For Business Feel, Nothing Beats Desk Phone

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The telephony that's got me all excited today, in a small-business sort of way, isn't a cell phone. Or a smartphone. Or even a cordless phone. Believe it or not, it's a desk phone. That's right -- dumb, old desk phones for your small business are in something of a golden age.

While telecom heavies such as Cisco ( CSCO), Avaya and Nortel ( NT) push their pricey new video, telepresence and VoIP initiatives, almost without notice traditional two-line desk phones -- perfect for smaller shops -- have been piling on features, lowering prices and doing away with expensive middlemen and proprietary, so-called PBX digital telephone control units that populate most corporate offices.

These days, if you know where to look, you can order up a top-drawer desk phone, install it without help and get that big company business-phone feel for way less than the cost of even most cellular plans.

So if you are tired of trying to make money on that tired old phone in your spare bedroom, here are my picks for desk phones with small-business game:

Panasonic KX-TS3282B ($89.99 at JR.com) If there is a best-in-class for basic, two-line phones that don't require a $250-an-hour tech to install, it is the 3282B. Order it online, plug it into any existing phone line -- cable phone, Vonage line, whatever you've got -- and you can figure this out. Just follow the instructions and you can conference, have distinctive rings and otherwise phone away with a business-ready, two-line, integrated phone system that has an intercom, call waiting, caller ID and even a decent speakerphone. It's a bit wonky to set it all up: The unit is controlled with long series of menu options that take work to tease out. But for $90, you get a real business phone. For basic business telephony, there is no better choice right now than the Panasonic ( PC).

Polycom SoundPoint Pro SE-225 ($173 at Zones.com) If you miss that slick corporate phone feel in your small office -- and don't mind paying up a bit -- check out the Polycom ( PLCM) SoundPoint Pro SE-225. For about double the cost of the Panasonic, you get a phone that feels like you are working at IBM ( IBM). Most big-phone features are here: caller ID, even on call waiting; a 99-number programmable speed dial; and oodles of history directories and other telephone bells and whistles -- most of which, by the way, you will probably never use. In about a year's testing, I have been particularly impressed with the sound of the conferencing mic. You can even speak over other callers and still understand them. Polycom deserves real credit for this speaker -- and this phone.

Belkin Desktop Internet Phone for Skype ($100 at Belkin.com) If you're comfortable with the limits of Skype -- warbly voice quality and cutesy Web 2.0 social nonsense when you are trying to make a business call -- this phone is a surprisingly solid choice for bringing Web telephony to even a tiny operation. Simply plug it into an available slot in your broadband router, log into your Skype account, kick in a few bucks for some SkypeOut minutes and you have a separate voice line that costs pennies to the dollar compared with traditional voice and cell service. I must say, I found this an impressive little bit of Web telephony. Good design for the controls, buttons and features. And good voice quality by web calling standards, assuming you have a good Web connection and your system is configured properly. You will definitely want to avoid the more sophisticated Skype functions such as chat and video conferencing, since the control screen is tiny. But still, for $100 and some Skype minutes, you have your own business number. What's not to love about that? -- Written by Gregg Greenberg in New York.

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Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on Fox News and The WB.