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Before you buy an answering machine, you may want to consider factors such as message capacity, storage method and remote access. Most answering machines use digital storage, though older cassette designs also exist. Other features you may be interested in include private mailboxes, the ability to record memos, and automatic disconnect. If you buy an answering machine that includes an auto-disconnect feature, you can cause the device to stop recording an incoming message by picking up the line. You may also want to consider whether you actually need to buy an answering machine, or if you would be better off using voicemail or even a program on your computer.
The first item to consider before you buy an answering machine is the different types of storage media. Older answering machines used small cassette tapes, and some modern units still use this method. When an answering machine uses a single tape for both the outgoing message and incoming messages, it needs to fast-forward past all of the existing messages before a new one can be left. This can have the unwanted side effect of letting callers know roughly how many messages you have, indicating that you are out of town or not monitoring your answering machine for some other reason. The other main option is digital storage, either on a built-in flash memory component or a removable card.
You may also want to take private mailboxes into account before you start looking for an answering machine. This feature allows an incoming caller to select a recipient for his call, rather than every message going to one large queue. If you have several people in your home and need some way to organize incoming messages, this can be a useful feature. Some answering machines do not support private mailboxes, while others allow you to set up a large number of them.
It is also worth considering whether you really need to buy an answering machine, since there are a number of alternatives to consider. Most phone companies provide voicemail, either as an included feature or an additional item you will need to pay a monthly fee for. Voicemail systems can typically take messages while the line is in use, and you can usually access them remotely as well. Another option to consider is your computer, as there are software programs that can provide the features of a physical answering machine. These programs often allow you to set up multiple private mailboxes, and message capacity is only limited by the size of your hard drive.