ChrisRand.com Product Reviews

I don't know which is worse, the conmen ("Hello, we're from Windows Support and we see your PC has a virus"), or the opportunist salesmen ("We can guarantee you compensation for having been mis-sold payment protection insurance"). Either way, unwanted calls are at best a pain and at worst - for some people - a real worry.

There are a handful of phones now available on the market which can block calls of certain types, or from certain numbers, and I've reviewed three of them, separately, here. If you don't want a new phone, however, the solution may be a call blocker, and there are a couple available on the market. These plug in between your phone and the wall socket, and don't need to get in the way at all.

Option 1: TrueCall Call Blocker

If you think you've seen this before, it was a huge hit on Dragon's Den a few years back. The TrueCall call blocker screens incoming calls and performs different functions depending on who the call is from. If the call is from someone you want to receive calls from, they get straight through. You program these into the system via your handset, through an online control panel, or by pressing * next time they call. If the call is from someone you don't want to hear from, they just get a pre-recorded announcement and you never know. Again, the unwanted numbers are programmed in via your handset, through an online control panel, or by pressing # the first time they call.

If the caller's number isn't on either list, if you don't have Caller-ID on your line, or if the caller's number is unavailable, withheld or international, the unit answers the call without your phone ringing and plays a personal greeting to the caller, asking them to say their name. This could be: "We're screening our calls. Please say your name after the tone then wait to be connected".

What then happens, as the TrueCall manual explains, is that if the caller doesn't say anything, TrueCall will explain that you don't accept calls from anonymous callers, and will ask them to say their name a second time. If still nothing is heard, it will say "Goodbye" and hang up. If the caller does say their name (e.g. "Sally"), TrueCall tells them that it is trying to put them through, puts them on hold, then rings your phone. When you pick up, TrueCall says: "You have a call from - Sally - Press 1 to accept the call, hash to Zap the caller, or hang up to ask the caller to leave a message. Press star to accept the call and Star the caller".

Having heard the caller's name spoken in their own voice, you can now decide how you want to deal with the call. If you want to speak to the caller, press '1' on your phone, and TrueCall will connect you to the caller. If you don't want to speak to the caller, but want TrueCall to take a message, just hang up - TrueCall will ask the caller to leave a message. If you want to tell the caller to go away and not call you again, press the # key on your phone and then hang up. TrueCall will play them the Zap announcement telling them that you are not interested in their call. In addition, if you have received the caller's number, they will be automatically added to your Zap list. If you want to speak to the caller, and are happy to receive calls from them in the future, press *on your phone. TrueCall will add the caller's number to your Star list, then connect you to them. This process of asking the caller to identify themselves is called Whisper. After a short while you will become familiar with these options and will be able to deal with the call without needing to listen to the full announcement. Whisper is very effective - most telemarketers hang up when they are asked to say their name; silent calls are rejected automatically; malicious callers are reluctant to identify themselves, and know that in any case you won't accept their call. It also allows you to manage your time better - if you are busy, you can speak to your most important callers and let TrueCall take messages from the rest.

Reviews of the unit are overwhelmingly positive, and it was described favourably in Which magazine's July 2013 issue too.

Check out the price here. It's not cheap, but it's a good answering machine in its own right, and it'll cost less than two or three years of BT's "Anonymous Call Rejection" service, which is far less flexible.

Option 2: CPR Call Blocker

This is worth a look because it can be less than half the price of the TrueCall unit above. It's a lot simpler than the TrueCall, but may do the job. The CPR Call Blocker allows you to enter individual numbers to be blocked through your handset using a series of codes (see the unit's manual for details). Similarly, you can block the last calling number, all "number withheld" callers, and various other types of caller. A list of known nuisance callers is already programmed into the unit.

Finding the right level of blocking takes some trial and error, a bit like the phones with built-in call-blockers. However, it should make your life a lot easier.

Check out the price and read more reviews here.

Verdict

If the Telephone Preference Service worked, or if the telephone companies were sympathetic about nuisance callers - rather than seeing them as an opportunity - then we wouldn't need these devices. But we do. The TrueCall unit is the Rolls-Royce of call blockers at the moment, but it comes at a price. However, that's one which many people are prepared to pay. If you can live with a bit more programming and a little less flexibility, either the CPR Call Blocker or one of the specialist handsets with built-in call blocking may be the solution for you.