Updated: May 9, 2015
Cordless Phone Reviews and Buying Guide:Cordless phones have largely replaced traditional telephones over the last 20 years. Early cordless phones didn't work much better than cheap walky talkies, with a short range, poor reception, and poor sound quality. However, new cordless phones are greatly improved, and most people would never buy a traditional phone again once they try them. How do cordless phones work? Pretty simple.. The base station plugs into your standard phone jack, where incoming and outgoing phone communications are handled. The cordless handsets rest and charge on the base station - grab them and dial when you need to receive or make a call. The handset communicates with the base station via radio waves. The newest phones use the 5.8Ghz (gigahertz) radio spectrum, while the last generation of cordless phones used the 2.4Ghz spectrum. Before that was 900Mhz.
Is a 5.8Ghz phone really better than a 2.4Ghz cordless phone? In the early days, cordless phones got interference from everything from cell phones, pagers, baby monitors, even garage door openers. The 900Mhz band was better, but as more and more people started using cordless phones, people found themselves sometimes listening in on other peoples conversations. The 2.4Ghz phones solved some of these problems, but WIFI wireless LANs (802.11) use the same spectrum, as do microwaves. So while the 2.4 phones are a definite improvement, they are not perfect. That brings us to the newest cordless phones that operate on the 5.8Ghz wavelength, with a minimum conflict with other devices. These definitely have the best reception and least problems. Interestingly enough, the 5.8 phones only use 5.8 from the base to the handset, while the handset transmit at the older 2.8 frequency to save power and extend battery life. Regardless, if you are out shopping for a cordless phone, look for 5.8Ghz technology first, but be willing to settle for a good 2.4Ghz phone if you find one at a great price - you will likely find the performance very similar. When it comes to range, 2.4 and 5.8 phones are basically the same - don't expect to be able to walk blocks from your house just because you have a newer phone. However, if you find yourself getting static on your cordless phone near your wireless computer network, look into the 5.8Ghz models. You can browse a list of best-selling cordless phones here.
Best Cordless Phones:When buying a cordless phone, you want to look for a few main features. First, almost all cordless phone sets come with additional remote handsets. These extra handsets can be plugged into any electrical outlet for charging, while the phone itself connects wirelessly to the base station -- no need for additional phone outlets, which lets you place these extra handsets anywhere in your home. Some phones come with 1, some with 2 or 3. You can also usually buy an extra handset for $29 or something - this is a much easier way to add additional phones without all the phone jacks and wiring required with traditional phones. So make sure your cordless phone base station is expandable. Secondly, if you like speakerphone (ie, putting down the phone on the table or counter and still being able to talk without it jammed up against your head), make sure your handset offers that -- most do. Some cordless phones offer speakerphone functions on the base station but not the handsets - doublecheck before buying. Probably the most popular line of cordless phones right now are the Panasonic models. Their DECT phones (Digital Enhanced Cordless Communications) actually run on a 1.9Ghz frequency, dodging interference from WiFi routers, wireless mices and keyboards, and just about everything else putting out electromagnetic waves -- what that means is that you get better, clearer sound and less static. The particular model we like (and use) is the Panasonic Dect 6.0 Series 3 Handset Cordless Phone System with Answering System. Since most people these days use digital answering service through their phone company, the answering machine part of this phone is not that critical, but everything else is terrific. This package comes with 1 base set and 2 extension phones (3 phones in all) - that means you plug the main one into your phone line in the kitchen or whatever, then just plug the other two into any electrical outlet around the house, in any room (no phone jack or phone cables required). A nice feature is the address book sharing between phones -- just enter names and phone numbers into any phone to be stored into your address book, and they appear on all phones. Just below the main screen are 2 little buttons - one button shows you recent incoming calls, the other takes you to your phonebook of stored names and numbers. Just like with your cell phone you can press a key (like #6 with "M" on it for "Mom") and jump to that letter in your phone book, saving you from scrolling through all names.
Speaking of keys, it has large number keys making dialing much easier than on tiny mobile phoes. Let's talk about ease of use -- I was able to program the address book, change the ringer, and turn off the answering machine, all without even glancing at the instructions (most changes and functions are handled through an onscreen menu system on the handsets). Of course has Caller ID, Redial, call waiting "FLASH" button -- everything you expect on a modern electronic phone. They do have speakerphone built into each handset. The intercom function lets you ring other phones in the house and talk to them, just like a walkie talkie or intercom -- beats screaming up the staircase to reach a teenager at dinner time. Talk time on the handsets is up to 17 hours - we haven't tested that, but we also have never had a handset die on us yet, so we are happy with battery life. We have had a few times when the audio reception sounded a little hollow and tinny, but that disappeared with no explanation, and has happened maybe 3 times over a year. I have no other complaints on this phone. To top if off, this phone has more than 500 positive reviews from other consumers at Amazon -- that is a huge number and a real testament to this phone system. RECOMMENDED: If you want a great cordless phone for your home, buy this Panasonic here (at just about $75!).
Uniden Cordless PhonesIf for some reason you don't like the Panasonic models, our next choice would be for a Uniden phone. In fact, we had a Uniden set for about 5 years before upgrading to the Panasonics (the Panasonics were so cheap, it was about 2X the cost of upgrading 3 battery packs on the old Unidens vs. getting brand new Panasonics). The Uniden TRU9485-2 5.8 GHz Digital Cordless Answering System with Dual Keypad and Extra Handset is a great 2 phone set. The Uniden has many of the same features of the Panasonic above - ability for one handset to call another like an intercom, full answering machine, etc. One thing it lacks is the master phone book feature (it requires you to send entries from one phone to another, it doesn't happen automatically). Overall sound quality and battery life are excellent, making it a good 2nd choice. You can browse other models in the Uniden family of phones here, including their own DECT model.
Another big name is Vtech cordless phones. The super slim VTech i5871 retails for $150 and is expandable up to 8 handsets. It has a color LCD screen with picture Caller ID and 100 call memory for Caller ID. It has speakerphone functions in both base and handset, recordable ringtones (MP3, CD, etc), and animated wallpaper on the LCD screen. True, some of this may be gimicky, but this is a solid, good looking phone. A more basic model is the VTech ia5874 three handset system with digital answering machine. It is also a 5.8Ghz phone with excellent reception and call quality. You'll also run across phones made by AT&T, Motorola, Plantronics, Sony, and others, but we'd stay with the Panasonic, Uniden, or Vtech models, probably in that order. NOTE: - A pretty common combination is a cordless phone with a built-in answering machine. All answering machines these days are digital and store messages on internal chips - no more tapes. Many people already have a voicemail account set up with their phone company - don't pay extra for a built in answering machine if you don't need one (though your phone company may charge a few dollars per month for voicemail, it might also be included in a package you buy that comes with Caller ID, voicemail, etc.).