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AT&T EL51203 Review

Above average range and sound quality for a great price
AT&T EL51203
Credit: AT&T
Best Buy Award
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Price:   $45 List | $38.52 at Amazon
Pros:  Inexpensive, great value, alright range
Cons:  Below average battery life
Manufacturer:   AT&T
By David Wise and Austin Palmer  ⋅  Oct 25, 2016
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53
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#10 of 11
  • Sound Quality - 30% 6
  • Range - 25% 6
  • Ease of Use - 20% 5
  • Features - 15% 4
  • Battery Life - 10% 4

Our Verdict

The AT&T EL51203 scored just above average throughout our testing in overall scores. 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 performed well in the areas that count and has a great price. If you want a good pair of cordless phones without spending much, this is our top budget recommendation.

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AT&T EL51203
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AT&T EL51203
Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award    
Price $45 List
$38.52 at Amazon
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Pros Inexpensive, great value, alright rangeExceptional range performance, good sound qualityEasy to use, good sound qualityGreat range, user-friendlyGood sound quality, easy to use, good range
Cons Below average battery lifePoor results in our battery test, sparse on featuresLackluster battery life, limited featuresSo-so sound quality, limited battery lifeLimited features, short battery life
Bottom Line Above average range and sound quality for a great priceIf you need a cordless phone with top-tier range, this is a great choiceIf you are looking for a middle-of-the-road phone at a middle-of-the-road price, then this is itThis phone is easy to use and has an impressive range but didn't make much of an impression on us overallThis phone does have one of the larger displays of the group but otherwise failed to stand out against the other phones
Rating Categories AT&T EL51203 VTech DS6621-2 AT&T DL72219 Panasonic KX-TGD532W VTech VS112-2
Sound Quality (30%)
6.0
8.0
7.0
5.0
7.0
Range (25%)
6.0
9.0
7.0
8.0
6.0
Ease Of Use (20%)
5.0
6.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Features (15%)
4.0
4.0
4.0
5.0
4.0
Battery Life (10%)
4.0
3.0
3.0
3.0
3.0
Specs AT&T EL51203 VTech DS6621-2 AT&T DL72219 Panasonic KX-TGD532W VTech VS112-2
Link - to - Cell No Yes Yes No Yes
Caller ID Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Caller ID announce No No No Yes No
Unobstructed Range Test 840 ft. 840 ft. 840 ft. 840 ft. 840 ft.
Obstructed Range Test 220 ft. 390 ft. 280 ft. 390 ft. 230 ft.
Call Waiting Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Call block Dial *60 Up to 20 with a subscription Up to 1,000 Up to 150 Up to 1,000
Expandable Handsets Up to 5 Up to 5 Up to 5 Up to 6 Up to 5
Corded (phone) Base No No No No No
Speaker Phone on Base No No No No No
Speaker Phone on Handset Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Phone Book Capacity 50 1000 1000 100 1000
Speed Dial Yes No No Yes No
Redial Last 10 Numbers Last 10 Numbers Last 10 Numbers Yes Last 10 Numbers
Wall mountable Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Mute Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hold No No No Yes No
Any Key answer Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Push to talk (PTT) No No No No No
Backlit display Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Eco Mode Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Silent/Quiet Mode Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Voice Command No No No No No
HD Audio w/ equalizer No Yes No Yes Yes
Lighted Keypad Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Optional Belt Clip No No No No No
Headset Jack No No No No No
Additional Lines No No No No No
RoHS Compliant Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Answering Machine No Yes Yes Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

Performance Comparison


The EL51203 rests on its charging-only base.
The EL51203 rests on its charging-only base.
Credit: Kat Elliot

Sound Quality


Sound quality is one of the most important rating metrics when it comes to cordless phones, as it inherently covers the main functions of these devices. 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 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 it 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.

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. 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.


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. 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 rather large home.

Ease of Use


This model came in the middle of the pack when it came to ease of use. It wasn't the easiest to use of all the models that we tested, but it worked well enough, especially when you consider its price. We looked at both simple and advanced functions and evaluated how easy each was 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'.

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

This model hyphenated the phone number when dialing a call, making it much easier to catch mistakes. It also 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. 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 backlit 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...
The EL5103 on its main base, with handset locator and in-use indicator visible on the right side.
Credit: Kat Elliot

This phone also lacks an integrated answering machine or a headset jack/belt clip combo to make hands-free talking possible; however, this model has 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. 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 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


It did lag behind the top-scoring models, but it's hard to beat its price, 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