Dialing in the Best Cordless Phones of 2017
Countless models of cordless phones are available, making it a difficult task to select the right one. We spent close to 40 hours researching, then bought the top 10 models and tested them for close to 200 hours, so you don't have to. While you may scoff at this category of products with the rise of cell phones, cordless phones usually sound better and can save your life — transmitting more accurate and reliable location information than a mobile device to a 911 operator. With that in mind, we put them in a series of head-to-head tests, searching for the handsets with crystal-clear sound quality, long enough range to give you the freedom to roam, and a battery life to handle even your longest calls. Our comprehensive review will make it easy for you to find the perfect cordless phone to meet your needs and your budget.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated March 2017
We have been monitoring the field of available cordless phones since this review was initially released and continue to stand behind our recommendations. While there have been a few new models and updated versions of poorer-performing models, they don't seem like anything to shout about. We'll keep an eye on the market for you and update this further if anything noteworthy comes calling. We also have added more charts and graphs to make it easier to directly compare products.
Best Overall Phone
Read full review: AT&T CL84202
Best Overall Phone
Read full review: AT&T CRL82212
Best Bang for the Buck
Read full review: AT&T EL51203
Best Bang for the Buck
Read full review: VTech CS6719
Analysis and Test Results
Cordless phones can be the only option for residents in rural areas with poor cell phone coverage and may be preferred by some people uncomfortable with transitioning to cell phones. The newest models have additional features, allowing them to pair to a cell phone, or act as a home intercom system. It really comes down to what you want out of your cordless phone, whether you want to utilize the more advanced features, or if you simply just want a phone to make and receive calls. You can see how all the models scored in the table below.
We split our testing process up into five weighted metrics: Sound Quality, Range, Ease of Use, Battery Life, and Features. We assigned each phone a subscore in each metric, aggregating these into the overall scores, ranging from 0-100. We detail how each phone did in each of our tests, grouped by metric in the following sections.
The quality of sound is an integral part of a phone and scored the highest weighting in our rating metric. Being able to clearly hear and understand someone who is not in the same location as you is the entire point of a telephone, and being able to accomplish this without being tethered by a wire to the base of the machine is the sole purpose of getting a cordless phone. Our test for sound quality may be on the more subjective side, but it is a good analog of what most people will use these products for. You can see how we scored the phones in the chart below.
To test the sound quality of each model, we set up the base of each phone and moved the handset a constant distance away. We then left a voicemail on Google Voice with each model and read a passage from a book (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne). Our panel of listeners then rated the quality and characteristics of each message, without knowing the make and model of the handset.
Based on the results of our test, we found the AT&T CRL82212 and the AT&T CL84202 were the top performers in this metric, both earning an 8 out of 10 for their crystal-clear audio coming from the handset. Our panel particularly liked that these phones were clear, were loud enough to comfortably hear, and a noticeable lack of static when compared to many of the other models that we looked at. This pair of top-scoring models were followed closely by the AT&T TL86103, and the VTech CS6719, both earning 7 out of 10. The audio emanating from these phones was clear but our panel noticed there was just a little bit of static and distortion, as well as reduced volume. Next were the AT&T EL51203 and the Motorola L702BT, both scoring a 6 out of 10. This pair of phones were starting to display a noticeable level of static and a little bit of distortion, dropping their score a bit. All of the remaining phones were about average, earning a 5 out of 10, with the majority of our panel noting that they heard static in the background and felt that it was starting to be at a high enough level that it would interfere a small amount with the conversation.
The entire point of having one of these products is that you are no longer tethered to the base module. It would be somewhat silly to have a cordless product, but have to remain close to the base. We wanted to find out just how far you can stand from the base, and continue to understand the audio coming out of the handset. Since range can vary wildly, depending on the number and type of obstructions, we split range into 2 distinct tests: an unobstructed, line-of-sight test, and an obstructed test with multiple walls between base and handset. The following chart shows how these products stacked up overall in this metric.
The AT&T CL84202 did the best overall in this metric, earning an unparalleled 8 out of 10 for its superior performance in both the line-of-sight and obstructed range test. This model beat out the next closest competitors — the Panasonic KX-TGF382M, the AT&T CRL82212, and the AT&T EL51203 — by two points. Some of these models could match the performance of the CL84202 in the line-of-sight test but couldn't cut it in the obstructed range test.
The first test that we conducted was the line-of-sight challenge. To our surprise, we found that with the advances in phone technology, the line of sight range of these phones is insanely long.
We ended up having to cut off our test as we ran out of room. The AT&T CL84202, AT&T CRL82212, AT&T EL5103, and the Panasonic KX-TGF382M all tied for the top score in our unobstructed range test, remaining audible where we cut off the test at 840 ft. However, we did feel that the Panasonic KX-TGF382M sounded the best at the cutoff point.
Our next test was a little more applicable to the majority of homes. We left the base of each phone inside the house, forcing the phone signal to pass through approximately 6 walls. Our tester walked each phone along the test course, with an audiobook playing into each handset. Our test course had markers every 40ft, up to the end of the street, and our tester called out the number of each marker over the audiobook as he walked by. We left ourselves a voicemail with Google Voice for each test, then listened to each one to hear when the audiobook was no longer audible.
As expected, the performance of each phone was significantly reduced, when compared to our earlier test. We did find that our top scorer remained the same, with the CL84202 topping out at about 315 ft, with the next runner-up, to our great surprise, being the Panasonic KX-TGE232B. The TGE232B scored below average in our open range test but appears to be much more adept than its competitors at dealing with an obstructed path. For comparison, the CL84202 went a little over triple the distance of our lowest scoring phone, the Motorola L702BT.
We were thoroughly impressed with the range of all the phones we tested, and it seems clear that with the implementation of the Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications, or DECT 6.0 standard that the range of all of these phones would be acceptable for most homes, but we would recommend the CL84202, scoring an 8 out of 10, beating any other phone by at least 2 points. This phone had the longest line-of-sight range, as well as performed the best when faced with multiple obstructions between the handset and the base.
Ease of Use
Phones are not a new device. While there have been major improvements in the past 140, the core existence of telephones has remained the same: To have a clear conversation with someone who is not physically close to you. These have existed long enough that they should be extremely intuitive and easy to use. This metric, along with range and sound quality make up the majority of our scores. While the addition of all the newer features is great, it is important to still be able to easily make and receive calls and use the core functions of the telephone. We feel that a good cordless phone should be easy to use, no matter who is using it, whether they are tech-savvy or not. We looked at what people typically use their telephone for — things like making and receiving a phone call, paging a lost handset, and entering numbers into a phone book — and compared the relative easiness of performing these actions across all the models we tested. You can see which models were the easiest to use and which ones weren't in the following graphic.
One of the first things we looked at is how easy it is to read the display, as well as how easy it is to use in a dark environment. We displayed random numbers on the phone and continued moving the handsets further away, until we could no longer correctly identify the numbers, basing our test on a standard eye test. The handsets that were the easiest for us to read were the AT&T CRL82212, Panasonic KX-TGD222N, Panasonic KX-TGE232B, and the Panasonic KX-TGE272S, remaining clear at 6' away. The hardest was the Vtech CS6719-2, becoming fuzzy at 3' away. Below you can see a comparison of these handsets, at 3' from the camera.
We also looked at how easy it was to use each handset when the lights were turned off. There was definitely a distinct difference between what models on the type and amount of backlit illumination they provided. The models that were easiest to see and use in a dark room were the KX-TGE232B and the KX-TGE272S had the most illumination, with only the arrow keypad lacking a backlight. Based on these results, we would recommend the KX-TGE232B and then KX-TGE272S as a good option for someone who ease of reading is a primary concern.
Current cordless phones have a myriad of features — enough that it can be overwhelming when considering which model to buy. We compiled a comprehensive list of features across all models that we tested and then weighted scores based on the features that we felt were the most useful and important to us. You can see the most feature-rich models in the chart below.
After extensive use and testing of these phones, we felt that the keypad lighting, whether or not the base had a keypad/speaker, and the ability to add additional handsets were the most important.
This test highlighted a standout performer among all models: the Panasonic KX-TGE272S. This model received the top score in our test, earning a perfect 10 and outpacing the runner-up by a full 2 points. To us, the TGE272S had the most useful spread of features and excelled at the ones we thought were critical. We especially appreciated how the buttons lit up and how easy they were to read in a dark environment, as well as being able to add up to 6 handsets.
One downside to having a cordless model when compared to a corded phone is the potential for the handset to have a completely depleted battery, making it unusable. You can see which models had the longest battery life, and which ones would cut your call short in the chart below.
A corded phone can draw power over the incoming phone line, while a cordless handset has an internal, rechargeable battery that will recharge through the base of the phone. Some models that we tested — the AT&T CL84202 and the AT&T TL86103 — have a corded handset on their base, allowing them to operate in a telephone line power mode. This would be something to consider if you lived in a place that commonly had power outages, as these phones will continue to work in the situation where the power is out but the phone line is still intact. However, it is only possible to use the corded handset at the base in this line power mode, not any of the cordless handsets.
To test the manufacturer's claimed talk time, we set up a handset from each model around a speaker playing music and called our Google Voice number. We timed how long each phone lasted, as well as when the low battery indicator came on.
The top scorer in this category was the Motorola L702BT, earning a 9 out of 10 and lasting 15 hours and 36 minutes, surprising us by exceeding the manufacturer's claimed run time of 12 hours. This model gave an audible beep at 11 hours in that it had a low battery, but held on for the additional 4.5 hours before completely dying. This was followed by the AT&T TL86103 and the Panasonic KX-TGF382M, both earning an 8 out of 10 and lasting a little over 13.5 hours. All 3 of the lowest scoring models in this category were award winners, with the CL84202, the EL51203, and the VTech, earning a 4 out of 10, and lasting between 10 and 11 hours in our talk time test. This metric received the lowest weighting on our scoring system, as all of these phones have a talk time of over 10 hours, more than sufficient for most people.
While many may view this category as a bit of an antiquated one, there are still a huge number of individuals and businesses that rely on a cordless phone and use one daily. There is an enormous variety of phones on the market today, and while you might not put a lot of initial thought into your purchase decision for this category, we found a poor performing phone to be incredibly frustrating to the point where we would refuse to use it and a constant source of irritation. Hopefully, this review will be able to help you make the perfect choice for your needs and budget, whether you are looking for the latest and greatest tech to integrate into your home or a simple phone that delivers great sound and won't break the bank.
Do you still need some convincing that there is a use for these products? Check out our Buying Advice article for more information on why you should get one of these, and what benefits they have or our How We Test article for more detail on how we determined scores and what our tests actually entailed.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer
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