For just $80, this 2.4GHz digital cordless model from VTech gives you more for the money than similarly configured units such as Panasonic's pricey KX-TG2730S ($160 list). In addition to strong set of basic features, the 2656 has a three-mailbox digital answering system and lets you add up to three additional handsets ($40 each) so that you can scatter phones throughout your home. While we have a few design quibbles, the 2656 is among the best multihandset values around.
At 7.1 ounces, the handset is a bit heavy, but it feels solid and fits nicely in hand. We have a few design complaints, though. There's no exterior volume control; you have to go through the menu, which can be awkward when you're in the middle of a call. Otherwise, the oval keys are well spaced and emit a "blip" sound when hit. The three-line, backlit LCD is easy to read overall, except for the three tiny reversed white-on-black capsule function indicators along the bottom of display, which correspond with the soft keys. There are different buttons for turning the phone on and off, which we found annoying, but that's more a matter of personal taste. On the plus side, we love the always-present battery meter in the handset display, which was fairly accurate in our tests. The base doesn't take up much space, in part because the handset stands up in the charger.
The feature set is extensive. You get conference calling, a full-duplex speakerphone on the handset but not the base, 50-name caller ID (when available), call waiting, a 50-name phone book that isn't transferable among handsets, a handset-to-handset intercom, programmable ring and key tones, call transfer between handsets, and memo record on the base. However, you can't record a call Linda Tripp-style unless you wait for the answering machine to kick in, and even then, the digital chip holds only 15 minutes of messages. You can't limit the length of an incoming message, so a caller can spend up to 4 minutes rambling.
Sound quality is solid, with plenty of volume on both the handset and the base for listening to incoming messages. But the full-duplex handset speakerphone warbled a bit when we cranked up the volume, and some callers complained that sonics trailed off when someone started to speak. The various ring tones, for both incoming calls and the handset page, are adequately loud. You can set the base to beep when messages are waiting, and a large red numeral indicates both base volume and the amount of messages you've received.
Battery life lived up to its rated 7.5-hour talk time, and we got nearly double its rated five-day standby time. The handset range, however, is limited to around 50 to 60 feet before the signal started to give out, abnormally short for a 2.4GHz digital model.