They may seem old school in the age of smartphones, but answering machines are still useful for many. Whether it is for personal or office use, if you have a landline and calls that you can't miss, you're going to need an answering machine of some type to handle them.
Today's answering machines differ from each other considerably. This guide will introduce you to some of the key considerations and other features you should consider when shopping for an answering machine. We've also included a few product recommendations to highlight some of the best answering machines currently on the market. If you're looking for an answering with 21st century updates then check out our top pick from AT&T.
Considerations when choosing answering machines
When first starting your search for an answering machine, there are a few key things that you will need to consider.
Are you just in the market for an answering machine or an answering machine/phone combo? The latter usually provides a wealth of additional options. You will also need to decide on the number of phones you need and whether you prefer corded or cordless handsets.
Unless you thrive on tech and enjoy a challenge, look for an answering machine that is both easy to program and simple to use on a day-to-day basis.
If you plan on using the answering machine on a surface where spare space is at a premium, consider going with a more compact model.
There are several features to compare when shopping for answering machines.
The more recording time you have, the more messages you can receive and the more memos you can leave (if the answering machine is so equipped). The majority of machines have recording times of 13 to 14 minutes, with some offering considerably more memory for recording.
The answering machine should include some sort of display, which should be clear, bright, and easy to read.
With answering machines, it's important that the audio is clear and has a volume range, low to high. Some machines feature a higher volume top end for those with hearing impairment. If the machine includes a phone, be sure that its audio is also high-quality and that both the audio and ringer are as loud as you need them to be.
Keypad and controls
Backlit keypads, buttons, and other controls will be easier to use in low-light situations. Also, be sure that any buttons are large enough for comfortable use.
Some answering machines ship with all the hardware necessary to mount the device on a wall, freeing up valuable desk space.
Answering machines start at $10 to $15 and can reach $60 to $70 or more. At the upper end, you will find more advanced features, a longer recording time, and more phone/answering machine combinations.
Q. What additional features should I consider if I'm buying an answering machine for a small business?
A. An answering machine with phones included will cover a couple of different business needs, particularly if it is expandable. Also, keep an eye out for features such as caller ID, call waiting, voice memo capabilities, and conference calling.
Q. What's the difference between an answering machine and voicemail?
A. Answering machines are usually easy to use, giving you one-button access to your messages. They also can be cheaper in the long run. Voicemail allows user to retrieve their messages remotely, something you generally can't do with an answering machine unless it offers remote access. Voicemail can also be more secure and provide you with features such as the ability to save or archive messages.
Answering machines we recommend
Best of the best: AT&T Cordless Phones with Digital Answering System
Our take: This full-featured option from AT&T ships with two cordless handsets and is expandable.
What we like: Includes two handsets plus the answering machine. Expandable to 12 handsets. Offers 14 minutes of recording time. Includes a wall-mount option. Features clear audio and an easy-to-read display.
What we dislike: Caller ID leaves a bit to be desired.
Best bang for your buck: Northwestern Bell Digital Answering System
Our take: A simple and affordable answering machine that does not require a learning curve.
What we like: Affordable and basic. Compact footprint so it can be easily placed where space is an issue. Thirteen minutes of recording time. Easy to set up and use.
What we dislike: The volume tops out fairly low with this option, so it may not be the best model for those with hearing impairment.
Our take: A compact phone/answering machine solution with features you'd expect to pay more for.
What we like: Ships with one handset. Wall-mounted. Has advanced features such as caller ID and call waiting. Fourteen minutes of recording time. Both the keypad and display are backlit. Compact design.
What we dislike: Some buyers report the phone is the weak point here, with poor audio and a short cordless range.
Rich Gray is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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