The tyranny of growing old – big phone buttons (review)

GadgetGuy gets lots of questions from Baby Boomers and Seniors about accessibility – things like ‘big-buttons’ on smartphones and landline handsets.

When VTech contacted us about its new 2018 range of Careline cordless landline phones and companion devices and its support of the Royal Institute for the Deaf and Blind Children we were keen to put the products through their paces.

There are currently seven products in the 2018 Careline line-up – four phones, a 2-way doorbell, an extension ringer and an SOS pendant.

What is nice is that these are all extremely affordable starting with the heart of the system – VTech 17450 CareLine DECT 6.0 Cordless Phone with VSMART – at A$89 and the accessories range from $39 to $59. It won’t break the bank.

Let’s start with VTech

It is a Chinese global supplier of electronic learning products from infancy to preschool and the world’s largest manufacturer of cordless phones. It is also one of the top 50 electronic manufacturing services providers globally. It was founded in 1976 and has maintained a reputation for quality electronics at affordable prices.

To be fair, it was also fined US$650,000 this year for a data breach comprising 4,854,209 parent’s accounts and their 6,368,509 children’s profiles. Not to make light of this, any company making Internet-connected devices is a target and needs to beef up security.

Fortunately, the VTech Careline range has no such issues.

VTech 17450 CareLine DECT 6.0 Cordless Phone with VSMART $89

It is a cordless, DECT6.0, digital answering machine phone that works with PSTN, ADSL and NBN. The most distinguishing features are the huge backlit, talking, keys and you can put four passports sized photos assigned to speed dial (M1-4) on it.

To say it is foolproof is an understatement with absolutely no need to enter the menu system to make or take calls.

You will need to set the date/time and optionally record a message if you use the answering machine or want to set up the SOS distress function. All very straightforward.

It supports up to five handsets (including the base). Additional handsets are $59 each. These can also be used as an intercom. The Doorbell also counts as a handset.

While most seniors would be able to set up the base unit, it is best left to the family to do so. All settings are power-fail backed up so you won’t have to reinstate them after a blackout.


  • Power Fail back-up on the base system lets you make calls during a mains power interruption with your cordless phone.
  • Advanced Dual Antenna System for extended range up to 300 metres from the base
  • Wireless (Wi-Fi) Network Friendly
  • Large orange backlit easy to read display and keypad
  • Extra bright visual ring indicator on handset and base
  • Extra loud ringer on base – up to 90dB
  • Talking Digits – announces numbers as they are pre-dialled
  • Volume booster function and hearing aid compatible
  • SOS help button on handset with user pre-recordable alert message
  • Equalizer switch to change sound characteristics to suit user (e.g. clear voice)
  • High-quality hands-free on handset and base
  • 70 name and number phonebook
  • Four one-touch memory keys on handsets / four quick dial memory keys on base (photo keys)
  • Calling Number Display capable with 30 number Call List and Calling Number Display Announce
  • Calling Number Display Call Guard allows you to block unwanted PRIVATE and/or UNAVAILABLE calls plus the Call Block List which allows you to block incoming calls from up to 50 specific user programmable numbers
  • Alarm function – program up to 10 separate alarm reminders
  • Visual Message Wait Indicator shows when messages left on network voicemail service
  • Desk/Wall Mountable, 10 last number redial
  • Adjustable handset ring volume and melodies
  • Call timer
  • Mute function
  • Date & Time display
  • Up to 10 hours talk time / 100 hours standby time
  • Answering machine with 30 minutes record time with slow playback function, time & date stamp and call screening

In testing:

  • I could not really try out the claimed 300-metre line-of-sight distance but managed to get a clear and strong signal at 100 metres.
  • The volume booster is useful
  • The handsfree function on the base was loud and clear – no ‘tunnel” effect.
  • The intercom feature was easy – press C/INT/Back ad it shows a list of connected handsets – call one or all.

I have tested cordless phones from Panasonic, Uniden and others. This stands up well for build quality and has the added benefit of being a hub for Careline accessories.

Photophone CLSPHS $49

This has four memory numbers that can have four photos inserted into the handset. The numbers must be in the base unit’s memory.

All you need to do is press the photo to call and its ideal for movement and hearing impaired. While there is no keypad (meaning you cannot dial other numbers) it can answer any call – it has an extra bright visual ring indicator, volume boost, handsfree function and is hearing aid compatible.

If the number is in the base station, it will announce who the caller is. Unlike the base and spare handsets, this does not have an SOS button.

Careline companion accessories

 Audio Doorbell (VS013)  $49

This is a marvellous IPX4 weatherproof device that acts as a doorbell as well as a phone extension to allow you to talk to whoever is at the door. You can couple that with an extension ringer, so you will never miss a call.

What I like is the wireless connection (again up to 300 metres line-of-sight), and you can test the signal strength to make sure it is within range. It is battery operated – as battery life depends on how much it is used let’s just say it should last a long time.

In tests, voice was clear, and the call divert feature lets you nominate a mobile or other phone number if you are away although it does require you to go to the menu to set this up. Battery life is claimed to be up to a year, and you can connect up to three of these (could be useful for a granny flat as well as main residence)

Extension Ringer VS014 $49

This provides both audio at up to 100dB (equivalent to a motorcycle or blow dryer) and LED flashing light. It is ideal for both hearing and visually impaired to let you know if the phone is ringing or if someone is at the door. It requires 240V power and has battery backup for power-fail.

In testing the 100dB was most effective and is especially useful for the doorbell.

SOS pendant VS015 $39

It is called a portable pendant (meaning wear it around your neck) and comes with a lanyard. Essentially it is a large panic button to call the base or initiate an SOS call if you are within 300 metres. Battery life is about six months.

I found it a tad large at 70 x 80 x 25mm x 90g including the lanyard and battery. Like all things, it is only useful if it is used and there is a lot of discussion in elderly care about having panic buttons that are motion sensitive (to falls), will alert carers if there has been no motion (not being worn or asleep) and GPS (if they wander).

Still, it is reasonably durable, weatherproof (not waterproof) device and if you can convince the user to wear it and use it, then it is a good idea.

GadgetGuy’s take – this is not just a senior’s phone

It is a great alternative for anyone buying a cordless phone/answering machine. The extension ringer is great for large homes, and the doorbell is most useful.

I have seen VTech evolve over the years. Its quality is on par with most brands, and this gear seems particularly well made.

If you have elderly parents, it is a great gift, especially if you marry it with the doorbell and maybe the extension ringer.

There is a promotion to receive a free SOS pendant with the purchase of a 17450 base unit until 28 February.


  • Well made
  • A suite of accessibility devices with large buttons etc
  • It all works well together
  • Easy set-up for most


  • Elderly on non-tech savvy will need the family to set it up



  • Overall:  4.8 out of 5
  • Features: 5 out of 5 –
  • Value for Money: 5 out of 5
  • Performance: 5 out of 5
  • Ease of Use: 4 out of 5
  • Design: 5 out of 5 – perfect for the intended audience


$89 plus Careline accessories

Value for money
Ease of Use
Reader Rating7 Votes
Solid range of assisted livinng devices
None really