Cordless phones work better and do more than ever
A cordless phone might seem like a simple purchase in comparison to a cellphone, but that's not what our research has found. Rather, many are sophisticated devices with built in technology that enable them to perform more reliably than ever before, as well as to better integrate with the way many people use their phones -- including their cell phones.
A cordless phone uses radio frequencies (RF) to communicate between the handset(s) and the base (the part of the cordless phone system that connects to a standard landline. However, earlier generations of cordless phones used frequencies that are also used by, or are prone to interference from, lots of other devices, including microwave ovens, Wi-Fi networks, game controllers, and more. In the U.S., modern cordless phones comply with the DECT 6.0 standard. Dect, which stands for Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT), moves communications to 1.9 MHz, a frequency band that's reserved for voice communications, which eliminates most of the interference issues that were once common. It's also more secure; the neighbors won't overhear your conversation on their baby monitor. Once a special feature that commanded higher prices, DECT is now standard on cordless phones, including cheap cordless phones. All of the cordless phone recommendations in this report are DECT 6.0 compliant.
But the parade of technology doesn't stop there. Some cordless phones have the ability to link to your cellular phone via Bluetooth. That lets you leave your cell phone in a convenient spot in your home (presumably where cell reception is best) and place and answer cellular calls, along with landline calls, using any of your cordless phone handsets.
Built in telephone answering devices (TAD) are now commonplace in cordless phones, though if that's not a must, you can save a few dollars by opting for a cordless phone without one. TAD's vary from basic digital answering machines to more sophisticated models with multiple greetings and the ability to alert you to a message while you are away from home, along with options to play it back remotely. Caller ID is, of course, standard, but some models will spare you the effort of getting up to look at a display by announcing the caller with talking caller ID.
Some cordless phones/answerers include a corded phone on the base unit. This is especially handy for prolonged power outages, since corded phones don't need a power source other than the phone line. Other phones have a back-battery that can keep you talking for at least a little while when the lights go out.
The price of cordless phones has dropped even as the technology improves; they now run from as low as $20 to about $100 for single-handset models. Cordless phone/answering machine combos often come with two or more cordless handsets, plus the ability to buy additional handsets that can be linked to the system (extra handsets can cost $10 to $40 each). Depending on the phone, you can expand the number of handsets, but expect to pay more. (It's generally cheaper to purchase the handsets as a package when you buy the original phone.) Most let you use the handsets as walkie-talkies as well as transfer calls from one handset to another and hold handset conferences.
The number of companies making cordless phones for sale in the U.S. is shrinking. Philips departed the cordless phone market in 2010, and Uniden looks to be following suit; we spotted no cordless phones on the Uniden web site, and we no expert reviews and relatively few user reviews for any still available models. That leaves Panasonic and VTech (which also makes AT&T models) as the primary suppliers of cordless phones. In addition, Plantronics, under the Clarity brand, makes amplified cordless phones that are marketed toward seniors, but that could be a good choice for anyone with some hearing loss.
Finding the best cordless phones
For this report, we found a few good, current expert reviews. ConsumerReports.org has the most comprehensive coverage. TheWireCutter.com also tests, though the site looks at fewer models. The review at Techlicious.com is more limited still, but provides a few additional insights. User reviews, especially at sites like Amazon.com and BestBuy.com are plentiful, however. Many models earn hundreds of comments, and sometimes well over a thousand. Our editors analyze these reviews to find the best cordless phones. We judge available models based on their performance, durability and features. While top choices earn Best Reviewed status, we also name some cordless phones that fall just short and could be worth considering by many users, and for many situations.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Cordless Phones with Answering Machines | Best Basic Cordless Phones | Best Amplified Cordless Phones | Buying Guide | Our Sources