What the best cordless phone has

  • Functional design. Today's cordless phones are smaller than they used to be, though larger than cellphones, making them easy to carry around but more difficult to cradle on your shoulder. Remember that smaller phones also have smaller keypad buttons, which can make dialing difficult. 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. You'll rarely see 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz phones on store shelves anymore. Instead, cordless phones that operate on the 1.9 GHz frequency (DECT) are the least susceptible to interference, and they no longer cost more than older-style phones. If you live in an apartment building or other populous area, keep in mind that you may get interference from wireless networks even if you don't have one yourself. (Many DECT phones have "6.0" in their name; this simply refers to the version of DECT and has nothing to do with frequency bands.)
  • 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.

Know before you go

How many handsets will you need? If you need more than one handset, it's less expensive to buy the extra handsets as a part of a cordless phone package. Cordless phone systems generally indicate the amount of included handsets in their model number. Many models are expandable with up to six or even 12 handsets, though you may have to buy some handsets separately to achieve this.

What about power outages? To be completely safe in the event of a blackout or AC power failure, consider a corded/cordless phone combo. These phones have a corded base that will still work during a power outage. Also, since you won't be able to charge your handsets, take battery life into account when shopping for a cordless phone.

What features do you need? Cordless phones can vary quite drastically by their feature sets. The most robust models offer link-to-cell via Bluetooth, which lets you sync your handsets up to a cellphone line (but make sure the cordless phone in question supports your make and model of cellphone). Other popular pluses include talking caller ID, call screening and/or an answering machine. 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 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. Some cordless phones with link-to-cell and Bluetooth features let you sync up with up to two cellphones as well as a landline.

Don't forget message quality. Don't assume that just because a cordless phone offers crisp, clear sound during phone calls 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.

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