto-dialing telephone that stores 32 numbers for $99.95. A deluxe model, with an amplifier as well, sells for $139.95 at Radio Shack.

Markline, a mail-order electronics catalog, sells an AM/FM clock radio telephone by Sound Design for $119.95. A similar though cordless ''bedside phone'' made by Extend-a-Phone, with AM/FM radio, snooze alarm, time display, and alarm indicator, costs $219.95.

Markline also offers the sophisticated Japanese Muraphone with a $300 price tag. Despite its advanced features - including an intercom between the base and remote unit, a 1,000-foot range, auto dialing, and a voice synthesizer that can advise the base or remote phone of the 32 numbers stored in its memory - it has not performed well, say some salesmen.

''There seems to be a computer chip problem,'' says a Markline salesman. ''It's a nice idea, but they've got to get the bugs out of it. The range is definitely not 1,000 feet.''

This June, GTE will introduce an ''advanced features,'' cordless ''Flip Phone'' that will sell in the $300 range. American Bell will offer a similar advanced telephone, known as ''Genesis Telesystem,'' in September that will retail for about $350. These phones will store numbers, have intercoms between stations, time phone calls - and do just about everything but turn on the televison. (For those who can afford a $1,500 to $6,000 price tag, several companies offer state-of-the-art, scaled-down business systems for residential installation.)

Most fancy cordless telephones fall into the $200 to $300 range, though some shorter-range ones sell for less - such as Radio Shack's antennaless, cordless $ 99.95 model. But it pays to check range and battery life of these units, says Curtis of the Telephone Users Association, since many new cordless phones don't always work as well as advertised.

For some consumers, style is more important than buttons and speed dialing, and ornate packaging is available for basic phone components.

American Bell, the spinoff of AT&T, like Radio Shack, has its own designer collection. You can walk out of a phone center with a $109 ''Diplomat,'' a bureaucratic-looking telephone with a discreet ''diplomat'' in raised silver plastic letters in the lower left-hand corner.

A $265 ''butcher block'' telephone is available with push-buttons in a dial formation, as well as the $235 ''Country Junction,'' with an old-fashioned, cloth-covered cord as well as two large, nonringing bells on the faceplate, and push-button dial. And even Henri Bendel's, a fashionable boutique in New York City, sells a chic, flat, black and white telephone made in Denmark - with a Museum of Modern Art pedigree - that sells for $160.

With such a variety of telephones on the market now, Curtis says consumers should:

* Sit tight as long as possible before buying.

* Shop around.

* Talk to friends. Find out what they have bought and what they suggest.

* Try one out before buying, and make sure you get a warranty.

* Look at some of the new developments in advanced, computerized telephone technology.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to State-of-the-art -- and expensive -- telephones come to the market
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today