Except for a couple of annoying quirks, the two-handset expandable VTech ip5825 system is one of the great values in cordless phones. For $79, you get two 5.8GHz digital-spread-spectrum handsets with some handy features; in fact, what is missing may not matter to you.
Let's dispose of the niggling negatives. Atop the dial pad are five control keys. The problem is that the on/off keys are almost the same size as the menu-up/down scrolling keys immediately above them. As a result, you'll constantly hit the wrong key to initiate, answer, or end a call. And all the keys except for these five slightly confusing control keys are backlit with a bright lime-green glow. Why VTech left the handy backlight off these crucial buttons is beyond us.
At the bottom-right corner of the three-line display, you can make out a three-segment battery meter etched in the back layer of the LCD. But it lights up only when the phone is charging, rather than letting you know how much--or how little--power you have left while you're using the handsets. Fortunately, the phone displays a "low battery" warning as the batteries near dying.
Finally, the ip5825 is not a true 5.8GHz phone but a hybrid, which is why it's so inexpensive. The caller's end, from the base to the handset, transmits in 2.4GHz; only your end of the call, from the handset to the base, is transmitted in 5.8GHz. This dual-band transmission compromise is spun by VTech's marketing gurus as "combin[ing] the best of 5.8GHz and 2.4GHz technologies, providing enhanced performance." However, VTech must have added some safeguards for the 2.4GHz side; despite the presence of multiple Wi-Fi laptops in the same room as the phone, we experienced no problems either in reception or vocal quality at either end of the call.
Aside from these minor missteps and misrepresentations, there's plenty in this phone bundle to like. Both handsets share a central 50-name phone book stored in the base that can be changed from either handset, a feature lacking in many expandable phone systems of any price. However, the phone book can be accessed by only one user at a time. There's also a "message waiting" LED on the base for subscribers of the local phone company's voicemail service.
Also handy is the call timer, which starts counting as soon as you hit the On button and stays displayed on the top line of the LCD throughout the call for easy reference. And instead of hard-to-find proprietary batteries, the ip5825 is powered by standard AAA nickel-metal-hydride rechargeables that can be found at any large electronics retailer. However, you can't use alkaline AAAs.
As you'd expect for such an inexpensive phone, the VTech ip5825's sound quality, range, and battery life are slightly--but not fatally--below what you'd expect from more expensive models. Sound was slightly thinner compared to that of more expensive Panasonics and Unidens, but there's plenty of volume both through the earpiece and the handset's Superplex speakerphone (VTech's euphemism for full-duplex speakerphone, which means both conversationalists can talk at the same time). Likewise, effective range fell just short of that of other 5.8GHz models, and the AAA rechargeables last only about three days in standby mode, half the time of comparable 5.8GHz models. If you don't wander too far afield and are obsessive about replacing the handset on the base after each call, neither of these drawbacks will be an issue.