Cordless phones are ugly, clunky, often-frustrating anachronisms that might seem like antique additions to modern homes. And most cordless phones are made by the same two manufacturers, with vanishingly few differences among the many mediocre models. Still, cordless phones remain popular, and they can be extremely helpful in an emergency or in homes with poor cell reception. After testing 12 top candidates, we’re sure AT&T’s DL72210 is the best old-fashioned handset. This two-phone package has respectable range and sounds better than any other handset we tested. It also offers premium features like smart call blocking and a Bluetooth cell phone connection at a non-premium price.
AT&T’s DL72210 offers plenty of range, great sound quality, and the full list of modern features. In our tests, we were able to walk seven houses down the street (more than 250 feet) before the connection began to cut out, and this should be more than enough distance for most people. Our testing panel rated the DL72210’s voice quality the highest of all the models we tested, beating even an iPhone used with Wi-Fi calling. And this two-handset package includes features—including smart call blocking and Bluetooth pairing to your cell phone—normally found only on higher-end models.
If you’re looking for a bare-bones cordless phone that can make calls from a landline or cable-company VoIP line—and that’s it—go with the VTech CS6114. For the price of a typical smartphone case, you get a no-frills phone with reasonable range and voice clarity, but no call blocking, no speakerphone, and no answering system. It’s as basic as cordless phones get, but the CS6114 could be the perfect choice if you just want to have a home phone available in case of emergencies.
This phone has every feature you could want, as well as the longest range of any model we tested.
VTech’s IS8151-4 is the cordless phone for those who want it all. It offers all the same features as the DL72210, plus a dial pad and speakerphone on the base, and it comes with four phones. Also, this phone stayed connected over a longer distance than any other model we tested, starting to cut out only after 450 feet (or the length of one and a half football fields).
Everything we recommend
This phone has every feature you could want, as well as the longest range of any model we tested.
Why you should trust me
I’ve been reviewing phones and mobile accessories since 2011 and covering them for Wirecutter since 2015. This includes researching hundreds of cordless phones and testing dozens over the past five years. To better understand the technology that makes these phones work, I sought out experts, including Ruth Wilson. Wilson is the marketing chair of the DECT Forum, the semiconductor group behind DECT technology, which is the wireless communication standard all modern cordless phones use.
Who should get this
“Home phones” are nowhere near as ubiquitous as they once were. A 2019 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (PDF) states that 61.3% of adults and 70.3% of children live in a home that doesn’t have a landline but has a wireless (cell) phone. That means tens of millions of American households still do have landlines, however.
As a childless man who rarely makes voice calls of any kind and lives in an apartment that has decent cell phone reception, I was surprised to discover just how many of my Wirecutter coworkers own and regularly use cordless phones. Some of my colleagues want a phone for emergencies: Something that’s always in the same place (as long as the handset makes it back to the cradle), doesn’t have to be unlocked with a password, is simple enough for even a young child to use, and (if you have an old-school copper phone line) can even be used in a blackout. Others have poor cell reception in their homes and simply need something that can reliably make and receive calls. Finally, many cable companies offer a Voice over IP (aka “VoIP” or “digital”) phone service in discounted bundles with internet service and/or cable TV, so having a phone line can often be cheaper than not having one. If you have a line anyway, why not get a phone to use with it?
How we picked
Because we live in a golden age of smartphones, cordless phones don’t get much attention anymore. When we published the previous version of this guide, in 2016, we noted that there were relatively few independent, trustworthy reviews out there. Now, more than four years later, it’s nearly impossible to find up-to-date thoughts from reputable sources. This made it tricky to narrow our list of test models, since the manufacturers that make cordless phones release dozens of very similar models with only slightly different features.
So in an effort to zero in on the specific metrics and features we should look for, we reached out to groups whose members would likely have an interest in these devices and searched for hobbyists and enthusiasts. Unfortunately, we hit a brick wall there, as well: We simply couldn’t find anyone with the expertise to speak to what makes a great cordless phone. We were able to track down people who could explain the technology that makes these phones work, but when we reached out to public interest groups that we thought might have insight into what people want in a cordless phone, they didn’t have anything to share. The same was true when I put in a request with SciLine, a resource for journalists to connect with scientific sources. Heck, there’s not even a subreddit about the category.
Next, we turned to the phone makers themselves. Our research revealed there are only two major manufacturers of cordless phones: Panasonic and VTech, the latter of which also makes AT&T-branded phones. There are smaller brands, but for support and warranty purposes, we hewed closely to the larger brands.
We began our research by compiling a spreadsheet containing the specifications of the more than 100 phones we found on these three brands’ websites—a seemingly endless list of confusing alphanumeric product names, only slightly differentiated feature sets, and designs with no meaningful differences among them. These companies seem to introduce and discontinue models at a whim; almost every phone we’ve recommended in a prior version of this guide was discontinued within two years. Complicating things further, many models are available only through certain retailers (Amazon, Target, Walmart, and so on). Finding phones that fit our desired specifications and were actually available to buy was frustrating for us, and we do this for a living!
To figure out which features and specifications were the most important, we gathered a group of Wirecutter staffers who had cordless phones and asked why they used them and what features they found most useful. We combined that feedback with our research to arrive at a list of criteria:
- Range: One of the biggest benefits of a cordless phone is that you can use it far from its base, and the farther you can go without your call breaking up, the better. You should absolutely be able to roam around your house or apartment—and even your yard—without dropping the call. Panasonic’s phones have a stated range of 1,300 feet, and VTech claims its top-of-the-line phones (including AT&T-branded models) have ranges of up to 2,300 feet. Of course these figures pertain to use in perfect conditions, and in the real world, perfect conditions are rare. We’re surrounded by walls, windows, other wireless devices, and power lines that can affect how well a cordless phone will perform.
- Audio quality: A great cordless phone offers crisp, clear, loud audio for both you and the person you’re calling. It’s commonly believed that home phones sound better than cell phones. Whether that’s true or not, you shouldn’t have to struggle to make out what the person on the other end is saying.
- Call-blocking features: With the increasing prevalence of robocalls, it’s important that phones offer an effective way to block them. On some phones, this is an active thing—you press a button when a spam call comes in, and that number is added to a block list so it’s blocked going forward. More-advanced phones offer pre-screening that prevents robocalls from getting to you in the first place. In our research, we gave bonus points for anything that stopped the phone from ringing, unless it was someone we wanted to hear from.
- Intuitive menu systems: On cordless phones, menus and navigation are universally bad, compared with the touchscreen smartphone interfaces we’re now used to. You have to use fixed keys that aren’t necessarily in an intuitive place and must use T9-style typing (imagine texting on a cell phone with a fixed number pad) when you fill your address book with names. Though we think all cordless phones have annoying menus, some were less frustrating than others.
- DECT 6.0: This is the wireless standard that allows a cordless handset to communicate to its base, and it’s included in nearly any phone you can buy today. As Ruth Wilson, the marketing chair of the DECT Forum, explained to us, this short-range communication technology is ideal for cordless phones because it operates on a wavelength far away from Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and other signals on the wireless spectrum that could potentially interfere.
- Full-duplex speakerphone: Full-duplex support (as opposed to half-duplex) is necessary if there’s a speakerphone. “A device that is half-duplex can send or receive data, but not at the same time, such as a walkie-talkie,” explains VoIP comparison site GetVoIP. With a full-duplex speakerphone, both parties can talk without having to worry about their conversation being clipped.
Armed with these criteria, we asked representatives from VTech and Panasonic which phones best fit the bill. Although we normally wouldn’t rely on what a manufacturer had to say about its own products, this was the only way to ensure we weren’t missing out on phones that might be sold only at certain retailers, or that we weren’t including any that would soon be discontinued. After cross-referencing the suggestions against our own research, we called in 12 models:
How we tested
Once we had the phones in hand, we installed an Ooma Telo VoIP system—one of the more popular brands of boxes that turn your internet connection into a phone line—and began testing. Some aspects were obvious from the start, like how similar the hardware was among many of the units; other features, including range and voice quality, had to be evaluated more thoroughly.
To measure range, we set up each phone’s base station in the northwest corner on the second floor of a two-story home. We then placed a call to the National Weather Service’s automated hotline, which provides a recorded message with the weather conditions and forecast. We walked down the stairs, out of the house, and west down the street, continuing to listen until the call started to break up. Even though the phones technically remained connected at that point, they weren’t pleasant to listen to. Thankfully, even the worst-performing phones made it several houses down the street before the signal weakened.
Once we’d identified models that performed well in the range test, we were left with three models that looked good in terms of range, specs, and features (compared with other phones in their price brackets): the VTech CS6114 (a budget phone), the AT&T DL72210 (a midrange contender), and the VTech IS8151-4 (a potential upgrade pick). To evaluate voice quality with these three models, we made outgoing calls and left voicemails in which we read a short passage from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. As a control recording, we did the same with an iPhone XR using T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi calling.
We then shared the voicemail recordings with three Wirecutter writers and editors and asked them to evaluate and rank the four clips. It’s possible that a traditional copper landline may have resulted in different performance than we got with our VoIP setup, but VoIP is a popular way to connect a phone, and it’s rapidly replacing old-school copper. Spoiler alert: We found that (at least over VoIP) cordless phones don’t necessarily sound any better than cell phones, especially when the cell phone is placing the call over Wi-Fi.
Having verified that all three phones had good-enough voice quality, we simply navigated around each phone and played with its respective features to see how well they’re implemented. Are the menus easy to navigate? (None of them are particularly great, but some are worse!) How did the handsets and their buttons feel? How easy was it to read the screen? Several of the features were binary—they were either there or they weren’t, so we naturally preferred the models that had them.
Our pick: AT&T DL72210
AT&T’s DL72210 offers great range and clear audio, plus nearly all of the features most people could hope for in a cordless phone—all for a price lower than those of comparable handsets. This model has a long enough range that you’ll be able to walk around your house without the connection sputtering, and it’s also the best-sounding phone we tested—our panel ranked it even higher than an iPhone used with Wi-Fi calling. It comes with two handsets, so you can have phones in different parts of your home. And this package includes features normally found only on more expensive phones, including automated call screening and a Bluetooth cell phone connection.
Although the DL72210’s range isn’t the longest of the phones we tested, it’s plenty long enough for almost any application. We were able to get about 260 feet away from the base station before the audio on the other end of the call began to cut in and out. Some phones offered upwards of 450 feet in our tests, but 260 feet should still be plenty for use in most people’s homes. To put that number in perspective, we were able to get seven houses down the street with the DL72210 before our test call began to break up. AT&T’s CL82219—a similar phone in the same price range, but with fewer features—could go a house-and-a-half farther, which is great, but it’s probably not necessary unless you have a very large property.
What the DL72210 lacks in extended range, it makes up for in call quality. When reviewing sample recordings, our testers almost universally preferred this phone’s audio over the clips from the iPhone and the two other cordless phones we tested. “There’s some noise, but your voice sounded warm,” said one. And audio expert Lauren Dragan, a Wirecutter senior staff writer, told us that the DL72210 actually sounded clearer through her iPhone's earpiece than another iPhone did.
In addition to the DL72210’s call quality, its package of features helps the phone stand out. Many phones at this price offer details like a button on the base station that pings the handset (so you can find it), a digital answering system (an answering machine without the tape), a full-duplex handset speakerphone, and one-touch call blocking (which lets you automatically add robocall numbers to your block list).
Two features in particular help the DL72210 stand out compared with others in the same price range: smart call blocking and a Bluetooth cell phone connection. The former is a call-screening feature that we’ve seen only on AT&T and VTech phones. It works by comparing the numbers from incoming callers against those in your phone book, which you can add manually or from your cell phone over Bluetooth. There are two different modes: “Screen robot” and “Screen unknown.” In both cases, numbers in your contact list will come through unimpeded, and numbers you’ve already blocked won’t come through at all. But callers without a caller ID, or those that are not already on one of your approved/unapproved lists, will be screened. In the Screen robot mode, all unknown callers must press the pound (#) key before your phone will ring. If they don’t, the call will be rejected and you’ll never be bothered. In the Screen unknown profile, the caller will be asked to say their name and then hit pound. If they do so, their message will then be played out loud, and you can choose to answer, answer and allow the number going forward, block the number, or send it to your answering system.
The DL72210’s Bluetooth system allows you to connect up to two devices to your home phone: two cell phones, or a cell phone and a Bluetooth headset. When paired, your cordless phone can then be used as an extension of your smartphone, allowing you to leave your mobile phone by the base and then wander around with the DL72210 handset. It will also ring when your cell phone gets a call. This is handy for someone who might not have great cellular service throughout their entire home; you can position the base where you do have good service, leave your cell phone next to it, and use the handset in areas where you don’t.
In addition, the Bluetooth connection allows you to trigger your smartphone’s voice assistant. That works fine, but it doesn’t sound as good as talking to the assistant directly through your cell phone. It isn’t as easy as just yelling out to a smart speaker that you may already have in your home, either. The Bluetooth function also lets you download your phone’s contacts, although in our testing, we ran into an issue where the phone told us the directory was unavailable. That’s not the primary reason you’d use the Bluetooth connection, but it was annoying.
If you like what the DL72210 offers but need more handsets, there’s a three-phone package, or you can buy additional phones à la carte—up to a total of five units. Each phone runs on a rechargeable 300 mAh CR2015 battery, which can be replaced for just a few dollars. There’s also a plastic mounting bracket for the base included in the box.
AT&T offers a one-year warranty on its phones. Although if you need to send a phone in for repairs, you have to package it yourself, send in a copy of the sales receipt, and pay for postage. Even though we advocate for fixing your stuff rather than replacing it, there’s a good chance that if a handset dies, buying a new one will be cheaper than sending the busted unit back and forth.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The DL72210’s range was not as far as that of many other phones we tested; it began to break up at around 260 feet, compared with the 450 feet we got from the VTech IS851-4 (our upgrade pick) and the 445 feet we got from the highest-performing similarly priced phone, the AT&T CL82219. If you know you need extra range and are willing to give up the Bluetooth connection, consider going with CL82219.
The phone’s hardware and software are relatively refined compared with those of other cordless phones, although next to a touchscreen smartphone, they feel dated and clunky. The 2-inch screen (measured diagonally) is monochrome, and the white backlighting glows for only a few seconds after you stop pressing buttons. The labyrinthine menu system made us long for the swiping and tapping of our smartphones. However, we appreciated that the number keys glowed a soft blue, making them easy to see in the dark.
Budget pick: VTech CS6114
If you just want to have a phone around for emergencies, or you don’t care about anything other than being able to pick up and dial, we recommend the VTech CS6114. It’s as simple as can be, but it has a long range, totally passable voice quality, and an exceptionally low price—roughly the same as that of an iPhone charging cable. Even though you’re giving up plenty of features compared with our top pick, you’re paying next to nothing for the peace of mind a home phone can bring.
We were impressed with the CS6114’s range, which extended farther than that of some much more expensive models. The incoming voice on our call didn’t start to break up until about 310 feet away—just over a football field’s length. Even before it broke up, voice quality wasn’t particularly strong compared with what you get from higher-end phones, but that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. “This sounds pinched, but you get the consonants better than [with the VTech IS8151-4 or iPhone XR on Wi-Fi calling],” said Dragan. “It is a narrow, reedy sound, but it’s easy to understand the words.” She still ranked its voice quality the lowest out of the four phone messages she listened to. But again, it’s not shocking that a $15 phone performed worse than handsets that cost several times more.
The only other features the CS6114 offer are a 30-number phone book, caller ID, and a button on the base station to locate the handset if you’ve misplaced it. Otherwise, it lacks any sort of call blocking, speakerphone, digital answering system, or the ability to connect to your cell phone. The hardware itself is light and plasticky, and the screen is small. But we like that the entirety of each number key glows, rather than just the outer perimeter. The base is compatible with wall mounts, but it doesn’t come with one.
Upgrade pick: VTech IS8151-4
This phone has every feature you could want, as well as the longest range of any model we tested.
The VTech IS8151-4 offers incredible range, good-enough voice quality, four handsets, and every other feature we could think of. A speakerphone and dial pad on the base station? Check. Smart call blocking? Yep. Cellular connection? Yes, indeed. If you want everything a cordless phone has to offer, the IS8151-4 is the one you’re looking for. And even though it’s more expensive than our other picks, the price per handset is actually less than that of the AT&T DL72210.
In our standardized distance test, the IS8151-4 traveled farther—an impressive 450 feet, or the length of almost 13 school buses—than any other phone before our call broke up. VTech markets the phone as supporting “super long range,” which it defines as 2,300 feet, but it’s not surprising that it fell far short of that figure in real-world conditions; all the phones we tested delivered far less than their stated ranges.
Our testers’ opinions on the IS8151-4’s voice quality varied—individual respondents placed it second, third, and fourth in their evaluations. One described the voice quality as being a little muffled but perfectly understandable. Again, your results may vary depending on whether you’re using a traditional copper wire or a VoIP connection (and, in the latter case, on how much bandwidth is available).
The IS8151-4 has a panoply of features; there’s really nothing another phone does that it doesn’t do. In terms of hardware, there’s a dial pad and a speakerphone on the base unit, something that less-expensive phones simply don’t offer. This model comes with a mounting bracket, too. As for robocall blocking, the IS8151-4 is equipped with both one-touch blocking and (like the AT&T DL72210) smart call blocking and Bluetooth cell phone connection features.
If you don’t need four phones, there’s an otherwise-identical three-phone package, but since it’s only about $10 less, it’s not as good a value. If you need more phones, there’s also a five-handset option. The phone can be extended to include up to 12 phones, but as of the time of publication, the IS8101 accessory handset was out of stock at Amazon and not readily available anywhere else.
What to look forward to
Even though we didn’t include amplified phones from AT&T, Panasonic, VTech, and specialty brands like Clarity in this most recent update, we plan on testing them. Amplified phones get much louder than those we recommend here, so they’re a better option for people who are hard of hearing.
VTech’s CS6124 is identical to the CS6114, except that the CS6124 has a digital answering system on its base. Most people don’t need this on a budget phone, but if you do, the CS6124 is a good choice.
Panasonic’s KX-TGD510B offers call blocking and a handset speakerphone, which VTech’s budget phones don’t. But it costs twice as much as the CS6114. If you’re searching for a low-end phone with some more-advanced features, choose this one.
AT&T’s CL82219 is very similar to the AT&T DL72210, with most of the same features, an almost-identical handset, and a similar price. The big difference is that the CL82219 doesn’t have a Bluetooth connection, so you can’t pair it with your cell phone. In testing, we were able to take the CL82219 about a house-and-a-half farther before the incoming audio broke up, but this extra range isn’t enough of a bonus to make it worth giving up cell phone pairing.
Panasonic’s KX-TGE633M comes with a third handset, which makes it more expensive than the VTech DL72210. It doesn’t support smart call blocking or connect to your cell phone, though.
Panasonic’s KX-TGC352B is inexpensive compared with other two-handset bundles. But it doesn’t have smart call blocking, a digital answering system, or a Bluetooth cell phone connection.
AT&T’s DLP73210 has features that match those of other high-end phones. But it comes with only two handsets, and in our tests it had the shortest range of any phone we tested, at about 130 feet.
Panasonic’s KX-TGE675B doesn’t offer smart call block, something we consider a necessary feature for phones in its price range.
Stephen J. Blumberg and Julian V. Luke, Wireless Substitution: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, July-December 2019 (PDF), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Ruth Wilson, marketing chair, DECT Forum, Zoom interview, September 3, 2020
Robert Pepper, What Does Full Duplex Mean?, GetVoIP
About your guide
Nick Guy is a senior staff writer covering Apple and accessories at Wirecutter. He has been reviewing iPhones, iPads, and related tech since 2011—and stopped counting after he tested his 1,000th case. It’s impossible for him not to mentally catalog any case he sees. He once had the bright idea to build and burn down a room to test fireproof safes.