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Hands-on Gear Review

AT&T EL51203 Review

The AT&T EL52103 cordless phone.
Best Buy Award
Price:   $40 List | $39.95 at Amazon
Pros:  Inexpensive, great value, alright range
Cons:  Below average battery life
Bottom line:  Above average range and sound quality for a great price
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   AT&T

Our Verdict

The AT&T EL51203 scored just above average throughout our testing in overall scores, earning a 53 out of 100. It also scored above average in both of our highest weighted ranking metrics, range and sound quality. While this model underperformed slightly when it came to battery life, and came off as a little light on features, the EL51203's solid performance in the areas that count, combined with its great price at an MSRP of $40 earned it our Best Buy Award.


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Score Product Price Our Take
68
$90
Editors' Choice Award
The best of the best, though it does sacrifice battery life for its terrific range
66
$60
Editors' Choice Award
It has fantastic sound quality and is extremely easy to use, but it is a little on the weak side when it comes to features
62
$90
Average performance on range and sound quality, but is incredibly feature rich
62
$100
Has plenty of features and a great battery life, but at the cost of sound quality
60
$150
The priciest phone of the bunch, it has plenty of features but mediocre range
57
$70
Average across the board, except the display is one of the easiest to read in the dark and at a distance
54
$60
Easiest to use of the economical models
53
$40
Best Buy Award
Above average range and sound quality for a great price
51
$40
Best Buy Award
A bare bones model that has exceptionally good sound quality for those on a budget
48
$60
Astonishingly long battery life, but that's about all it has going for it

Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
David Wise


Last Updated:
Tuesday
October 25, 2016

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Performance Comparison


One of our Best Buy award winners  the EL51203 rests on its charging only base.
One of our Best Buy award winners, the EL51203 rests on its charging only base.

Sound Quality


Sound quality is one of the most important rating metrics when it come to cordless phones, as it inherently covers the main functions of these devices. This rating category makes up 30% of the total score for cordless phones. Our test consisted of a panel of listeners evaluating a message left with each type of phone, and then scoring them. While scoring, our panel was not aware of which model phone left which message.

This model earned a 6 out of 10 in this rating metric, lagging behind our top scorers and winners of the Editor's Choice awards by 2 points. However, this phone still scored above average and was received favorably by our panel of listeners. The evaluation panel felt that this phone was very clear, but that is was slightly quieter than the top scorers. This sentiment was expressed across the board by our judges, who all felt that this phone was quiet, but very clear. Below you can hear an audio sample comparing one of our Editor's Choice award winners, the AT&T CL84202 and this model.

Range


After researching as much existing information as we could find, and talking with a wide variety of people, we felt that the range of a cordless phone as a rating metric earned the second highest weighting, comprising 25% of the total score. This model performed alright, earning a slightly above average score of 6 out of 10. We split this test into two distinct tests: an unobstructed, line of sight test, and an obstructed test with multiple walls between base and handset. This model performed great on the clear, line of sight test, tying with our top scorers and remaining audible at 840' away from the base.

The comparison of direct  line of sight range between cordless phones that we tested. Our testing area maxed out at 840 ft.
The comparison of direct, line of sight range between cordless phones that we tested. Our testing area maxed out at 840 ft.

This phone's range began to suffer when it came to dealing with interference, scoring much lower in the pack as more walls were between the handset and the base. We tested with the base inside a house, and brought each handset outside, forcing the signal to travel through 5-6 walls, and then measured the maximum range each model would work at. While our top scorer (AT&T CL84202), and eventual Editor's Choice award winner, made it about 315' from the base, the EL51203 became hard to understand and eventually cut out at 220' from the base. This range would be more than sufficient for most households, and not a reason to discount purchasing this model, unless you have a really big house/mansion.

Ease of Use



This model came in the middle of the pack when it came to ease of use, earning a 5 out of 10. It wasn't the easiest to use of all the models that we tested, but it worked well enough, especially when you consider its MSRP of $40. We looked at both simple and advanced functions, and evaluated how easy each were to use, and then aggregated the results to determine overall scores.

First off, we assessed how easy it was to actually see the information displayed on the handset. Similar to a standard eye test, each handset was set up at fixed distances from an observer with random information on the display, and the observer was asked to correctly identify the information present on the screen. This model remained visible at a little over 5' away, finally becoming illegible around 6'.

One of our Best Buy award winners  the EL51203 rests on its charging only base.
One of our Best Buy award winners, the EL51203 rests on its charging only base.

Next up, was judging how difficult it would be to use this phone in a dark environment. This model scored the highest out of all the AT&T phones, with a display and backlit buttons that made it very easy to dial out. The buttons were very easy to read, and the display was easy on the eyes.However, all of the Panasonic phones were substantially easier to use in a dark environment; something to consider if that will be one of the primary use cases for your cordless phone.

The EL51203 has an easy to read display that is easy on the eyes in a dark environment.
The EL51203 has an easy to read display that is easy on the eyes in a dark environment.

This model of phone hyphenated the number when placing a call, making it much easier to catch mistakes, as well as offers any key answer when receiving a call.

Moving on to some of the more advanced functions, it was easy enough to input names into the phonebook, navigating through this model's second set of menus and then typing in the name of the contact using multi-tap methods, just like texting on an older flip phone. Blocking an unwanted number was a little more difficult, requiring you to dial *60 and then working through a long and somewhat complicated series of voice prompts. This model only displays one menu option at a time, something we found to be slightly frustrating when compared to some of the other models that displayed a full list of options on one screen when scrolling through to change settings.

Features


The EL51203 is a more bare bones model of cordless phone, running a little lighter on the feature side. It earned an overall score of 4 out of 10 in this metric. This phone can only host up to 5 handsets, compared to 12 on some of the other models that we tested. This model specifically advertises that it has large buttons, as well as a back lit keypad. It is not possible to link to cell with this device, and the lack of a keypad or speaker on the main base makes line power mode impossible.

The EL5103 on its main base  with handset locator and in-use indicator visible on the right side.
The EL5103 on its main base, with handset locator and in-use indicator visible on the right side.

This phone also does not have an integrated answering machine, or a headset jack/ belt clip combo to make hands free talking possible. however , this model does have the capability to act as an intercom system between handsets, and has the capacity to store up to 50 numbers.

Battery Life


This model had a slightly below average performance in battery life, earning a 4 out of 10. This phone lasted for 10 hours and 7 minutes in our talk time test . This phone had a low battery indicator of a flashing light as well as a an audible beep to notify you that the battery was depleted. This alert went off around 10 hours in our talk time test, giving you just enough time to politely end the call before the battery died. This phone also has a manufacturer claimed standby time of 5 days, and a charge time of 16 hours.

Value


This model of cordless phone had great value, earning it our Best Buy award. It did lag behind the top scoring models, but it's hard to beat an MSRP of $40, especially with a stronger than average performance in our two highest weighted metrics.

Conclusion


This phone was not the best in any category, but did well enough to more than justify its price. This is the perfect phone if you want a cordless phone mainly as a backup, or for semi-regular use. It gets the job done, and won't cost you an arm and a leg.
David Wise and Austin Palmer

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