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BT Halo review: BT's call-blocking phone just got even better

Katharine Byrne
28 Feb 2019
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
100
inc VAT

It's expensive, but the combination of BT's superb call-blocking and the ability to make calls from your mobile number is simply heavenly

Pros 
Flexible call-blocking system
Bluetooth calling via mobile is useful
Comfortable, and excellent sound quality
Cons 
Relatively high price
Needs Caller ID to work
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The BT Halo may have a fancy-sounding name, but under the skin, it’s an evolution of an existing product. It’s the successor to BT's excellent BT8500 call-blocking handset, but this is no mild refresh. With a new design and base, the Halo adds a host of extra features, including the ability to make calls from and block calls to your mobile.

That's right. By pairing your smartphone with the Halo over Bluetooth, you're given a choice of calling from your usual home phone number or your mobile each time you want to place a call. Handy if you frequently experience aching ears after long mobile conversations – because, let's face it, most smartphones simply aren't very comfortable to hold up to your ears for extended periods of time.

The Halo, on the other hand, is a joy to clamp to your ear. It has a long, gently curved design that stretches from your ear right down to your chin, ensuring your mouth is always close to the microphone. The large, rubberised earpiece has a smooth, rounded finish that's easy on the ear too. The number buttons aren't quite as chunky as those on the Halo’s predecessor, but they still provide a good level of feedback. They light up once you remove the unit from the base, too, making them easy to see in the dark.

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It’s possible to sync your mobile contacts to the Halo, saving you the hassle of inputting them all individually. This makes setup an absolute breeze compared with other home phones. You can have two mobiles paired at any one time, and each paired mobile gets its own separate contacts list, so you don't have to scroll through dozens of names each time you want to make a call. That’s useful, considering the Halo can hold up to 1,000 contacts for each phone in addition to those stored on the handset. Just tap left or right on the central control dial and you'll find each phone's contacts list ready and waiting.

Call quality is excellent. At my end of the call, I found voices came through loud and clear, and the microphone did an equally good job of relaying my words in the other direction. The handy volume buttons on the side of the Halo handset mean you don't have to go back to the base station to adjust the volume.

Since Bluetooth's range is limited to 10m, you can't stray too far from your smartphone if you're using the Halo to make mobile phone calls. However, I found this feature worked in every room across my two-storey house, so it isn't as limiting as you may at first believe.

trueCall Guardian call-blocking

Synchronising your mobile address book also means that each contact will automatically pass through BT's trueCall Guardian tool, which filters out unwanted calls. It's the same technology you'll find on the BT8500. For those unfamiliar with it, it essentially screens all calls and numbers that aren't already saved to your contacts list, leaving you undisturbed unless absolutely necessary.

If it doesn't recognise the number, trueCall asks callers to state their name and then press the hash key on their phone. The Halo then puts them on hold and rings your phone to let you know who is calling. Once you know who it is, you have four options: you can either press 1 to accept the call; 2 to add the caller to your list of verified numbers (so they can call again without having to go through this process again); 3 to block the call this time as well as permanently; or 4 to send the caller to answerphone. If you select the latter option, Halo will also inform the caller you're not able to take the call at this time.

As with the BT8500, you can review and amend your blocked-calls list at a later date, but there’s an option to block entire area codes as well. And instead of asking callers to state their name, it’s possible to simply send them straight to answerphone, or use the custom setting to tailor actions to different call types. You could, for example, set up the phone so that international callers have to announce themselves, automatically block those who withhold their numbers, and allow through unrecognised payphone calls.

There’s also a Do Not Disturb mode, which lets you block all calls indefinitely or only at certain times, and the Halo is well equipped to deal with emergencies. Important contacts, such as family members or close friends can be added to a VIP list, so they can get through even with the phone in Do Not Disturb mode.

It's an incredibly flexible system and it works a treat. Before I started using the Halo, I was receiving dozens of cold calls every day. Now, it's blissfully silent, only allowing calls from those who are already in my contacts list. It's able to store up to 1,000 blocked numbers, so you shouldn't run out of space anytime soon.

BT's trueCall Guardian does have its downsides, though. I've had genuine callers put down the phone before listening to the instructions, assuming they must have dialled a wrong number. It's all very well being able to instantly add all your phone contacts to the Halo, but not everyone likes talking to a machine.

Caller ID

The prerequisite for all this to work is that you'll need to have caller ID enabled on your phone line. You can still use the Halo without caller ID, but all calls to the landline will have to go through the screening process, regardless of whether or not they're in your contacts book. Calls to paired mobile numbers are unaffected.

Caller ID is free on BT if you pay your line rental for 12 months upfront; otherwise, you'll have to pay £1.75 a month for it as part of its BT Privacy plan. It's free on Sky and TalkTalk, but other providers, including Virgin Media, charge extra for it.

Base and answerphone

The BT Halo has a brand-new base compared with the old BT8500, making it much easier to use. Instead of bombarding you with a whole set of buttons, the Halo provides only two: one for playing your answerphone messages and one for deleting them.

When a message comes through, the phone beeps intermittently, to ensure you don't miss it. The play button's blue LED also lights up and fades in and out. To skip through messages, simply press the play button twice, or once to pause it.

It's an incredibly intuitive system, and its hour-long memory should provide plenty of space for messages. I also like its big circular design: it’s smart, elegant and modern, and the two rear-facing USB ports – which can be used for charging your smartphones and tablets – are another great addition. There's also a Find button round the back to sync it with other BT handsets that you may have around your home.

Verdict

We already know and love BT's trueCall Guardian feature, but the Halo's added ability to make and receive calls from your mobile takes it a step further, setting a new benchmark for all home phone systems to come.

The only downside is that it's considerably more expensive than BT's standard trueCall phones. A single Halo unit costs £100, while a twin pack will set you back £140. By comparison, the latest version of the BT8500 – currently the BT8600 – costs only £40 for a single unit, £55 for a twin pack, £70 for three or £90 for four.

That's a hefty premium to pay for the Halo's mobile features, and if all you want is BT's trueCall Guardian feature, you’re probably better off opting for the cheaper BT8600.

However, if you often find yourself making long mobile calls, or want to weed out nuisance calls across your mobile and landline phones, then the Halo is worth considering. I'd consider bumping it up to a Best Buy if the price came down, but right now, it simply comes highly recommended.

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