Cell phones may be displacing landlines as the primary means of voice communication for many people, but cheap cordless phones retain a hold on the market. The availability of a dedicated frequency for cordless models has sparked a proliferation of products that aren't troubled by interference from wireless routers or appliances. Better yet, the best cheap cordless phones won't mess with your budget. We found models with one or two handsets going for less than $50.
Cheap Cordless Phones Buying Guide
The main players in this end of the market are Panasonic, Uniden, and Vtech. There are plenty of other brands, of course, such as GE and Motorola, but the Big Three dominate and are well represented on our list of top picks.
Our research determined that the two best cheap cordless phones are the Vtech CS6719 (starting at $20/one handset; $30/two handsets), which comes with an appealing set of features, and the Panasonic KX-TG6512B (starting at $43/two handsets), which sports more features than typically found on bargain phones and runs on two AAA rechargeable batteries; both models hit a high note with users for sound quality. In the second-best basket sits Vtech's CS6114 (starting at $15/one handset), a good, basic phone with a bargain basement price and decent performance. The Uniden UN-D1760 (starting at $25/one handset; $45/two handsets), another runner-up model, supports up to 12 handsets and 100 directory entries and puts in a respectable performance. We aren't terribly impressed with the GE 28522AE1 (starting at $30/one handset) given that users share more than a smattering of complaints about poor audio quality.
Recent technological advances have significantly improved the overall performance of cordless phones, regardless of price point. Any model worth buying should support the DECT 6.0 standard, as do all the cheap cordless phones we researched. The digital technology underlying DECT 6.0 has definite advantages over the analog (radio wave) technology used by earlier generations of cordless phones. For starters, DECT 6.0 phones operate at 1.9GHz, so there shouldn't be any interference from the wireless networks running at 2.4GHz that are everywhere these days. Additionally, DECT 6.0 phones provide better sound quality and range (i.e., the distance you can roam from the phone's base before losing the signal), about 30 percent longer battery life, and more privacy (calls made on phones using the older protocols could be intercepted).
Technological underpinnings aside, budget cordless phones are fairly Spartan. Standard features include call waiting and caller ID, and a directory that stores phone numbers for important contacts. All have an LCD display, which may or may not be backlit; ditto for the keypad. Other features vary by model. The number of possible handsets supported by the base, for example, ranges up to 12 but may be limited to just one. An integrated answering machine is unusual in this price range, although one of our best cheap cordless phone picks includes it; the more common feature is voicemail support, a service that must be arranged with your telecommunications provider. Most cheap cordless phones include a speakerphone option and a few boast a headset jack -- two features that are very popular with buyers. Other nifty functions that sometimes show up on cheaper models are mute, silent ring, handset locator and/or intercom, and last-number(s) redial.
In terms of performance, our reading of consumer reviews found that call quality trumps all else, and the best cheap cordless phones score admirably. Range is also important, but the DECT 6.0 technology seems to have made this issue moot. We also found that ease-of-use and battery life matter to consumers, the latter generating comments about units that failed to hold a charge.
Prices for cordless phones can reach hundreds of dollars, but there's no need to go there. Reviews indicate the best cheap models are more than adequate. Although expert reviews of budget cordless phones are scarce, we found enough useful posts written by consumers to help inform your buying decision.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Cordless Phone Reviews
Cordless phones reviews reveal that users' expectations about performance are straightforward: The audio should sound clear in both directions and volume on the calls must be sufficient. A cordless phone with excellent range is important, as is ease of setup. Battery life is another consideration, although recharging a cordless handset is as easy as dropping it in its cradle. For the most part, users are satisfied with the overall performance of the best budget cordless phones; negative appraisals are primarily limited to the absence of certain features and the inability of the occasional handset, regardless of model, to hold a charge.
Cordless Phones Sound Quality.Voice clarity on cordless phones is the crucial performance criterion, according to user reviews. Thrifty shoppers will be pleased to know that scrimping on price doesn't mean having to shout into the phone to be heard. Although the random user may wind up with a unit that doesn't work properly -- static on the line, perhaps, or volume that just isn't loud enough -- the vast majority of cordless phones reviews either say good things about sound quality with the models on our list or don't address the issue at all, leading to the conclusion that all is well on this front.First on our list is the Vtech CS6719 (starting at $20/one handset; $30/two handsets), a model whose audio comes in loud and clear, say users. Cordless phones reviews at Best Buy, for example, often rate its sound quality at the high end of a five-point scale and rarely mention problems, although one cautions that this model might not be the best choice for someone with compromised hearing. Excellent clarity and reception likewise mark our other top cordless phone choice, the Panasonic KX-TG6512B (starting at $43/two handsets), according to posts at Walmart. And yet, a couple of dissenting voices at Newegg insist sound quality is slightly subpar.
In our second-tier bracket sits the Vtech CS6114 (starting at $15/one handset), which delivers quality sound despite its low price. Users generally say reception is solid while a couple of cordless phones reviews at Radio Shack grumble about inadequate volume during calls. Assessments of the Uniden UN-D1760 (starting at $25/one handset; $45/two handsets) are upbeat, with a post at Walmart describing the audio as "crystal clear."
The GE 28522AE1 (starting at $30/one handset) fares relatively poorly in the limited number of reviews we found for this model. At a variety of sites including Walmart, Amazon, and Best Buy, users grumble about static and inadequate volume (a critique of the ringer as well). One user reports the speakerphone sound quality is so poor that the incoming voice sounds like gibberish.
We researched two other inexpensive models: the Panasonic KX-TG4011N (starting at $25/one handset) and Motorola L601 (starting at $21/one handset). The former garners a relatively mixed reception, with some reviews at Staples giving thumbs up for clarity while a reviewer at Overstock complains about heavy static. Sound quality on the Motorola L601 is top notch, according to cordless phone reviews at sites like Amazon and Newegg.
Cordless Phones Ease of Use.A low-cost cordless phone typically is easy to set up and use. Just plug the base into an outlet and a phone jack, charge the handset, hit a few buttons and punch in a few numbers, and you're good to go. Generally speaking, the models on our list pass the user-friendly test. Cordless phones reviews at Amazon of the Panasonic KX-TG6512B, for example, assert it's a cinch to program despite its many features.But again, the occasional review sounds off about confusing instructions or irritating design elements. It takes two buttons to access the directory on the KX-TG6512B, grumbles one, while a post at Newegg asserts the manual for the Motorola L601 is incomplete and another at Best Buy considers instructions for the Vtech CS6114 to be useless. A few users of the Vtech CS6719 and Panasonic KX-TG4011N grouse about losing a call when inadvertently hitting a button with their faces. One reviewer writes that data retrieval on the Uniden UN-D1760 proceeds all too slowly and another claims buttons on the GE 28522AE1 are insufficiently responsive.
Cordless Phone Handsets
Regardless of price, brand, or underlying technology, most cordless phones these days contain a number of standard features, including an LCD display and caller ID and call-waiting capabilities. They all run on rechargeable batteries and nearly all support more cordless phone handsets than contained in the original package. Some are equipped with a speakerphone option and backlights for the display and/or keyboard. The cheap phones we looked at come with few features beyond these, but users seem satisfied with the basics when shopping for a bargain phone.
Cordless Phone Handsets.The vast majority of cordless phones are expandable; that is, the home base can support multiple handsets. The Uniden UN-D1760, by contrast, can handle up to 12 handsets; half that number, or less, is more common in the budget market segment. Among the models we researched only the Vtech CS6114 is limited to one handset.The number of cordless phone handsets that come in the original package varies by model. Our online search for the lowest starting prices found that the GE 28522AE1, Panasonic KX-TG4011N, and Motorola L601 are sold as single-handset phones; the Vtech CS6719 and Uniden UN-D1760 can be purchased with one or two handsets; and the Panasonic KX-TG6512B is offered only as a double. Additional cordless phone handsets for these models are sold separately but are not cost-efficient. You'll save money in the long run by buying a package at the outset with as many handsets as you need, although the cost may pull you out of the Cheapism price range.
Cordless Phones Features.Walking while talking isn't the only convenience cheap cordless phones offer -- there are also modern-day necessities such as call waiting, caller ID, phonebook, and speakerphone. Caller ID, call waiting, and a phone directory are all standard equipment on the phones we researched, although the size of the directories varies. The Vtech CS6719, Panasonic KX-TG6512B, and Panasonic KX-TG4011N feature 50-entry directories while the Vtech CS6114, Motorola L601, and GE 28522AE1 max out at 30 entries. The Uniden UN-D1760 beats the bunch with a phonebook that can store up to 100 entries.Among the models discussed here, only the GE 28522AE1 features a built-in answering machine. Voicemail is now the more popular option, though, and all the other cordless phones support voicemail messaging that's maintained and billed by the service provider.
Our research found that users clearly appreciate cordless phones with a speakerphone option, and the lack of this feature in the Vtech CS6114 sparks a bit of carping. The Vtech CS6719, one of our top picks, goes one step better with a full-duplex speakerphone that eliminates sound blackouts when two or more people on the call speak at once.
Some cordless phones have backlit displays and/or keypads, which promises easier viewing of display data and easier number-punching in low-light conditions. Backlights for both components show up on the Vtech CS6719 and CS6114. The Panasonic KX-TG6512B, Uniden UN-D1760, and Motorola L601 light the keypad only and the GE 28522AE1 sheds light exclusively on the display. Curiously, the Panasonic KX-TG4011N omits a backlight for both. Where one or the other is missing, users express their displeasure in online reviews.
The Panasonic KX-TG6512B boasts several features the competition lacks, and they earn occasional shout-outs from users who posted at Amazon. The headset jack is a much appreciated convenience and the ability to block calls from specific numbers means no more calls from pesky telemarketers or anyone else you care to freeze out. This model also offers four-way conferencing, as does its sibling the Panasonic KX-TG4011N.