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Cordless Phone Buying Guide

By: Amy Livingston on October 19, 2017

What the best cordless phone has

  • Good voice quality. According to ConsumerReports.org, most cordless phones these days transmit voices clearly. The best ones approach the quality of a top-rated corded phone.
  • Minimal interference. All the cordless phones covered in this report are DECT 6.0 compliant, making them less susceptible to interference from other devices than earlier models.
  • Long range. Range is a chief buying concern, especially if you tend to walk around as you talk. The last thing you want is a phone that drops your call or cuts in and out as you move from bedroom to kitchen. The best cordless phones should allow you to carry on a call anywhere within your home and even take it out into the yard.
  • Functional design. Buttons and displays should be easy to read. Useful extras include a lighted keypad for use in a dark room, voice-mail indicators to show when you have a message, and auto talk, which allows you to answer the phone just by lifting it off the cradle.
  • Long-lasting batteries. In general, cordless phones offer more talk time than smartphones because they don't draw as much power. ConsumerReports.org says the average cordless phone can go for 8 hours between charges. Note that the batteries in most phones are proprietary; when they can no longer hold a charge, you'll have to pay $10 to $25 for a replacement. However, some phones use AA or AAA rechargeable batteries, which are cheaper to replace. (See our separate report on rechargeable batteries to find the most reliable brands.)
  • Quick charging time. Every cordless phone needs to be recharged eventually, and it can take anywhere from 7 to 12 hours on the base to bring them back up to full power. Shorter charging times are better, since every minute your phone spends on the charger is a minute you can't spend talking.
  • A backup for power outages. One of the major problems with older cordless phones was that they would stop working if the power went out. Today, many models, including some cheaper ones, have battery back-ups that allow them to keep going for several hours without electricity. Other cordless phones have corded handsets on their base that can operate without power as long as you have standard landline service (analog copper wire) rather than digital or VOIP.

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. Although many models allow you to add on extra handsets, they typically cost more when you buy them separately.

Do you need an answering machine? Some of the best -- and priciest -- cordless phone models now include a built-in digital answering system. Typically, this system includes one voice mailbox, a message date and time stamp, and a display that shows how many messages you have in total and whether there are any new ones. A few models also have an indicator light to alert you when you have new messages. If you choose a phone with an answering system, make sure to check the sound quality for the messages as well as for calls. A phone can deliver crisp, clear sound during phone calls but still produce muddy-sounding voice mail.

What other features do you need? Most cordless phones offer a few basic features: caller ID, a speakerphone, and separate ringers in the base and handsets. You'll pay a higher price for extras such as talking caller ID, call screening, and call blocking. 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 around $20. The most robust models can link to your cell phone via Bluetooth, letting you make and receive calls on your mobile phone line from any of your cordless system's handsets. This feature is useful if cell reception inside your house is poor, since you can leave your smartphone where the signal is strongest and use the cordless handsets to range throughout the house.

Do you have multiple phone lines? Some cordless phones can support two phone lines at once, often providing distinctive ringtones for each line. This is a handy feature if you run a home-based business or have one family member who tends to monopolize the phone. These models can also 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, talking caller ID, and sound amplification.

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