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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.

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