Finding the best cordless phones
A cordless phone may seem like a simple purchase in comparison to a cellphone. But cordless phones are more prone to interference from other devices in your household, including microwaves, Wi-Fi networks and game controllers, which can disrupt calls with static. Experts recommend upgrading to a phone with a frequency of 1.9 GHz, also known as Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT), a frequency band that's reserved for voice communications and eliminates interference. 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 use DECT technology.
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 newest technology (which is likely to become the industry standard) allows cordless phones to link up to cellphones via Bluetooth. This means you can give your cellphone a rest by using cordless handsets to make or receive calls via your mobile number.
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.
Since Philips departed the cordless phone market in 2010, there have been just three companies making virtually all of the cordless phones in the U.S.: Panasonic, Uniden and VTech (which also makes AT&T models). In addition, Plantronics, under the Clarity brand, makes amplified cordless phones that are marketed toward seniors but are a good choice for anyone with some hearing loss. Panasonic's cordless phones are the best reviewed of any manufacturer. (You'll notice many Panasonic models are labeled as DECT "plus"; but be aware that there's no significant difference between these and regular DECT phones.) Uniden struggles with quality-control issues but is one of the few manufacturers to offer waterproof handsets and phones. Some of the company's models are designed to be rugged enough to withstand use in a construction zone.
As more people drop their landline phones to go cell-only, professional review sources increasingly ignore cordless phones -- except for ConsumerReports.org, which tests dozens of models. Because of this, user-review sites such as Amazon.com are especially helpful, and many models generate hundreds of reviews there and at similar sites. Our editors analyze these reviews to find the best cordless phones. We judge available models based on their performance, durability and features, with attention focused on factors such as sound quality, range, battery life, ease of use and design. While top choices earn Best Reviewed status, we also name some cordless phones that fall just short and could be worth considering by many shoppers, and for many situations.
Best Cordless Phones
Panasonic makes the best DECT phones
Panasonic's cordless phones get consistently good reviews from both experts and users. Special features -- such as a Bluetooth connection to your cell phone (for making or receiving calls on cell phone lines); talking caller ID, handset batteries that can power the phone during an electrical outage; visual voice mail; and an energy-saver mode -- set these phones apart from the competition.
Thanks to the mobile phone revolution, cordless phones are less popular than they were 20 years ago, but their quality is far superior to that of their predecessors. The best models are easy to use and have clear connections as well as outstanding range and battery life. They can run off saved battery power, are lightweight with large, backlit keypads and have features such as the ability to seamlessly transfer phone books from mobile devices into your cordless phone.
One model in particular stands out: The Panasonic KX-TG7643M (Est. $95 with three handsets) DECT cordless phone earns top marks from reviewers and users, who praise its unique ability to link to up to two cell phone lines via Bluetooth. The phone can receive or send calls routed from mobile phones, and includes a stored battery that will keep the phone running in a power outage. The newer line of Panasonics (KX-TG7743S, 7742S, 7744S and so on; $75 to $110) has the same functionality but generates fewer reviews.
The Panasonic KX-TG7643M doesn't face too much competition. The Panasonic KX-TG4032B (*Est. $135, 2 handsets) gets good reviews from customers for its reception, ease of use and long battery life, though some say the volume can be too low at times. Panasonic's KX-TG6644B (*Est. $100, 4 handsets) has the opposite issue: though it has a very long range, some users say it can be too loud and to watch the volume. Consumers report that many models -- in addition to the Panasonic KX-TG6644B, the AT&T EL52100 (Est. $30 with one handset), the Panasonic KX-TG6644B and the best-reviewed basic phone, the AT&T CL84100 (*Est. $65 with one handset) -- can extend hundreds of feet. These models lack Bluetooth and link-to-cell technology, however.