Although the popularity of mobile phones has been gradually edging old fashioned landlines out of a lot of homes, there are still a fair few of us around who prefer to use them for standard calls or the occasional international chat when we're not out and about. If you still like to stay mobile on your home phone, a cordless phone is the best option.
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 will 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, as that can be more expensive.
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 larger 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.
Other 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 backlit keypad can help when making calls in low light.
A headset jack, so you can use a headset hands-free with a microphone.
Call waiting lets you know when someone is trying to call you while you're talking to someone else. Check with your phone network to see if there is 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 read and 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 you can allow users on an extra handset to join a phone conversation where all parties can hear an open conversation.
Phonebook features allow you to store contact phone numbers in the memory of the phone.
Tele-Coil or T-Coil
Hearing aid-compatible (Tele-Coil or T-Coil) support allows the caller's voice to be directly fed 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 – 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 will 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, one that's reserved for cordless phones.
Power consumption on cordless phones may not seem significant compared with large appliances like a
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.
All cordless phones should come with rechargeable batteries, but some models can use other AAA NiMH rechargeable batteries, which are less expensive and more readily available.
Extending your phone 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, companies such as Uniden and Panasonic 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.
From $55 to $399.