Buying Guide - Home Telephones

Types

Wired Phone: Commonly referred to as land-line phones, wired telephones have been steadily telephonedeclining in popularity as more technologically advanced devices like the cell phone and cordless phone have gained momentum.  While not many of us are scrambling to snap up wired phones these days, you can still find them in many offices and some homes, and features such as speakerphone, integrated answering machines and memory dialling have certainly pushed them beyond the limitations of their rotary dial predecessors.

Cordless Phone: Early cordless phones depended on frequency ranges that were somewhat limited, and then fell victim to static interference and unreliability as the technology moved through a rapid growth phase in the 1990s.  Connections were lost, sound quality was abysmal, and users had to stay close to the cordless phone base if they wanted to carry on an uninterrupted conversation.  These days, those of us who still use traditional phones in our homes enjoy a much cleaner, much more developed cordless phone technology.  Calls are clear and the cordless phone can be taken just about anywhere, with little regard to how far away the base might be.

Mobile Phone: Who doesn't have a mobile these days?  In fact, cell technology has grown so exponentially since its introduction in the 1970s - yes, the 1970s - that many people now rely on their mobile as their sole means of telephone communication.  And who can blame them?  Today's cell phones can do it all, from making calls to sending text messages, checking email to online shopping, getting GPS driving directions to tracking your teens, and so much more.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP): This relatively new telephone technology has seen a steady increase in popularity worldwide, especially for those who like the idea of maintaining a land-line without having to carry the expense of a traditional phone.  With VOIP, users connect to other callers over the internet, usually for free as long as they have an internet connection; VOIP can be achieved through a regular cordless phone, a cell phone or on a computer.  Vonage and Skype are two of the most widely recognised VOIP providers.

Features

Obviously, the particular features you will be concerned with will depend almost entirely on the type of phone you are looking for.  What you want in your cell phone might be completely unrelated to the functions you expect from your cordless phone, for example.  Here, we will focus mainly on cordless phone and digital phone features, though some of these options are great to have on other types of phones, too.

Basic Cordless Phone Features: Look for handset volume control, a handset ringer, redial, a pager to find a lost cordless phone handset, a flash button so you can answer on call waiting, and a low-battery indicator light or sound notification.

LCD Screen: Many a cordless phone will have an LCD screen on the handset, but more and more manufacturers are now incorporating the technology on the base, as well.  These screens display things like saved contact phone numbers, caller ID information, battery life, and the length of your call.  If your cordless phone or digital phone is equipped with call waiting, the LCD display will likely show who is calling in while you are already on the line, too.

Dual-line Support: This feature allows your cordless phone to receive calls on two separate lines.  This is particularly useful if you run a business from home or need an extra line for your chatty teenagers, yet don't want to have phones lying all around the house.  Many dual-line phones let you program distinct ring tones for each line so it is easy to determine which line is receiving a call.  This type of cordless phone usually also allows conference calling, and many have additional ports so you can connect auxiliary devices like a fax machine or modem.

Speakerphone: Considered an essential feature by many busy cordless phone users, a speakerphone lets you have your hands free while you are on the phone.  This is extremely helpful if you are on hold for hours or want to let the whole family in on your conversation.  Handset speakerphones are very common, and many manufacturers are now also including a base speakerphone so you can answer calls even if you can't find the cordless phone handset.

Base Keypad: Handy for navigating those irritating number-driven menu systems (“Please press 1 to speak to a live operator”) or for any time you need to enter a long string of numbers, a base keypad lets you control the touch-tone dial without taking the phone away from your ear.  It is a lovely little extra that increases convenience and ease of use on your cordless phone.

Battery Holder: Some cordless phone makers include a back-up battery holder in the base where you can store a spare handset battery as it charges or keep alkaline batteries to supplement the base power if the electric goes out.  This is a really nice feature, as your cordless phone or digital phone won't work if your home loses power.

Multiple Handsets: If you live in a large house or just don't like getting up from the couch more often than is absolutely necessary, consider buying a cordless phone with multiple handsets.  You will be able to transfer calls to secondary handsets, carry on conversations between handsets, and set up conference calling.  Some manufacturers let you register as many as a dozen handsets to a single base system, though it is not likely you will be able to use all 12 at once.  Still, if you tend to lose cordless phone handsets frequently, having a few spares around might be a good idea.

Message Answering: Most of today's phone makers equip their devices with integrated answering machines or internal voicemail.  Some phones have several voicemail inboxes, so everyone in the family can have their own messaging centre, or you can set up one inbox for your personal calls and another for business calls.  One of the best parts of these customisable messaging features is that you never again have to sit through someone else's voicemail or answering machine messages.

Cordless

Here are a few important considerations to keep in mind when shopping for a new cordless phone:

You don't always have to buy the most expensive model on the shelf.  While it's certainly true that a cordless phone or digital phone from a
answering machinetrusted maker will have all the bells and whistles and a degree of reliability, it will also have a price tag that is significantly higher than the competition's.  It is possible to get a good quality cordless phone with all the extra features you need for an affordable price.  Compare some of the midrange or discount makers, too.

Following the current trends ensures you get the latest features.  Most of today's cordless phones include support for multiple handsets via a single base, an affordable 5.8-GHz analogue frequency, and full-featured 1.9, 2.4 and 5.8-GHz digital phone handsets.  You will also find phones with a second handset and charging base; with a digital phone, you can add even more handsets if you need them.  Digital answering machines are also popular.

Figure out how many extra handsets you need.  If you live in a small home or flat and are never far from the phone, you may require just a single cordless phone.  If you do need additional handsets for your cordless phone or digital phone, they are easy enough to set up.  A phone jack is required for the main base, but extra handsets and their charging cradles only require an electrical outlet.  With certain models, you can add or replace handsets at any time; with others, you'll have to buy an entirely new system if you want to set up other handsets.  If you purchase a digital phone, you can use those extra handsets to set up conference calls or in intercom mode to communicate with others in your home.

Decide which features are most important to you.  The basics get you caller ID, a headset port and a base that can usually be wall-mounted or set on a table, countertop or shelf.  If you need more than that, you should expect to pay a bit more for your cordless phone - the more features a phone has, the higher its price.

Try it out if you can.  You won't be able to make calls or test the answering system, but you can certainly pick up the store's demo model.  Hold it in your hand, put it to your ear, and try the all-important “shoulder hold” to make sure you won't be inadvertently hanging up on mum with your chin or cheek if you suddenly need your hands free.  Buttons and controls should be easy to see, easy to use, and in a sensible location.