Emerson Switchboard

Most of us are willing to pay for convenience -- if it doesn't cost too much. How about $40 for a switcher that lets you get on the internet, and still get phone calls and faxes? All this, and you don't have to get a second line.

The Emerson Switchboard gives very specific, easy -to- follow directions -- that is, IF you're comfortable with wires and changing the settings on your computer. Julie Humphreys works from home, and agrees to help us test the product. She hopes it works, because it would make her home office more efficient.

Julie first unplugs her modem, fax and phone lines... then plugs them into the Switchboard. Finally, she powers the unit, and dials up the internet. One phone service you must have before using the Emerson Switchboard, is call waiting -- and we thank Southwestern Bell for arranging that service for this test. It WAS operating during this test.

Next you have to reconfigure your computer settings to coordinate with call waiting.

Finally, you need to find out from your internet service provider how long you can stay online with no activity, before you're timed out and disconnected. Why? Because the switchboard does not allow you to be online AND talk on the phone AT THE SAME TIME. Package wording is very misleading. Basically, the switchboard is only supposed to put your internet on 'hold' while you take a phone call or receive a fax. Then, when you hang up, you can continue surfing the net without having to log back on -- that is, unless you go longer than the time allowed by your service provider.

For example, if you "time-out" after 2 minutes, that's only how long your conversation or fax break can be while using the Emerson Switchboard. It does give directions on adjusting your computer, to work with the switchboard as much as possible.

For our first TEST, Amy Jacquin uses a cell phone to call the Humphreys' number WHILE Julie is online. It does ring rather than give a busy signal. Now the Emerson Switchboard is supposed to ring, and an indicator light tell us whether it's the phone or fax that needs to be answered.

"It's ringing," says Amy. "But you can't hear anything from the switchboard."

The Emerson Switchboard gives us no indication that another call is coming in. And if we pick up the headset, we hear only internet noise.

Julie is a medical transcriptionist, and asks her employer to send a fax. Again, no indication that anything else is happening.

Julie is pretty computer savvy. Yet, just to make sure we both didn't miss something, we had our photographer read directions and double-check our hook-up. Everything was as it should be... but the switchboard just wouldn't suspend the internet and allow other calls or faxes through. And we tried more than once.

So the Emerson Switchboard didn't work at all for us. But we do question one thing -- the power light stays on all the time when using electricity -- you can't turn it off. However, when on battery power, you CAN turn it off. I tried to ask Emerson about this, but was unsuccessful.

"I'm not too happy with the switchboard," Julie summarizes. "It didn't perform one function. I'll stick to my call forwarding instead!" Julie is referring to the service she buys, where she can forward her home phone number to her cell phone when she's online. That way, she won't miss any calls.

So based on OUR test, the Emerson Switchboard gets a failing grade. Spend your $40 on call forwarding, or a second phone line instead.