A lot of modern electronics are not ‘friendly’ to people with special needs, including those associated with aging. Small buttons, small print, confusing labels, low volumes, high-pitched sounds, and so on can cause real problems for a good chunk of the population.
The AB900 offers tone, volume, and message speed control, as well as a ‘boost’ feature, larger buttons, and large, high-contrast printing. The box comes with the unit, a power cord with a decent amount of cord, about a 6′ long phone cord, a quick start guide, and the instruction manual.
The unit claims several interesting features-
- Adjustable volume amplified up to max 40dB
- Rotary frequency tone control
- Rotary play back speed control
- 24 minutes of digital recording with flash memory
- Set up available in 6 languages
- One-touch playback with pause feature
- Skip, repeat or erase messages (Single erase or All erase)
- Two digit LED display message counter
- 3.5mm jack for headset or neckloop (sold separately)
- Remote room monitoring
- Remote retrieve and manage messages
- 2 year warranty
Set-up and preparing the outgoing message are easy and well-explained in the bilingual manual and quick start guide. The user guide itself uses large print and is clearly written (although it suffers from a common problem with large print- the smaller amount of white space makes the pages look cluttered.)
The machine acts like a typical, but well-designed, answering machine most of the time. The display is clear and reasonably intuitive for a two digit LED (such as a flashing message usually means you need to do something- finish set-up, answer a message, etc.) The controls to play, pause, skip, delete, record, etc. are large and easy to use, and the labels are large and done in white on black backgrounds for good contrast. There is a little bit of color-coding as well to help differentiate the controls, and a jack for earphones or other aids.
The bigger buttons and clearer print alone would be a big benefit for many people, but the AB900 goes another step with controls for volume, tone, and speed as well as the expected ‘volume up and down’ buttons. You can make any message louder by pressing the ‘BOOST’ button which will add about a 40dB increase.
Just making something louder, however, does not make it clearer. Not only does amplification like that add distortion, the nature of hearing loss often drops higher tones and muffles lower tones. The Amplicom AB900 allows the listener to adjust the tone of the message- moving the entire tone higher or lower for clarity. It also allows the listener to change the speed- speeding or slowing it down. It does not quite let you do ‘Alvin and the Chipmunk’ effects, but it really does help make messages more clear- without needing a degree in acoustics to do so.
The machine combines good labeling and displays to make it mostly pretty intuitive. My various test subjects were generally able to do everything they needed without needing the manual. They were also impressed with how much difference the controls made to their ability to hear and understand messages. For that matter, even I found it helpful when the speaker did not speak clearly or went too fast or slow- as they so often do.
The unit can also be used for room monitoring. If you have the codes, you can call it and hear whatever is happening within the range of the speaker. This is a nice touch for the family of the people who would most benefit from this sort of device. It allows you to check in on a loved one that may be having a problem and unable to reach the phone. I did not test to see if it acts like a speaker phone in this context (and I cannot get back to try that out right now- dang!) However, the manual does not mention this ability.
The manual does have a peculiar omission in it- it makes no mention of using the tone and speed controls. They are easy to figure out, but it is kind of odd. Another thing that bothers me a little is that there is not a wallet card or cheat sheet for the remote commands. There are a lot of them and I doubt most people could remember them, and the manual is not something you’d normally have when you are away from home. Another odd bit is that the website mentions a battery pack that the unit I was sent did not have. They may have added that later, probably to store settings and messages in a power outage.
Overall, this is a well-designed, well-thought out device that would really help a lot of people.