The world may be going cellular at a rapid clip, but the humble cordless phone still has a place in many homes.
A handful of models are adapting by letting you make and take calls on your cellphone account, while others try to avoid the interference caused by home networks and other wireless devices.
These new phones have just begun to trickle into the marketplace and represent only a couple of the models in our Ratings. If you are looking to buy a phone now, they may not be at the top of your list, given the sparse selection and comparatively high prices. However, here's a brief look at what you're likely to see in the future.
* Bluetooth phones. Some cordless models can tap into cell-phone service using wireless Bluetooth technology, allowing you to make and take calls over either service. One phone in the Ratings, the $210 Uniden ELBT 595, uses this technology. More models from Uniden and VTech with greater wireless compatibility are expected in the next year.
* 1.9-gigahertz phones. The transmissions of cordless phones, home networks, and other wireless devices can interfere with each other because they share the 2.4GHz frequency band. New models called DECT phones, for Digitally Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications, address the problem by using the 1.9-GHz band, reserved by the Federal Communications Commission last year exclusively for voice-only applications. Our Ratings include one of the first such phones in the U.S., the $100 Philips DECT2251G/37.
If you're just looking for a conventional cordless phone for your home, there's a bit of good news to report about those, as well. Prices have fallen about 10 percent since last year, with the biggest price drops among digital models.
HOW TO CHOOSE
Here are the steps to take when shopping for a cordless phone:
Decide between analog and digital. Phones using analog transmission are a little less expensive and usually have better voice quality, but they can be susceptible to eavesdropping, and their range is a bit shorter. Digital phones are more secure, can support more handsets from one base, and allow conferencing of handsets.
Pick a frequency. Phones using the 2.4-GHz band come in a wide selection and tend to be less expensive. However, they are more prone to interference problems with other wireless devices than 5.8-GHz or 1.9-GHz models.
Plan for extensions. A single-handset model is best suited to smaller homes where you're never far from the phone. If your home is too large for that, give first consideration to the multiple-handset models in the Ratings. They support (and usually include) several handsets from one base; each extra handset sits in its own charging cradle without the need of a phone jack, making it easier to station a handset where you want it.
Settle on the features you want. You can expect caller ID, a headset jack, and a base that can be wall-mounted. Features That Count on the next page lists others. As a general rule, the more feature-laden the phone, the higher its price.
Determine whether you want an answerer. Many people still do, despite the ubiquity of cell phones with voice-mail capability. Both single- and multiple-handset phones come in versions with a built-in answerer. Such phones often cost little more than comparable phone-only models and take up about the same space.
If you're considering an answerer, you need to make these additional decisions:
* Consider voice-quality differences. In our tests,most answerers delivered very good voice quality for recorded messages and good quality for the outgoing greeting. Phones that let you record your greeting through the handset (using the remote handset access) usually sounded better than those using a microphone located on the base unit.
* Decide on answerer features. Answerers usually come with a selectable number of rings and a toll-saver, answerer on/off control, call screening, remote access from a touch-tone phone, and a variety of ways to navigate through your messages. Other, less-universal answerer features you might want to consider are described in Features That Count.
Try the handset if possible. In the store, hold the handset to see whether it fits the contours of your face. The earpiece should have rounded edges and a recessed center that fits nicely over the middle of your ear. Check the buttons and controls to make sure they're reasonably sized and sufficiently legible.
Consider battery needs. In our latest tests, the phones' batteries, when fully charged, generally provided 8 hours or more of continuous conversation before they needed recharging. Most phone manufacturers claim that a fully charged battery will hold its charge at least a week in standby mode. When the battery can no longer hold a charge, a replacement battery, usually proprietary, costs about $10 to $25. Some phones, such as the Philips multiple-handset with answerer model in the Ratings, use less-expensive and more widely available AAA or AA rechargeable batteries. (For advice on recycling your used batteries, go to our Web site at www.GreenerChoices.org.)
Don't discard your corded phones. It's a good idea to keep at least one corded phone in your home, if only for emergencies. A cordless phone may not work if you lose electrical power, and a cell phone won't work if you can't get a signal or if the circuits are full.
Make sure you can return it. Before buying a cordless phone, check the return policy in case you encounter unexpected problems at home that you can't resolve, such as wireless interference.
Features that count
These can make calling more convenient.
Here are some of the most important features you'll want to consider in choosing a cordless phone and/or answerer. For cases in which a particular feature below isn't included in the Ratings, we've provided brands and key numbers for models with that feature.
Chain dialing. This allows you to access a previously programmed number in your phone book or speed-dial memory and dial the number while you're on a call. That's convenient for calls during which you need to retrieve a calling-card number or use an authorization code. Found on most GE, Motorola, Panasonic, and Uniden models.
Power backup. Available on some phones. They have a base compartment to charge a spare handset battery, which will also allow the phone to work if you lose household AC power. Both features are found on the Motorola (19), Uniden (28), and VTech (36). Corded phones on the base of the AT&T (21) and Uniden (22, 24) will also keep you connected during a power outage.
Caller ID alerts. Many can link caller ID data to distinctive audible alerts to help you identify callers. Others can flash different colors, including the Panasonic …