Buying guide: Cordless phones

Our buying guide will help you shop for the perfect cordless phone system for your house

Image Credit: coudron on stock.xchng (http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=233579)

Image Credit: coudron on stock.xchng (http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=233579)

Cordless phones are almost an essential household item. While earlier technology suffered from call quality issues, cordless phones now provide more than adequate sound quality at a decent range.

Purchasing a cordless phone can be complicated and confusing thanks to a number of selling points and technologies. Here is a rundown of what you should be looking for.

Getting started

Today’s cordless phones look very similar to mobile phones. Most have an LCD screen, caller ID and the ability to change ringtones. There are three types of cordless phones on the Australian market — analogue, digital (DECT), and digital spread spectrum (DSS).

Analogue cordless phones are the cheapest but lowest quality phones. Sound quality is not as good as a digital phone, but if you don’t plan to walk too far away from the base then one should suffice. The biggest disadvantage of analogue cordless phones is the fact that appliances like microwaves can interfere with them. Analogue phones use the 900MHz frequency.

DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Communications) phones are more expensive than analogue phones, but sound quality and range are improved. DECT is a frequency that is only used for cordless phones, so there is no chance of interference from other wireless devices.

The most expensive technology used in cordless phones is DSS (Digital Spread Spectrum). DSS phones randomly change frequencies during a telephone conversation, so it's very difficult for other devices (such as scanners or CB radios) to interfere. Regardless, any hint of interference will result in a DSS phone changing to a new frequency. DSS phones have a longer wireless range and are known for excellent sound quality. They may use 2.4GHz or 5.8GHz frequencies.

In addition to better sound quality, digital cordless phones encrypt your conversation, so general eavesdropping isn't likely to occur — and this may be an important consideration if you use your credit card over the phone.

What to look for

Most cordless phones include an LCD screen (colour screens are available), caller ID, redial, and call waiting as standard features. Most will also include what’s called a “pager” button. This button is located on the base station or charging dock and pressing it sounds an alarm on the phone. This is an ideal feature when the phone is misplaced around the house or in the backyard, as it offers a quick and easy way of locating its whereabouts. Phones may also offer out of range warnings in case you wander too far from the base station.

Other features that you should look for are ringtones, a phone book and a hands-free speakerphone. A current model cordless phone should offer at least five ringtones, though many offer up to 20 or more. Be sure to check the volume of the ringer on the phone, as ringtones that are too quiet can pose problems in large households. The handset should also have a phone book, with a minimum of 15 or 20 entries. This allows you to store commonly dialled phone numbers. Finally, be sure to check if the phone has a hands- free speakerphone. This allows you to have a conversation without holding the phone to your ear, which may be ideal when cooking or cleaning around the home.

If you have a large house, you may need more than one cordless phone. Many phones can have up to four or five handsets linked together. Some can be purchased separately, while others are bundled together in a sales package. Be sure to check that the phone supports multiple handsets as you may need to purchase one at a later date. Also, some cordless phones come with an answering machine as one of their features. This bumps up the price of the handset considerably, so if you don’t need one then be sure to let the sales assistant know this.

An often-overlooked issue is a backlit keypad, which is a blessing for night-time calls. Not all cordless phones have a backlit keypad, so check this before you buy. Finally, don’t throw out your ordinary wall-mounted phone either. Cordless phones run on power, so keep one on hand in case you are ever without power for an extended period of time.

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