Cordless Handset Buyer's Guide
So here you are, ready to buy a new cordless handset telephone for your home or office, but you're confused by the variety of features, frequencies, brands, price tags and sales pitches. I was in a similar situation approximately 2 weeks ago, when I -as an informatician- was asked to choose and install telephones, fax devices, routers and some other telecomm equipment for one of my friend's new business office. I have a lot of experience with computer related stuff like routers, but almost none in the field of telephones. Okay, I know how to dial a number, hangup or initiate a call, but that's it. I had to get deep into the topic because I wanted to pick the best pieces of equipment.
I started with checking out Ebay and Amazon for the best rated products. I picked several dozens of them and then contacted the biggest local office equipment supplier. I'm the kind of person who likes to do his research before investing in anything that costs more than five bucks. I want to see, touch and try before making a purchase. Fortunately, many of the models were available in my city. After approximately three and a half hours spent in the store (I guess I made the Most Annoying Customers' Hall of Fame that day), I have narrowed down the number of options from the initial 17 to 5.
Cordless handsets basic features
I will tell you more about those five cordless handset telephones later in this article, but first let me tell you about the basic features and their effect on usefulness.
Transmission frequency and type
Cordless handsets have to transmit to and receive signals from the telephone. Radio waves are used for this purpose, and transmission frequency is the frequency of this radio signal. It is usually given in GHz or MHz (1 GHz = 1000 MHz).
Without getting deep into technical details, what matters is that a higher transmission frequency means a clearer, stronger signal and higher range. However, there are more factors to consider before picking the telephone with the highest transmission frequency.
First of all, 900 Mhz is more than enough for home usage. Though if you're going to buy multiple handsets for the same phone, you should go for higher frequency. The pro of low-freq phones is their price. They are the cheapest, since manufacturers are phasing them out.
5.8-5.9 GHz phones are the ones with the strongest signal on the market today, however they tend to cost a lot more than 2.4 GHz or 1.9 GHz cordless telephones. Also consider purchasing a higher frequency phone if you're going to operate it in a building with thick concrete walls, as those have a huge decreasing effect on signal strength and signal range.
One last point to make: avoid using 2.4 GHz handsets if you have wireless routers or other wifi equipment in the area. These devices can (and will) interfere with each other, again decreasing the signal clarity.
As for the transmission type, there are two to choose from: analog and digital.
This choice is easy: avoid analog at all costs. Analog transmission is noisy and unsecure. Anyone with a radio or walkie-talkie can hear your phone conversation, and even join it. You want digital transmission cordless handset. It's signal is clearer, stronger and secure signal. There's a 'third' transmission type called DSS (Digital Spread Spectrum). It's a kind of digital transmission, but the signal is distributed on several frequencies, making it very secure and even clearer than 'normal' digital. However, DSS cordless handsets are more expensive.
Most wireless phones on the market today are expandable, meaning that the phone system is actually a network on its own, with a base station that multiple handsets can connect to. You are probably better off buying an expandable system with 1 or 2 initial handsets than buying a non-expandable with, say, 4 handsets. Make sure you read the description of the telephone carefully, because many systems that come with multiple initial handsets can not be expanded later.
Built-in answering device
If you need an answering device and want to reduce the number of items on your desktop, you should choose a system with a built-in digital answering device. Some of these can be remotely accessed, giving you the ability to check your voicemail from home or anywhere you happen to be.
The phone has a small LCD screen which displays the phone number and perhaps even the name of the caller. Very useful if you want to avoid telemarketers or some annoying clients.
Clock and alarm
Just like your cell phone, some cordless handsets have built-in clocks and alarm capabilities. If you're a heavy sleeper or tend to forget appointments, you're gonna love this.
Essential for long conversations, or conferences.
This means that the voice of both ends of the line is transmitted continuously, giving a more natural feeling to the conversation. Both ends have to be full duplex to access this feature. Sounds professional.
The Five Best Cordless Handsets
Now that you're familiar with the different terms, let me show you the five best handsets that I've selected before making the final decision. Please note that most of these phones are sold in many different configurations, like with 1 handset, 4 handsets etc. However, this article is about the handsets themselves, so the reviews can be applied to all configurations.
Panasonic Dect 6.0 KX-TG1032S
My first impression was: WOW! This phone looks really cool!
Next impression: very easy to set up.
It has all the features you will ever need. Answering machine, Caller ID, alarm clock etc. (see the link below for a full description). The sound quality is very good, and it has a jack for headphones. The speakers are very good quality also. Another advantage is that it transmits at 1.9 GHz, meaning no interference with WiFi gadgets.
I actually tested the black version, but then I saw the silvery grey on Amazon, which looks even better.
Vtech DECT 6.0 CS6219-2
This is a very cheap cordless telephone system, yet it has all the necessary features. Very easy to use, the menu is straightforward and all functions are accessible in maximum 3 steps.
Again, 1.9 GHz means no WiFi interference, while DECT means great sound quality and high range for such a low price. Vtech phones are also well known for their durability, which I didn't have the chance to test in this case.
This phone is the best choice for those who don't like reading the manual, since every function is so trivial to access.
Vtech DECT 6.0 LS6225-3
A reasonably priced setup from Vtech, with a really eyecatching design. It is expandable to 12 (!) handsets with only one phone jack. It has digital answering and caller ID as well. The base unit has a touchpad (serious coolness). Another big pro is that all handsets have access to the answering machine. Signal quality is also great, thanks to DECT technology.
GE 28821FE2 Dect 6.0
This particular model is caught my attention not only because of the way it looks, but because it has a Goog-411 button. First I said: What the hell is Goog-411? Since no one in the store could explain it in a way I understood, this mystery has been there until I googled it up. You should watch this video. This phone gives a one button press access to the best free online business directory ever created.
The range of the handsets is excellent. I went to the other end of the store (approximately 30 metres away) with all handsets, and in this case I couldn't hear the difference - it was as crystal clear as from 30 centimeters away from the base unit.
Uniden DECT3080-2 DECT 6.0
This was the phone with the highest price tag ($189) in the store, but I can say it's well worth the extra $90 or so. The handsets are very lightweight, which immediately rose a worrying thought (light = poor quality?). But that thought was immediately vaporized when I tried it out. The best sound quality of all the 17 phones I've tested. Same goes for the answering machine. The sales text says it has some special chip that records in a better quality (sounds very scientific - not). Intercom, Caller ID, 1.9 GHz, and expandable up to 6 handsets.
The highest sound quality and the professional looks of this phone made me purchase this model. It is not as cheap as all the other phones here, but it has the most features and it's just excellent. No quality issues at all. When I took it to the office, my friend actually couldn't beleive I bought it for less than $200. Seriously, this phone is heavily underpriced. This is the best cordless handset, and this is the one I recommend for longterm business use.