You'll find buttons for message selection, deletion and playback on the low, rather stylish looking charger/base station, which has its own (rather loud) built-in speaker for ringing and message playback. Each base station can operate a total of six handsets, and the system is compatible with DECT repeaters if you need to extend the range of your phone.
As it is, that range is fairly decent. Panasonic specifies 50m inside and 300m outside. Certainly, I had no problem getting a good, clear line from anywhere inside an average, solidly-built 1950s, three-bedroom detached house, and while I struggled to get anything at the bottom of my garden, that's probably more because it goes steeply downhill and is packed with a selection of vast and overbearing conifers (though not for much longer) than because of any failings of the KX-TG6481ET base station or handset. On the level street outside the front garden I could make calls from about 60m down the road before the signal started to break up, and with the amount of interference I pick up in our neighbourhood, that's really not all that bad.
Call quality is nice and clear through the handset, with no noticeable background hiss. And while the speakerphone is - as you might expect - a bit shrill, I didn't have any problems handling a phone interview with the KX-TG6481ET handset sitting on a table top in front of me. Battery life is rated at 180 hours in standby or 17 hours of talktime, and during a week of use it hasn't come close to running out of juice - which is a relief if you, like me, are the kind of person who leaves the phone lying underneath the sofa for the best part of a weekend.
Panasonic also claims that the KX-TG6481ET uses 63 per cent less power on standby than comparable models, which works out at a meagre 0.8W. In short, I can't find any obvious mistakes or compromises, so if you're in the market for a new DECT phone, I can't see any reason to avoid looking at this one.
Of course, the KX-TG6481ET is also a bit more expensive than the average DECT phone. Sizing up the competition, you can easily buy a comparable, non-ruggedised answerphone system for under £40, while £50 will open up the choice to a range of more stylish phones, or phones with more recording time, built-in SMS messaging or colour screens. I'd argue, however, that the ruggedisation is worth the extra cash, particularly if you plan to use the phone outdoors or in hostile conditions, but - to be honest - also if you just want something that can withstand the rigours of everyday, family life.
There is some competition here from the Siemens E495, with its colour screen, SMS messaging and innovative eco features, but this comes at a slight price premium over the Panasonic. If you want a rock-solid DECT phone that's built to last, and won't look out of place in your office or home, then the KX-TG6481ET definitely offers good value.
It looks and performs like an ordinary DECT phone, but beneath the surface it's a rock-hard shock-proof. weather-proof and generally life-proof device.