Telephones have been edged out by smartphones from a lot of homes, but there are still a fair few people who prefer to use one for standard calls or the occasional international chat.
Most people would still like the option to move around when on their landline, so we mostly test cordless phones, but some of them come in a package with a corded base unit.
In this buying guide we look at:
How many handsets?
If you only have a small house or unit, you may just want a single handset (which means fewer handsets to lose!)
If you have a big house you'll probably want a few extra handsets to put around the place. Some models come with three or four handsets included. If you have an idea of how many handsets you need, it's better to buy the complete set rather than adding handsets later, which can be more expensive.
NBN and your handset
If you get your NBN connection in an area of the home that isn't convenient for your home telephone, multiple handsets may be ideal – you can have the base station wherever the NBN modem and router is installed, and use the additional handsets placed at more convenient locations throughout the home.
Remember, your old landline wires will be useless – all you'll need is an available power point for the handset and you're good to go.
For more information on the implications of the NBN on home telephone check out the NBN FAQ section.
More tips about handsets
- The models we tested could support anything from two handsets up to 12 handsets – which would be useful in an office.
- If a model supports the Generic Access Profile (GAP), you can use another GAP handset from any other manufacturer simply by plugging the handset into a power point. However, GAP compliance extends only to basic operations, which means added features like phonebooks may not work.
- Adding additional handsets will not increase the range of the phones. To get a wider range you need a model that incorporates a repeater, which not only charges the extra handset but retransmits the wireless signal. These are worth looking into for larger houses.
Features to look for in a cordless phone
If you're hard of hearing, look for a phone that provides extensive volume adjustment on the handset and a high handset speaker volume.
Large, clearly marked keys and a back-lit keypad can help when making calls in low light.
A headset jack lets you use a headset hands-free with a microphone.
Call waiting lets you know when someone is trying to call you while you're talking on the phone. Check with your phone network to see if there's an additional charge for this service.
Bluetooth technology is increasingly being used to bring the mobile phone into the home phone environment, by allowing mobile phone calls to be made on a cordless landline handset.
Text to speech
Text to speech announces the number when you dial on the keypad. It can also announce the name of the caller.
You can set the phone not to ring during a specified time period – very handy for a good night's sleep.
Incoming/outgoing barring provides a level of control in case you don't want to accept calls from certain companies or individuals, as well as preventing members of the household from calling specific numbers without permission.
The ability to page from the base to the handset can be handy, particularly if you leave the phone lying around the house.
Conference call means users on an extra handset can join a phone conversation where all parties can hear the conversation.
Phonebook features let you store contact phone numbers in the memory of the phone.
Tele-Coil or T-Coil
Hearing aid-compatible (Tele-Coil or T-Coil) support means you can feed the caller's voice directly from the phone to your hearing aid, helping to filter out background noise when listening through the handset speaker. However, the latest digital hearing aids may not support this feature.
While all cordless phones should come with rechargeable batteries, some models can use other AAA NiMH rechargeable batteries, which are less expensive and more readily available.
'DECT 6.0' and 'ECO DECT' are other marketing names for a virtually identical technology, DECT 1.8, which is a frequency range reserved for cordless phones, operating within the 1.8-1.9GHz band.
How to avoid interference
Many homes now have a variety of devices that can crowd the airwaves with electronic interference. Aside from appliances like microwaves interfering with the performance of your old cordless phone, home wireless networks can also be a problem if you have a model using the 2.4GHz or 5.8GHz band, which is common among other appliances.
Look out for phones labelled DSS (Digital Spread Spectrum), WDECT or DECT as you'll have less chance of interference compared to a model that only operates on the 2.4GHz band. Other terms like DECT 6.0 or ECO DECT all basically mean the same thing, which is that the phone will operate within the 1.8-1.9 GHz band reserved for cordless phones.
Power consumption on cordless phones may not seem significant compared with large appliances like a TV or an air conditioner, but cordless phones are on for extended periods of time, which may be an issue for those wanting to limit their power bills.
Extending your phone range
A stand-alone repeater or an additional handset base with the ability to retransmit the signal beyond the original station can extend range.
While multiple handsets increase the versatility of the home phone, they usually don't increase its range. The range for a cordless phone is usually determined by the position of the base unit, so if the range for a phone is 100 metres, adding an additional handset to the phone mix will not increase the range to 200 metres.
In an effort to extend cordless phone coverage, some companies have introduced 'repeating technology' to push the overall phone coverage beyond the limit of the main base station. Significantly increased range can be achieved through the use of stand-alone repeaters or an additional handset base with the ability to retransmit the signal beyond the original station.
The repeater is placed between the base and additional handset base and is available as an option on some Uniden and Panasonic phones.
Cordless phones in our latest reviews cost from $45 to $399.