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Telephones: How To Choose

Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.

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Despite the ubiquity of mobile phone, land line phones still have their uses.

Landline telephones in your home can provide exceptionally clear calling, and aren't subject to dropped calls and weak signal strength like mobile phones. This makes them especially reliable in an emergency situation. And cordless phones are slim, have a wide calling range, and a variety of features that make them more enjoyable to use.

Below, we cover some of the most popular features offered by cordless telephones to help you determine which particular model best suits your needs. But before you choose your phone, there are a couple of questions that you should ask yourself.

[Shop our selection of cordless telephones.]

Single- or multiple-line?

If you have a single incoming phone line, and you don't foresee adding any additional lines, a single-line phone should serve your needs well.

However, if your home has two or more phone lines, then a multiple-line phone may be just what you need. Whether you've added extra lines for a family member's room or a home office, a multi-line phone gives you a greater degree of flexibility than separate phones for each line. Most multi-line phones offer features like 3-way conferencing, base-to-handset paging, intercom, and distinct rings for each line.

Which frequency range?

With most cordless phones, you can reasonably expect the range to extend throughout your home and perhaps out into your yard, under good conditions. Digital cordless phones also offer protection from eavesdropping, usually by means of randomly selected security codes which are continuously transmitted between the handset and base.

Cordless phone models generally use one of these frequency ranges to transmit their signals:

  • 1.9 GHz — Currently the most common frequency, it was designated as voice-only to protect telephone users from the interference commonly caused by wireless home networks. This means that 1.9 GHz phones operate on a less crowded frequency than 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz phones, and can provide superior sound quality and range. Most DECT phones use this frequency range exclusively.
  • 2.4 GHz — Compared to earlier transmission ranges like 900 MHz, the 2.4 GHz range is less crowded and slightly larger. However, 2.4 GHz phones have to compete with Wi-Fi® signals and other wireless devices. So if you have a wireless network in your home, you might need a phone that operates at a higher or lower frequency range.
  • 5.8 GHz — 5.8 GHz cordless phones have a higher frequency range that's less crowded than the 2.4 GHz range. For this reason, 5.8 GHz phones are generally recommended for homes with Wi-Fi networks, in addition to the newer 1.9 GHz phones.

Another feature to look for in a higher-quality cordless phone is digital spread spectrum technology. An advanced form of cordless transmission, digital spread spectrum has a higher power output for greater range, and offers constant switching from channel to channel for more effective security.

Telephone features

Here are a few of today's most common features that you'll want to look for.

LCD screen
Most of today's phones include an LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) on the handset or base that gives you a quick and convenient readout of information such as channel number, phone number dialed, speed dial memory, Caller ID information, and battery strength. An increasing number of phones come with a color display, and some allow you to customize the background.

Caller ID
Most current phones have Caller ID, which displays the caller's name and phone number. Phones with Call Waiting Caller ID display info about incoming callers even when you're already on the phone. Many newer phones have taken this feature one step further by offering Talking Caller ID, which announces the name of the caller so you don't have to get up to read the phone's LCD. You must subscribe to Caller ID and Call Waiting Caller ID services with your local phone company. Rates vary with locality.

Multiple handsets
Multi-handset phone systems usually come with one or two handsets in the box, and then allow you to expand your system with additional handsets. You'll still only be able to use one phone line, but these systems give you the convenience of having a handset in just about every room in your house.

Illuminated keypad
Another popular feature is an illuminated handset, which makes it easy to see the keypad when dialing in the dark.

Phones with a speakerphone let you answer a call or wait on hold without using the handset. Most speakerphones are in the handset itself, so you can take your speakerphone with you around the house. Some models also have a base keypad and on-hook dialing, which lets you dial out without using the handset.

Night mode
Night mode is a great feature to have if you're planning on putting a handset in your bedroom. It lets you turn off the ringer when you don't wish to be disturbed. But don't worry — most phones with this feature also have a light-up indicator on the handset, so you'll be able to see when a call comes through.

Built-in answering machine
Some phones also have built-in digital answering machines for added convenience. Your messages are easy to access and can be selectively skipped, repeated, or deleted — often remotely, as well as in person. Most integrated digital answering machines have a message capacity of 15 minutes or more, including the greeting, and some of them offer separate voicemail boxes so that callers can leave messages for specific people or departments.

Many integrated answering machines offer:

  • call screening to let you hear who's leaving a message so you can decide whether or not to pick up.
  • auto disconnect, which hangs up the line after a set period of time.
  • time/day stamp to let you know when the message was left.

  • Craig Hufnagel from State College

    Posted on 5/10/2016

    I have found a very useful feature is a battery back-up for the base station, so that your cordless phone works during a power outage.

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