Unlike the fragile mercury-filled products of the past, today's digital thermometers output speedier (typically 30 seconds or less) and more accurate readings, and they feature more user-friendly designs. Current digital thermometers take readings in one of several ways; oral, rectal, tympanic (ear), forehead and axillary (underarm). However, according to our research, accuracy between methods can vary. For instance, rectal thermometers, an option for very young children who can't properly use oral thermometers, are the most highly recommended for their accurate temperature readings. Conversely, ear digital thermometers, while also convenient and fast, can be trickier to use.
The best professional digital thermometer reviews come from ConsumerReports.org, but the report dates from 2007, and many of the reviewed thermometers are no longer on the market. Still, it's a thorough test. Reviewers asked 24 adults and 21 children (ages 5 to 14) to test eight oral, ear and forehead thermometers for accuracy and ease of use. We also found good reviews from British newspaper the Daily Mail and the parenting website Babble.com. Although the testing methods on many of these sites isn't as well defined as at ConsumerReports.org, contributors provide detailed product descriptions as well as pros and cons of the noted models. These sites all note accuracy and easy of use as top criteria. For information about the latest technology in digital thermometers, we relied on reports from ABC's "Good Morning America" and CBS' "The Early Show." These resources provided solid product details and insightful demonstrations of how to use digital thermometers.
Overall, reviewers from ConsumerReports.org and experts from health references like the Mayo Clinic give one common guideline when shopping for a digital thermometer: Go basic. Inexpensive, basic digital thermometers that read oral, rectal and underarm temperatures are considered to be the best value, because they can provide accurate readings for individuals of any age. High-tech digital thermometers with more bells and whistles have become more popular in recent years, because these flashier products provide additional features like calendars, cleaning alerts and readout alarms, and backlights for better vision. However, these technologies, while convenient, aren't essential, experts say. And these thermometers can be very expensive. The bottom line: Basic thermometers offer the best value. Experts repeatedly say high-tech products aren't any more accurate than simpler budget thermometers.