What should you look for if you're thinking of buying a cordless phone? We define some of the terms you might come across while shopping for one, but have also made a case for going completely mobile.
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There are different systems that cordless phones use for the wireless communication between handset and base. Probably the most common is DECT and its derivatives.
The DECT system was designed in Europe and is used by several manufacturers. The phones operate in a reserved 1.8GHz frequency band, so they don't suffer from interference from other wireless devices like WiFi networks. They are designed to have a range of around 50 metres.
We think the best system is DECT-GAP. This stands for – take a deep breath – Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications, Generic Access Profile-compliant. The beauty of these phones is you can mix and match handsets and base stations of different makes and models, You can also transfer calls between handsets, and handsets can be registered to more than one base station. Not all DECT phones are GAP-compliant, however.
XDECT is a proprietary (Uniden) version of DECT that claims greater range.
5.8GHz phones use proprietary frequency-hopping technology. These phones are not related to DECT and often have a shorter range – especially through building obstacles.
A warning about DECT 6.0 imports
Because the 1.8GHz frequency band is used for other things in the US and Canada, the system was modified to use 1.9GHz in North America and was renamed DECT 6.0.
However, one of our mobile phone networks uses the 1.9GHz band – and privately imported DECT 6.0 systems can (and have) interfered with our mobile phone system.
Any DECT device you buy locally shouldn’t be a problem. But don’t use any DECT 6.0 device you’ve purchased overseas or through an overseas website.
Type of batteries
We like standard-sized "AAA" (NiMH) rechargeable batteries. When the batteries finally fail, replacements are available in most supermarkets and other outlets. With a custom battery-pack, a replacement can be difficult to find – and possibly more expensive.
If you have more than one floor or want to extend the range to cover a workshop or out into the garden, then a repeater could be useful. A repeater receives the signal, then amplifies and re-transmits it. Placing the repeater at a suitable distance from the base station makes it theoretically possible to double the phone’s usual range.
Most handsets give between 10 and 20 hours of talk time. That's plenty, but make sure you replace the phone in the base station after a long chat. Standby time can be up to a fortnight or so.
Small phones are easy to carry around, but larger models are more comfortable to use, especially for longer conversations.
Ease of use
Look for good-sized buttons, preferably backlit, with clear labels. Watch out for numbers made hard to read by a lack of contrast (for example, grey numbers on a grey background).
Try the handset to ensure it's not too heavy, is comfortable to hold, and fits well against your ear. Physical design is especially important for elderly or disabled users.
Is radiation an issue for cordless phones? To date no clear evidence of a problem for mobiles or cordless phones has emerged. If you still want to limit your risk, use a wired phone for long conversations.
To avoid interference we recommend DECT phones. The frequencies they operate on are not used by other products and so they avoid interference from wireless networks, computers, home security systems and domestic appliances.
Analogue models have been superseded by digital. They have fewer features than digital models, you won't get advanced options like multiple handsets, and privacy isn't guaranteed.
Tip: Cordless phones require mains power to work. Always keep an inexpensive corded phone for use if there's a power cut.
Depending on your needs, these features may be useful.
Sometimes you can get a "pack" with at least one extra handset for not much more than you'll pay for a single phone. If you have a two-storey house – or a home office or work area – having more than one phone can be handy.
Some phones offer features for vision or hearing impairment, including:
We’ve noted which cordless phone models still work when there’s a power outage. However, if you have changed over to fibre-only broadband there’s another issue - fibre services require mains power to operate.
This means when the power is out, even if your phone can work in a blackout, the phone line itself may stop working. You can solve this with a battery backup in your home. For more information about this, contact your internet provider.
More people are using mobile phones instead of a landline. Spark said there has been a year-on-year decline of 15 to 20% in the number of landline calling minutes used. But there are advantages to landlines: free local calls; hearing aid compatibility; and a free answering machine.
You could bite the bullet and ditch your phone line. Most mobile phone plans have increasingly large amounts of free minutes.
The ultra-fast broadband (UFB, aka fibre) roll-out means the clock is ticking. When you upgrade to UFB, you’ll need to decide what to do with your landline. To keep using your current phones after your fibre installation, you’ll need to get integrated wiring. This may cost more, but you’ll get to keep your phone number. Note this works over fibre, not the old copper lines, so your phone won’t work during a power cut.
Some monitored home alarm systems and medical alert devices require copper lines, so you need to check this before installation and either upgrade the alarm system to a fibre-enabled version or pay extra to keep the existing copper line connected. Generally, upgrading is your best option.
Or you could bite the bullet and ditch your phone line. Most mobile phone plans have increasingly large amounts of free minutes — a Spark $19 pre-pay plan has the same amount of free New Zealand-only minutes (100) as a $60 pay-monthly plan did in 2012. There’s also free video-calling programs, such as Skype. At the very least, you won’t get telemarketers bothering you during dinner.