Pros: Good sound quality, good speakerphone, handy answering machine operation, replaceable NiMH AAA batteries
Cons: Can't program ring tones by Caller ID, keypad not backlit, slight communication design flaw
The KX-TG1034S is the 4-handset version of the KX-TG103x series, one of many recent Panasonic multi-handset cordless phone models. Even if you limit your choices to DECT 6.0 models, Panasonic has many to choose from, so an obvious question is what distinguishes this model all from the others? As far as I can tell, the main differences are:
- This model incorporates a digital answering machine in the base station.
- The handsets and the base station have silver faceplates, while the newest Panasonic models tend to be all black, following current style trends.
- This model has taller handsets and bigger buttons than any of the other Panasonic models, but the LCD screen size and button layout are otherwise exactly the same.
- Monochrome LCD screen with amber backlight (some other recent Panasonic models have blue-on-white monochrome or color LCD displays).
- Keypad is not backlit.
- Monochrome amber power/charging LED indicator, not 3 color like some other Panasonic models.
- 16-minute answering machine recording capacity (some of the new models have only 10 minutes).
- Can't assign specific ring tones to phone book entries for use with Caller ID.
- Maximum 2 handsets in a conference call at once (some newer Panasonic models allow 3).
- Doesn't have a few other new features found on the latest Panasonic models like the programmable Night Mode or talking Caller ID.
This is my 7th cordless phone model and my 3rd multi-handset model (2nd from Panasonic), so I have some idea what I like by now. Overall I'm happy with this model.
- Call quality is excellent, with clear sound both ways and no background noise
- The taller handset is easier to grip and use for people with big hands, and the bigger buttons are easier to press. It's still reasonably light and compact compared to older cordless phones.
- Built-in digital answering machine in base station supports all the common functions, including remote access and convenient operation from any handset.
- Speakerphone built into each handset is clear and free of distortion.
- Phone book can be shared between handsets.
- Supports intercom and call transfer between handsets.
- 3-way conferencing between outside call and 2 handsets (maximum), and you can just pick up a second handset and press Talk to join in.
- Uses standard easily-replaceable NiMH AAA rechargeable batteries, like the other Panasonic phones.
- Shares button layout and most functions with other Panasonic models (I like companies that stick with one design that works and refine it instead of changing it constantly and pointlessly).
- Some features missing compared to other recent Panasonic models as noted above.
- Range is not as good as some of my previous cordless phones with external antennas.
- Sometimes loses contact with the base station momentarily due to a design fault.
As with other DECT 6.0 phones, using the 1.9 GHz DECT 6.0 band avoids interference with devices in the overcrowded 2.4 GHz band, like home WiFi and microwave ovens. This does seem to be effective in practice.
The base station supports up to 6 phone handsets connecting wirelessly to one phone line. However, only two handsets can join in a conversation at once. This model comes with 4 handsets, and you can buy extra handsets separately (if you can find them!). Extra handsets bought separately must be registered to the base station via the handset menu, but the ones which come with the set are pre-registered out of the box. Panasonic doesn't officially support mixing different Panasonic phone handsets and base station models, but apparently some combinations do work - people have reported that the KX-TGA820B handsets with color displays work with the base station from this set.
The handsets slide easily in and out of the charging socket on the main base station and the secondary handset charging stations, and they seem to sit in there securely. The power/charging LED on top of the handset glows bright amber whenever it is docked in the charging socket - some might find it too bright for a dark bedroom at night, and it can't be turned off (unless you put a bit of black tape over it).
Only horizontal orientation of the base station and charging stations is possible - no vertical wall mounting possible due to the way the handset sits in the socket. A wall mounting is provided for the base station only, but it has to support the base station in a horizontal position sticking out from the wall. The handsets themselves have a flat base and will stand upright on a flat surface (if a bit precariously), which is handy for speakerphone use. That's good because the speakerphone won't work with the handset in the charging base - you must remove it.
The charging bases for the secondary handsets and even the main base station with the answering machine are quite compact, but only because they use fairly bulky external DC power bricks. Note that the power supply for the main base station is a bit bigger than the others.
On some other Panasonic models, the power/charging LED is amber while charging, and goes green when the phone is fully charged, and it can be programmed to flash green, red or amber when ringing according to caller ID. Somehow the green is more restful on the eyes as the normal color. On this model it's glowing amber all the time while the phone is on the base, which to me seems fairly pointless since it isn't indicating anything - it just looks like a warning that the phone isn't charged.
A big plus is that these phones use standard NiMH AAA rechargeable batteries, rather than the annoying proprietary battery packs used by many other brands. Panasonic claims ample talk time and standby time on battery power, but I have no need to test the limits. The chargers are slow trickle chargers without any fast smart charging feature, so it takes 7 hours to get a full charge, and the phone does not detect if the battery is already charged.
The monochrome LCD doesn't have the best contrast, but it's adequate in good light. The amber backlight which appears when you press a button makes it readable in dimmer light, but it times off fairly quickly, and there's no way to adjust the backlight duration.
There's a 2.5mm headset jack behind a rubber cover on the side of the handset. It works with standard mono phone headsets.
A removable belt clip is provided for each handset.
Sound quality overall is good, both on earpiece and speakerphone - nothing to complain about. There is no background noise. On very rare occasions when there is some interference or the phone is at maximum range, you might hear a momentary warble in the sound. Volume during a call can quickly be adjusted over a 5-step range by pressing up/down on the 4-way pad. The speakerphone could go a bit louder at maximum, but it's adequate, and the sound is clear and undistorted. People at the other end say they can't tell I'm on a speakerphone when I'm close to it.
The wireless range is adequate for use throughout the house and garden, but the outdoor range is not great. With the base station placed in the same kitchen location as my previous cordless phones, I can barely get out to the street before the Panasonic phone loses the signal. I could get all the way down to the end of the block with my old VTech 900 Mhz digital model. The handset which is furthest away from the base station occasionally loses its connection mometarily while it is just sitting there. But the range seems about the same as the 5.8 GHz Panasonic model I use in the office, so perhaps it's due more to the stylish lack of an external antenna than to the DECT 6.0 frequency band. The phone beeps and flashes the antenna icon on the display when it loses the signal. If you are in a call, the call drops. The phone takes several seconds or pressing the Talk button to reconnect to the base station when you step back into range.
There is a minor problem with the design of this phone. It seems that the handset contacts the base station to check in about once every 30 seconds with a short digital signal exchange. If for any reason that signal doesn't get through, the phone shows contact lost with the base station. Instead of retrying right away, it waits for a full 30 seconds before trying again (unless you press the Talk button). If a call comes in during that period, the handset doesn't ring. If you were in the middle of dialing, it can freeze on a digit with a continuous beeeep tone that doesn't stop for 30 seconds. Even if you were doing nothing with the phone, it makes a distracting little beep when it re-establishes contact. This is simply a wrong design. The phone should retry to establish contact more rapidly for several seconds if contact is lost, and restore contact quickly and silently if it was a one-time interruption.
Features and Operation
In general the controls and functions are similar to other recent Panasonic cordless phones.
Most features are accessed through the menu, although there are dedicated buttons for some common functions (e.g., Phone Book, Redial, Mute, Flash etc.). There's a Menu/Ok button in the top middle to display the menu, but as a shortcut you can just press up/down on the large 4-way pad to display the menu and start navigating if you are not in a call. The menu text on the LCD screen is reasonably clear, and the navigation pad and Menu/Ok button operate easily with the thumb of either hand. English or Spanish language can be selected (English or French in the Canadian version).
The menu layout is fine, and it's reasonably easy to find most functions by stepping through the menu. There are two or three levels to some items, but the 4-way nav pad lets you quickly back up one menu level. The Off button exits the menu immediately. One menu item at a time is shown on the display in big letters - I think it might have been better to have the display show a 3 or 4-line menu list to provide some context.
You can change the ring volume or turn the ringer off independently on each handset. There's a limited built-in selection of ring tones and ring tunes - I'm using the pleasant classical Bach melody. On this phone you can't program a different ring for particular callers by Caller ID. When the phone rings, the amber display backlight turns on and the amber LED on top of the handset flashes, but you can't change the flash color of the LED with this model.
During a call the length of time you have been in the call is shown on the display, and it stays for about 4 seconds after you hang up. You can adjust call volume during a call using the up/down directions on the navigation pad. You can also use the Phone Book during a call, a feature Panasonic call "chain dial" because it allows you to dial a second number (like a credit card number or PIN) after you connect.
Setting the time on one handset sets it for all. You can also set it to pick up the time automatically from the caller ID signal when the phone rings, but it doesn't work without Caller ID service.
Each handset can access the answering machine functions through the menu. The handset can also be programmed to work with external voice mail from the phone company, showing you when there is a message waiting.
Each handset individually remembers the last 5 numbers it dialed, and can recall them using the Redial button.
There's an individual alarm clock function on each handset, although I find it hard to conceive of a circumstance where I would use it.
This phone system does not have the security feature of limiting certain handsets to answer-only with a passcode needed to dial out (I have a Uniden phone system with that feature).
Each handset has an individual 50-number phone book. You can enter numbers with corresponding alphanumeric names on the phone keypad, including upper and lower case letters and symbols. Phone number entry and editing is reasonably easy.
To retrieve a number you press the Phone Book key at the upper left and then scroll through the entries on the display, or press the number key corresponding to the first letter of the name to search. One name and number at a time are shown on the display as you scroll through the entries.
Unfortunately Panasonic doesn't seem to believe in having a Quick Dial feature, so there's no shortcut to frequently-used numbers other than looking them up in the Phone Book.
You can transfer individual numbers or the complete phone book between phones, so you only have to program it once on one handset. That's a good feature. Having the phone list in multiple handsets also provides some backup. However there's no way to back up the phone book externally or transfer numbers in from an outside source (except via Caller ID - see below).
If you have Caller ID service from the phone company, then caller information is displayed on each handset when the phone rings. If the number is in the phone book, the corresponding name is displayed.
The last 50 caller numbers are stored. You can display the list (most recent first), scroll through it, and return call the number. You can edit the number before calling back, and there is a menu function to change quickly between common formats such as with/without area code and leading 1 digit to handle calls from outside your area code. You can also save caller numbers to your phone book. This phone has a feature that remembers how you edit numbers from a particular area code, and can optionally automatically apply the same editing to other caller numbers from the same area code (the last 4 area codes edited are remembered).
The number of missed calls is displayed on the handset, but only if you have Caller ID service (unlike my Vtech phone that counts the number of missed calls even on lines with no Caller ID service). The calls are remembered individually on each handset, so you have to clear the list individually on each handset.
Intercom and Conferencing
You can use the Intercom button to call between handsets. There's a special ring tone for intercom calls. Handsets are identified with a handset number 1-6 on the display for intercom purposes. Unfortunately you can't program them with alphanumeric names like "Workshop" instead of numbers.
You can transfer an external call between handsets, i.e., put an incoming call on hold, make an intercom call to another handset, talk with them, then transfer the external call to that handset. Of course you can also yell "Pick up the phone!", which does work with this phone - a second handset can join the conversation. You can have a 3-way conference between an external call and 2 handsets, but no more than 2 at once.
You can use any two handsets in intercom mode as a kind of two-way radio link in the house or yard (range permitting), for example as a baby monitor or for two people working jointly on something at separate locations. The sound quality is very good, and the handset batteries provide ample talk time. If an outside call comes in while you are in an intercom call, the occupied handsets beep and the unoccupied ones ring. You can still answer the outside call.
You can't do a one-way push-to-talk intercom call like a real intercom, or one-way remote room monitor - intercom calls must be answered manually on the other handset (my Uniden phone set can do those things).
There's a handset locater button on the base station that rings all the phones simultaneously with a special ring tone. Only works if they still have battery power of course.
The digital answering machine incorporated into the base station works pretty much the same as most others. It can record up to 16 minutes and up to 64 messages (including your greeting message). The recording quality is clear.
You can optionally limit the individual message length to 1 or 3 minutes. It uses non-volatile flash memory, so it doesn't need battery backup in case of a power failure. This model provides no visual indication of the number of messages waiting - it just flashes the Play button steadily when there is any message waiting - but really, do you need to know any more? The answering machine speaks the number of messages waiting when you press the Play button.
The handsets show "Message waiting" on the display, and they show the number of new and old messages waiting when you enter the Answering Device menu. You can also program the handsets to flash their amber light slowly when there is a message waiting (a bit too slowly in my opinion). You can access all the answering machine functions remotely from any handset via the handset menu - that's a nice feature, although it takes a few more button presses than using the base station. In fact, Panasonic doesn't really need to have the answering machine controls on the base station itself at all since the handset can do everything - maybe that's an opportunity for simplification in a future design.
The number of rings before answering is programmable from 3-7, or you can select the standard "toll saver" arrangement, reducing the number of rings automatically from 4 to 2 when a message is waiting so that you can dial in to check and hang up before it answers if there are no messages. It supports remote access, with a 3-digit security access code (programmable). It has a voice menu (English or Spanish - English or French in the Canadian version), and you can enter functions by number quickly if you know them and don't want to wait through the voice menu. All fairly typical.
You can screen calls (i.e., listen in) while the answering machine is recording, and you can program the handsets to screen calls as well as the base station. Unfortunately this is an "all or none" setting, not individual per handset.
The base station has its own speaker for playing messages, but it does not ring when a call comes in, and you can't use the base station as a speakerphone or to answer a call without the handset present.
You can call in remotely and enter the security code to play back or delete messages from the answering machine. I find the voice menu a bit slow and painful to navigate, and it doesn't follow the standard shortcut numbered functions used by many answering systems.
There are certainly some extras missing compared to fancier standalone answering machines I've had in the past, but nothing that impairs the basic functionality. For example there's no audible message-waiting indication. No fast-play mode to speed up playback. Only one greeting message can be recorded at a time, not two selectable alternates. No way is provided to quickly record a local message for other family members. There are no multiple mailboxes to store messages separately for different people. And there's no call-in "home monitor" feature like my old Panasonic answering machines, a little-appreciated home security feature that I miss.
The manual deserves a positive mention - it's short and to the point, and it clearly explains all the features and functions.
No real problems in operation, other than the 30-second loss of contact issue mentioned above.
Overall I'm going to give this model a rare (for me) Excellent rating, because it handles the essentials very well, it offers a few unexpected useful extras, and the minor shortcomings are in areas that don't really matter to me - in other words, a good design job by Panasonic. Also I have had only good experiences with the reliability of Panasonic gear, and I've had plenty of it, some of it for a long time.