A cordless phone may seem like a simple purchase in comparison to a cell phone. 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 format commanding higher prices, DECT is now standard on new models. All of the cordless phone recommendations in this report use DECT.
The price of cordless phones has dropped even as the technology improves; they now run from as low as $35 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. (Buyer's tip: It's 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 cell phones via Bluetooth. This means you can give your cell phone a rest by using cordless handsets to make or receive calls via your mobile number.
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). Panasonic's cordless phones are the best reviewed of any manufacturer. Our best-reviewed cordless phone -- the Panasonic KX-TG7643M (*Est. $100 with three handsets) DECT cordless phone -- wins praise for its extended range, voice clarity and features.
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. The AT&T CL84100 (*Est. $65 with one handset) performs well on every measure in expert tests, with an exceptionally long range from the base and exceptional voice clarity.
Uniden struggles with quality control issues, but is one of the few manufacturers to offer waterproof handsets and phones. The DWX337 Waterproof/Rugged Accessory Handset (*Est. $40) and the Uniden WXI3077 DECT 6.0 Cordless Phone (*Est. $50) with the same handset on board are designed to live through a construction zone: they are waterproof, dustproof, submersible and shock-resistant.
ConsumerSearch has chosen its best-reviewed cordless phones based on three criteria: performance, durability and features. We take into account issues that are most important to reviewers like sound quality, range, battery life, design, speakerphones, intercoms and more. The challenge is that, as more people drop their landline phones to go cell-only, professional review sources increasingly ignore cordless phones -- except for ConsumerReports.org, which tests 44 models. TopTenReviews.com collects recent reviews of a dozen models, choosing a gold medal winner among them. Consumers Digest magazine has a 2011 cordless phones report that identifies Best Buy winners for subscribers. Thousands of reviews from retail sites like Amazon.com and Walmart.com are also taken into account.