4 reasons you might still need a cordless phone

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Given that you have a cell or smart phone to stay in touch with the world, is there any reason to have a landline? The short answer is yes. For starters, our tests of more than 80 cordless phones (with and without built-in answerers) found that they provide better voice quality than their mobile counterparts, so you can enjoy conversations more. They have other advantages, too. Here’s the 411.

1. They sound better

In our tests, voice quality for talking and listening was generally better than that of the best cell phones—important if you suffer from hearing loss, your household is noisy, or you spend a lot of time on the phone, especially in a home office.

Most cordless models run on DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) technology, which uses the 1.9-GHz frequency band, minimizing interference with devices such as ­microwave ovens, which use other frequencies. DECT phones also tend to have relatively long talk times, so you won't run out of juice in the middle of ordering takeout. Some models support up to 12 handsets from one base, and handsets can be used as close-range walkie-talkies in large houses.

2. They improve safety

Cell phones use a GPS-based method to report your location in a 911 emergency. That’s a very good thing when you're on the road, but they don't indicate which floor you're on in a high-rise building. A home phone is connected to your address, including apartment number, so the 911 operator knows exactly where to send help even if you can't talk.

Traditional copper-wire phone service automatically indicates your precise location. With VoIP service from a cable company or fiber-­optic phone service, the provider must get your address when you activate service, but you have to let it know if that changes. So it's worth double-checking to make sure your records are up to date.

Tip: If you must call 911 from a cell phone, heed this advice from Deputy Chief Charles Dowd of the New York City Police Department's communications division, which handles more than 30,000 911 calls per day. First, say your name and exact location in case you black out or are cut off, then tell them the problem. And always keep at least one cell phone fully charged.

Another landline advantage: Home-­security systems generally require a land­line phone connection to monitor fire- and burglar-alarm sensors. If you don’t have a home phone line, certain alarm companies will install a special device that communicates with their office via a cellular connection, but that will cost extra. ADT’s Cell Guard, for example, can cost $100 or more to install and can add $15 or more per month to your bill.

To ensure that you’ll have a working landline during a power failure, choose a phone with a corded handset on the base or battery backup—and make sure the batteries are charged. If you have cable or fiber-­based phone service, that will require a backup battery as well.

3. You don’t save much when you cut service

Dropping a phone line from a telecom bundle might save you only $5 or so a month. That's because the discount for an Internet and TV double play is usually less than for a triple play with phone service. In a recent survey of our readers, 34 percent who thought about switching phone services kept the phone as part of a bundle because of the skimpy savings.

4. Cordless phones can actually help your cell phone

Certain cordless models can stand in for your cell phone. By placing a cell phone near the cordless phone's base, you can access your wireless service using Bluetooth technology and use a cordless handset to make or take cell calls.

In addition to the convenience of using one handset for all of your calls, you might get better cell-phone reception at home. For example, if you don’t get cell service in your basement, you might be able to make or take cell calls from there using a cordless handset.

Certain models take that Bluetooth connection even further by notifying you on a cordless handset of incoming texts on your cell phone.

This article appeared in the December 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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