I’m not usually the nostalgic type, but I miss landline phones. Cell phones may do eight billion things, but they are tiny and inconsequential — artificial, semi-disposable black rectangles — whereas old telephones have weight, substance, and style. They come in lots of colours. The receiver feels good in your hand. It feels great when you slam down the handset to hang up on some jerk — angrily poking at the hang-up button on your iPhone doesn’t even come close. Old phones even sound better: The ringtones come from actual bells — so much more real than a piddly little tune or digital squonk — and the sound of a voice on a mobile phone is terrible when compared to the same voice on an analogue phone.
If you want to revisit the old days of our pre-digital past or experience it for the first time, you don’t need to sign up for a landline. It’s easy to convert an old push-button or rotary phone to a Bluetooth receiver that works with your cell phone, and almost as well as a dedicated landline phone. Here’s how to make it happen.
How to turn an old landline telephone into a cell phone Bluetooth receiver
Get an old phone. If there isn’t one in your attic, there are thousands of old telephones on eBay that can be purchased for very reasonable prices, running the gamut from the ubiquitous beige push button models of the 1980s, to classic black rotary phones to pink “princess” phones, and novelty cheeseburger phones.
Get a specialised jack. There are a few ready-made devices that instantly transform your old phone into an old phone that gets cell calls. Cell2Jack retails for about $US30 ($42), and the Xlink BT Bluetooth Gateway lets you connect three different cell phones to the same landline phone and costs around $US90 ($125).
Hook it up. Most old telephones don’t have separate power sources because the power came from the same wire that transmits the sounds (such a sleek design), so you’ll have to plug the jack into a power outlet and plug a phone cord into the jack and the phone. Once you do that, you just have to hit the “pair” button and pair up the Bluetooth from your cell phone, and that’s it. Now you have an old school phone, complete with old-school ringer, rotary or push-button dialling, a dial-tone when you pick up the receiver, and even a busy signal.
Make some calls. You can now experience the joy of the mechanical chunka-chunka-chunka sound of a rotary dial, or the satisfyingly discordant sounds of a push button phone making a connection. Your new phone has the same telephone number as your cell phone, and when someone calls, you’ll be amazed at how freaking loud phones used to ring. Spend many hours talking to your friends. Note how right the handset feels in your hand and how nicely the ear piece cradles your ear. Don’t forget to absentmindedly wrap the coiled cord around your finger as you talk.
The one way your Bluetooth phone will remain inferior to old-school phones
Calls made through POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) sound better than calls made though cell phones. Cell phones convert sound into electrical signals and send it a thousand miles away then instantly convert it back in sounds. To minimise latency, cell phones limit the signal of the sound they convert. But that’s not all: to make speech more understandable in a smaller “space,” cell phones eliminate some frequencies and boost others, giving people’s voices a compressed, robot feel. Old-school telephones provided richer sound, less squelched and more natural, because they don’t have the space limitation that digital phones do.
Your new franken-phone will be playing back that compressed signal on a different kind of speaker, so it won’t sound as rich as landline-to-landline calls did back in the day. The speaker is likely to be louder and less “tinny” than your cell phone’s speaker though.