What the best cordless phone has

  • Functional design. Today's cordless phones are smaller than they used to be, making them easy to carry around but more difficult to cradle on your shoulder. Some cordless handsets have small keypad buttons, which can make dialing difficult, but large-button models are becoming more commonplace. Some cordless phones include a headset jack for hands-free use, but you'll most likely have to supply your own headset, which will cost you $10 to $30.
  • Minimal interference. All the cordless phones covered in this report are DECT 6.0 compliant, making them less susceptible to interference than earlier models.
  • Long range. The last thing you want in a cordless phone is spotty reception or dropped calls because of poor range. Range is a chief buying concern, especially if you're always on the go in your house. The best cordless phones will work fine anywhere within the home and will even have enough coverage to be useful in your yard or on your patio.
  • Long-lasting batteries. It's common for cordless phone batteries to last from one to two years, depending on use. To limit expenses as well as hassle down the road, avoid cordless phones that use proprietary battery packs, as they only accept direct replacements. Instead, look for cordless phones that use nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries; these are standard rechargeable batteries that you can find at most retailers that sell batteries.
  • Battery back-up. One of the major issues with older cordless phones is that they would cease to work in the event of a power outage. Many models, including budget cordless phones, now have battery back-ups (or can leach power from a fully charged handset) to provide some hours of service if power goes out. Some cordless phones have corded handsets on their base. If you still have standard telephone service (copper wire, analog), these can keep working for an extended period of time -- just like a standard landline phone -- in a power outage.

Know before you go

How many handsets will you need? If you need more than one handset, it's almost always less expensive to buy the extra handsets as a part of a cordless phone package. Many models can support additional handsets as well, but buying those separately can get expensive.

What features do you need? Cordless phones can vary quite drastically by their feature sets. The most robust models will link to your cell phone via Bluetooth, which lets you place and receive calls via your mobile phone line from any of your cordless system's handsets. Other popular pluses include talking caller ID, call screening, and call blocking. Not everyone will care for these bells and whistles, however. At the very least, consider a cordless phone with a 50-number phone book (or larger), speakerphone and voice-mail indicator. Backlit keypads as well as conferencing and intercom features are also appreciated by users.

Do you need an answering machine? Some of the best -- and priciest -- cordless phone models now include a built-in digital answering system. Most are fully featured, with things like the ability to record a greeting using a handset, audible message alerts and adequate recording time (15 minutes or more).

Don't forget message quality. If you opt for a cordless phone with an answering machine, don't assume that just because it offers crisp, clear sound during phone calls that it will sound great when listening to messages it records. If you expect to rely heavily on a cordless phone's answering-machine feature, be sure to consider message quality in your buying decision.

Do you need two phone lines? Some cordless phones support up to two phone lines. Some models offer distinctive ringtones for each line and support three-way conferencing between both lines and a third party.

Does anyone in your family have special needs? Many modern cell phones are hearing aid compatible, but some go further by providing features such as extra-large buttons, easy to read displays, talking caller ID, and sound amplification.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Cordless Phones | Best Cordless Phones with Answering Machines | Best Basic Cordless Phones | Best Amplified Cordless Phones | Our Sources

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