Cordless--And Hands-Free, Too

How headset phones stack up.

I only wanted a new cordless phone, something that would let me roam around the house and get stuff done while I'm on the phone. I envisioned something like a cell phone, a good-looking, pocket-size phone loaded with high-tech features.

Then I went shopping. Nothing svelte. Nothing small. Nothing light enough to hang -- without risk -- from the waistband of the sweats or flannel boxers that I lounge around in.

CALLING CARDS. What I did find was a category of cordless units called headset phones. There's no clunker of a handset at all, just a tiny dial pad with a jack for a headset, which is included and in fact is the only way you can use the phone. When you're not on the phone, the portable part nestles into a tabletop base station and recharger unit that plugs into a phone jack. I tried three: Uniden's Neo TRUc46, a Plantronics (PLT ) CT12, and the 26977 cordless headset model from GE Consumer Electronics.

My favorite by far was the $80 Uniden Neo. It and the Plantronics, about $110 to $120, are the size of a credit card, but the Neo is only a half-inch thick, vs. one inch for the Plantronics. At 2.3 ounces, it weighs a third less, too. It comes with two headsets, over-the-head and over-the-ear models. The Plantronics headset can work either way, and has a tiny light that blinks when you're on the phone, a nice touch when you're working at home.

Otherwise, the two work identically. They have a three-line LCD display, storage for 100 names and phone numbers, 10 ring tones (the Neo has a vibrate mode as well), and batteries good for five hours of continuous talk between charges.

The GE 26977 is bigger, like a deck of cards, and not as capable. It stores 40 numbers, and only those captured by Caller ID (though it has 10 programmable speed dial slots as well). At $35 to $45, it's a good budget choice. Because it operates in the older 900-megahertz radio band, it could be less susceptible to interference than the other two, which share the 2.4-GHz frequency with home Wi-Fi networks and microwave ovens.

Don't expect sexy flips, color displays, or the ability to sync phone numbers with those on your PC. But if you want a cordless phone that fits in a pocket or even clips to the neck of your T-shirt, any of these would be a good call.

By Larry Armstrong

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.