Since they operate in the same frequency, 2.4GHz phones and Wi-Fi networks don't play very well together. Depending on the model you own, the interference you'll hear from your 2.4GHz phone after you've gone Wi-Fi can range from mildly annoying to downright maddening. The solution? Get a 5.8GHz phone. VTech's 5831 ($199 list price), the first 5.8GHz phone ever to hit the market, makes a good pick, although it's not as cool as other models that came down the road a little later.
VTech took care with the 5831's design; a blue-backlit keypad and a high-quality, blue-tinted LCD complement the phone's slight, curved dimensions and smooth, brushed-silver body. Controls are well laid out and responsive. Both the base and the handset feature a built-in speakerphone, volume-adjustment keys, and a Sound Select button, which lets you tweak bass, midtones, treble, and natural tones during a call. While VTech threw in a belt clip and a wall-mount, the company neglected to include a headset, so you'll have to buy one separately.
The 5831 rolls two phones in one; in addition to making calls with the full-featured handset, you can use the base unit to dial out, thanks to its separate keypad and built-in speakerphone. If two phones aren't enough, you can add up to six handsets, all of which are supported on one jack. Registering the handsets to the base is a cinch, though you have to program each set separately. The units run $99 a pop--a bit pricey compared to expansion sets from other manufacturers. For example, AT&T's accessory handset for its 5.8GHz systems, the 5800, costs $79.99.
This phone has a wealth of features. You can set the time; choose among eight ringer tones and a silent, vibrating mode; and transfer calls between handsets. You can store up to 50 names and numbers in the 5831's phone book--a little skimpy compared to that of other cordless phones. While this unit doesn't have an answering machine (look instead to the step-up model, the 5881), it supports caller ID and call waiting, and it has a message indicator on the base for those who subscribe to voicemail through their telephone company.
In our tests, call quality was generally good but not as crisp as that of AT&T's competing model, the 5840. The 5831 has a unique dual-band setup: the base transmits on the 5.8GHz frequency, while the handset operates in the 2.4GHz frequency. According to the company, this scenario ensures that you get great audio without draining your battery. While we didn't hear awful static produced by some of the 2.4GHz phones we've tried out in our Wi-Fi testing environment, we encountered the occasional blip. On the plus side, battery life proved solid. We met the rated talk time of six hours and came just shy of meeting the standby time of eight days. There's also a spare battery charger in the base for emergencies.
In the end, the 5831 faces stiff competition from other 5.8GHz phones. The Uniden 5885-2 gets impressive marks for its high-tech design, and the AT&T 5840 ranks a little better in terms of performance. However, don't get us wrong--the 5831 is a great 5.8GHz option and deserves props as the first of its kind.