Top positive review
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The perfect phone for people who have trouble with modern cellphones
on September 25, 2016
We've all seen the ads for Jitterbug phones, and maybe some scoffed at them. While I am a "senior", I'm not the target market for Jitterbug as I am technical and know my way around smartphones. I recognize, however, that not everyone is and I've seen first-hand how utterly unusable many modern phones are for people with limited vision, hearing or who have trouble with tiny buttons and complex menus. The Jitterbug phones are brilliantly designed for these users and it was fascinating to explore the new Jitterbug Flip to see what Greatcall had done to make this phone so usable. This is going to be a long review, as some of mine are, but the length is necessary.
Let's start with the phone itself. It's larger and heavier than most current flip phones, but it is easy to pick up and open. On one side of the closed phone is a small black-and-white LCD screen that, when illuminated, gives the current time, date, and whether the "5Star" emergency service is enabled. The text of this is large and clear. If the display is off (it goes dim after 5 seconds and off after 10), it can be turned on by pushing any of the three side buttons. This side of the phone also has a camera lens, LED flash and a smaller notification LED. The other side of the closed phone has a speaker grille, with a small raised dot in the middle that lifts it up just enough for sound to not be muffled if the phone is set down on the table.
The right side of the phone has large up and down volume buttons plus a smaller button whose only function is to turn on the camera's LED as a flashlight when the phone is open. (But this button, as I noted above, will turn on the outside display.) The left side has a MicroUSB jack that can be used for charging or data transfer, and a headset jack.
The phone is supplied with a charging cradle which takes its power from a MicroUSB cable (supplied) and power adapter (also supplied). You don't have to use their cable or charger. Just drop the closed phone into the cradle and it charges via contacts on the bottom - very easy to use. When charging the display indicates either Charging or Charge Completed (and the notification LED turns on). It also makes a small sound when you start charging and when you remove the phone from charging. The phone will also charge from the side MicroUSB jack.
Now let's open the phone. The top half has the color LCD display and when you open it (assuming it's powered on - press and hold On/Off for that), it always goes right to the Phone Book main menu entry and you hear a dial tone (!) from the speaker. Yes, I did say a dial tone. This lets the user know that the phone is working and that there is a signal.
The bottom half has large buttons with large-type labels. These buttons have a reassuring click-feel and the legends are raised. They're also backlit when the display is on. In addition to the number pad, there are buttons for Speakerphone, On/Off, Yes, No and up and down arrows. The only other button is at the bottom, the red "5*" button for emergency calls. If you have purchased one of the packages that include "5Star", then pushing this connects you to trained operators who have quite a bit of information about you (entered on the Greatcall web site in advance) plus GPS coordinates. If you don't have the 5Star service, this button calls 911. It announces in a voice it is doing this and you can press the No button to cancel.
The main menu has a single list of options which you select from using the up and down buttons, then press Yes to activate that function. As I wrote earlier, Phone Book is the default. Press Yes on that and you're shown your first phone book entry. The up and down buttons scroll through the entries, and two preset entries are for "Urgent Care" and "Health and Wellness Alert". While you can manage the phone book on the phone, it's much easier to do it on the web site where you can also reorder entries. Each entry has the name and number displayed in large, clear text, with a "CALL?" action at the bottom. Pressing Yes will call that number. Pressing No backs out to the main entry. Most screens have a colored bar at top and bottom with information such as which menu entry you're in (or your phone number if at the main menu), and the action you can take by pressing Yes or No.
I will note here that you can dial numbers from almost any screen using the keypad. As you enter the numbers they are displayed in VERY large text. There is also a "Voice Dial" feature - this is free but you have to call to have it activated. It was not enabled on my test phone so I could not try it. If enabled, Voice Dial will be an option on the main menu - select it and then speak the name from the phone book to dial. I was told that you could request that this be the default when you open the phone - great for visually impaired users.
The sound quality of phone calls was excellent on both ends. The speaker volume is adjustable to Low/Medium/High. Pressing the "Spkr" button turns on the speakerphone which is also loud and clear.
When a call is received, the ringtone plays, the phone vibrates, and the caller's number (and name if in your phonebook) is displayed. If the phone is closed you answer by just opening the phone. (There is a choice of seven preset ringtones - you can't add your own, but you can specify a particular ringtone for callers in your phone book.) You can stop the ringing by pressing one of the volume buttons when closed. If open, press Yes to accept or No to decline - a large message on the screen tells you this. The ringer volume is adjustable in three steps as well as off using the volume buttons when not on a call. If you miss a call, the outer display shows "Missed Call", the LED flashes, and an alert sound is given every five minutes for 30 minutes. If you then open the phone it tells you the missed call(s) and lets you review them (or press No to go back to the main menu).
The phone supports Bluetooth headsets and cars - the instructions for pairing are easy to understand and the phone leads you through the process nicely.
Voicemail (an optional service) also gets the "easy to use" touch. It's the entry in the main menu just above Phone Book. The first time you select that, it connects you to the voicemail service and gives a detailed introduction to how to use it. You control voicemail with either the Yes/No buttons when it asks a question, or you can say the words. You can also say Skip, Delete or Exit at any time. You're first given new messages with an option to save each one. Then you can review saved messages, and lastly you can review or record your personal greeting. This can be a full greeting of your choice or just your name - in the latter case callers hear "This is the Jitterbug voicemail system for ...". When voicemails are played you get the date/time but not the number - for that you have to go to the Missed Calls list (and as you see each one, press Yes to call back.)
Text messaging is also available (various plans include different numbers of messages). You can select among a "library" of preselected messages ("How are you", "Call me", "I'm busy", "I miss you", "Where are you?", and many more), or enter your own using the standard keypad method. An assist is that it can automatically capitalize the first letter of each sentence or word, or do all caps. When you receive a text, again a message shows on the outside display, it makes a sound and the LED flashes.
The phone has a camera and can take reasonably decent pictures (1200x1600 or 2MP) with flash used if the phone thinks it is necessary. Photos can be sent as MMS messages (not emailed) or, and this will strike terror into the hearts of grandchildren everywhere, posted to Facebook. In order to use Facebook you have to first connect your accounts at the Greatcall web site, where you can specify who will be able to see the posts (Friends, etc.). There is no ability to add text to the post. I tried this and it worked well. Your location is NOT saved with the photo or included in a FB post. (When I tried this indoors, it told me "No Service" even though I could make a call. When I took it outside it worked.) Photos can be reviewed on the phone, of course.
The camera is also used for a magnifier feature, great for reading menus in dimly-lit restaurants. The flashlight can be used in this mode and you can adjust magnification with the up/down buttons.
Other phone features... There are two "brain games" built in that can be fun, at least at first. Settings are limited - you can turn the power on/off jingle on or off, enable or disable the 5* button, select a default ringtone, and change the color scheme used. The "Phone Info" screen has minimal information such as battery level and signal strength. There is no alarm feature nor a music player.
The phone appears to run a heavily customized version of Android, and operates on the Verizon network. Battery life is maybe 2-3 days on standby, less if actively used or Bluetooth is on. There is no user-visible data connection, though it is evident to me that it relies on one behind the scenes to synch with the web site settings.
I'm not going to discuss all the various plans and services Greatcall offers, but I was impressed with the breadth of services ranging from minutes-only calling to full-blown "we'll call you on a schedule to make sure you're ok" features. Everything has a price, of course, but I thought the prices were reasonable for what you got.
Customer service is not only US-based but is available in multiple languages. The support agent I spoke with was clearly a native English speaker with an "American" accent and was easy to understand. I did have to wait about 15 minutes when I called the regular support line on a Friday afternoon - the recorded message suggested times to call that had shorter waits and also directed users to the web where, it is true, a lot of typical questions are answered. The web site is also easy to use with large text, easy to recognize navigation and lots of whitespace. A large printed manual is included that is also easy to read without a microscope.
After I did the initial setup, everything worked very well and I never saw anything that would be frustrating. It is clear that Greatcall has done a lot of research plus built on their experience to date with Jitterbug phones to produce a phone and service that is ideally tailored to a group left out by traditional phone manufacturers. One doesn't have to be a "senior" to love the Jitterbug Flip - if you have hearing, visual or motor impairments you'll find the phone and service easy to use. There is also a Jitterbug smartphone if you want, and even simpler phones, but I think the Flip hits its target square-on and I can recommend it highly. Yes, it deserves "5 Stars".