The Jitterbug is Back: A Review of the Jitterbug J Cell Phone from GreatCall
For the over 25 million Americans who experience vision loss, it can be difficult to find a simple cell phone that isn't overly expensive or complicated. Cell phones seem to be getting more and more complex, which has resulted in phones with confusing menus and lines of small, difficult-to-read text. There are many people out there who just want a simple, no-frills, easier-to-use cell phone with large buttons, and bright, easier-to-read screens.
In 2007, Lee Huffman reviewed the Jitterbug, a cell phone from GreatCall that hoped to solve this problem by providing an easier-to-use cell phone designed to be friendly for people with vision loss. We found the phone to be a good solution for many visually impaired users, but it did have some noticeable issues, such as a lack of extended calling plans and basic features such as text messaging.
Well, it appears that GreatCall is here to try again with the new Jitterbug J, the next generation of the Jitterbug phone. As with the original Jitterbug, the Jitterbug J is targeted at baby boomers, their parents, people with low vision, and anyone else who wants simplicity in a cell phone. The question now is whether the Jitterbug J improves on the original Jitterbug without losing the features that made it appeal to users with low vision in the first place.
The original Jitterbug came in two different styles: the Jitterbug Dial model, which resembled a typical flip phone with a standard number pad, and the Jitterbug One Touch, a simplified phone without a number pad that could only place calls to one programmed number, 911, or an operator. The new Jitterbug J is offered in one basic model that very closely resembles the original Dial model in size and shape.
For those not familiar with the Jitterbug, it is a clamshell-style cell phone, weighing four ounces and measuring 4 by 2 by 1 inches when folded. The Jitterbug features two electronic displays: a small 0.75 by 0.75 inch display on the outside of the device, and a larger 1.3 by 1.6 inch internal display which can be viewed when the phone is flipped open. When closed, the phone is light and compact and fits easily into a pocket or the palm of your hand.
The Jitterbug J, unlike the original Jitterbug, is available in three different colors: graphite (dark gray), white, or red. This color refers only to the outside of the device; the number pad and buttons for all the phones use white text on a dark background. The white and red phones both use white buttons on a gray background, while the graphite phone uses white buttons on a solid black background.
Caption: The Jitterbug J—Graphite Color
When the Jitterbug is open, it features a standard number pad, "Yes" and "No" buttons with an up and down rocker between, a power button, and a speakerphone button. There is also a volume rocker on the outside on the phone, just below the small external display. The speakerphone button is a new feature for the Jitterbug J, and is a very easy way to quickly turn on the speakerphone. The Jitterbug J is a basic cell phone, so it does not feature a camera and does not use any touch screens or touch controls.
The numbers on the number pad and the "Yes" and "No" buttons are all marked in large, high-contrast print, and have raised circles around each button to easily differentiate between them. There is also a nib on the 5 key, making it easy to orient yourself to the controls. Unfortunately, the power and speakerphone buttons both use small print and are flush against the phone, making it difficult to find them. This problem is made worse on the graphite phones, where the black buttons do not contrast at all with the background.
The Jitterbug J comes with four pieces of documentation: a 20-page Activation Guide which walks you through the process for setting up a calling plan and adding minutes, a 22-page Customer Agreement guide, a 10-page Quick-Start Guide, and a full 200-page User Manual. All of the documentation is printed in roughly 11 point font. While this font size may accommodate many older people, to whom the Jitterbug was mainly targeted, a larger font size, such as the 18-point font recommended by the American Printing House for the Blind, would benefit many more potential customers with diagnosed visual impairments.
An electronic copy of the User Manual (but not any of the other documentation) is available on the GreatCall website in PDF format. There is no way to bring up the manual or a help screen on the Jitterbug itself.
The documentation is organized well and relatively simple to understand. Unfortunately, some of the information presented in the documentation can be inaccurate or misleading. For example, the Activation Guide I was provided with gave a listing of all the calling plans and pricing options for the cell phone. However, when I went to call the operator, I found out that the pricing plans had been drastically changed, and that nearly all of the information in my Activation Guide was incorrect. There are also a number of glaring omissions in the documentation. The User Manual does not provide nearly enough information on important areas, such as using MyGreatCall.com to add/remove/modify items on your phone's menu, and how to activate features such as text messaging and voice dialing.
The people at Jitterbug went to some trouble to make sure that the documentation was easy-to-follow, but the inaccurate and incomplete information is a major problem that definitely needs to be worked on in future releases.
The Jitterbug J has two displays built into the phone: a small external display that is used when the phone is closed, and a larger internal display that is used for menu navigation. Both displays are bright, full-color, and high contrast, which is a welcome change from many flip phones that use cheap and hard-to-read monochrome displays on the outside of the device.
Using the AFB TECH Optics Lab, we can measure the amount of contrast provided by electronic displays. We measured the contrast for the Jitterbug to be 98.0 percent, which makes it one of the highest contrasts of any device we have examined. The size of the text in the main menu was also much larger than most cell phones, at roughly 12 point font. Although the actual size of the main display, 1.3 by 1.6 inches, is about average for these types of phones, and much smaller than you would find on a smartphone-type device, the information on the display is organized well and is relatively large. The Jitterbug, unlike many similar phones, does not try to cram a lot of information on the screen all at once, which makes for a much friendlier user interface.
GreatCall, the manufacturer of the Jitterbug, has a 24/7 operator service that can help you place calls and manage your phone book. This is different from the toll-free customer service number, which you would use to activate the phone and ask questions. The operator is more like a concierge service that will look up and dial a phone number for you, or add, remove, or modify any entries in your phone book. The operator can be reached by dialing 0 on the number pad. Calls placed to the operator will automatically deduct five minutes from your calling plan in addition to however long the call lasts, making this a costly service for users who make calls frequently by using the GreatCall operator service.
Once you activate your Jitterbug phone, you can manage your account online at MyGreatCall.com. The website features a very user-friendly interface, and is a nice way to manage your account. The site allows you to add or remove apps (such as text messages and voice mail) on your phone, add or remove contacts from your phone book, view and pay your bills online, and manage the minutes left on your account.
By default, the Jitterbug phones come with four basic menu items: Phone Book, Phone Info, Settings, and Call History. The minimal interface is meant to keep things simple for the new user, but it can also be a little confusing when setting up the phone. When activating the phone for the first time, make sure to ask the phone technician about all available items and apps for your phone. You can add MyWorld, VoiceMail, Text Messages, Calendar, and Voice Dial to the menu at MyGreatCall.com or by speaking with customer service.
At the top of the Jitterbug screen, there is a highlighted bar that tells you where you are in the menu. A highlighted bar at the bottom of the screen prompts you with questions that you answer by pressing "Yes" or "No." You move through the menu items by pressing the "No" button until you reach the menu item you want and then use the up/down rocker to move within each menu item. You press the "Yes" button to select an action.
The Phone Book stores up to 50 names and phone numbers in your phone's memory, for easy access. You use the arrow keys to scroll through the list of names, and when the desired contact's name appears on the screen, press the "Yes" button and the phone dials the number for you.
There are three different ways to enter contacts into the Phone Book: you can enter them manually through the phone's keypad, you can call the GreatCall operator and have him or her add the contacts to your account, or you can add them through the MyGreatCall.com website. To help get you started, when you first activate the Jitterbug, the operator will add up to five names and phone numbers of your choice at no added cost.
The Phone Info screen displays the battery level, signal strength, and number of minutes used on your phone.
Compared to most phones, the Jitterbug Settings menu is pretty basic, with only four options: modify the ring tone, change the color of the highlighted bar at the top and bottom of the display, turn on/off the jingle that plays when the device is turned on, and attach a Bluetooth device.
The phone keeps a list of the 10 most recent incoming, outgoing, and missed calls. When 10 entries are exceeded, the oldest one is deleted. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a way to add calls in your call history to your address book, which can be an annoying limitation when trying to add someone who just called you.
New to the Jitterbug J is the MyWorld app, which can be set up either online or through customer service. MyWorld is a basic news application that provides short updates on a variety of topics. You can sign up for regular updates on local weather reports, stock reports, sports results and schedules, horoscopes, trivia, and/or lottery numbers. MyWorld is well designed, and is a nice way to keep updated on these topics.
VoiceMail is an optional service that costs an additional $3.00 per month unless you sign up for the unlimited calling plan. If you want to check your messages, you scroll to the VoiceMail menu item and press the "Yes" button, and the phone calls your VoiceMail box. You then follow the voice prompts (some of which are quite lengthy) to retrieve your messages and set up or change your personal greetings.
The Jitterbug J, unlike the previous Jitterbug, does support text messaging, a welcome addition for many users. You can purchase a separate text messaging plan if you plan on texting often, or you can opt to pay 10 cents per text. Text messaging is fairly straightforward — once you open the Text Messages item from the main menu, you can choose to read, send or delete a message. When reading or deleting, you scroll between sent and received messages by using the up and down rocker button.
When sending a text, you can choose between writing the message by hand using the number pad, or by selecting a pre-written message such as, "Happy Birthday," "Call Me," "Thank You," "Yes," and "No." This can be a useful feature for someone who is not comfortable with typing on a number pad.
The Jitterbug J features an optional Calendar app at no additional cost, which allows you to set up appointments and reminders on the phone. Unfortunately, this feature cannot be edited online, and the interface on the phone is awkward and inefficient as it is limited to only the up and down rocker button and number pad for input. I imagine most users will find themselves ignoring this feature.
The Voice Dial menu item allows you to automatically dial a number by speaking the name of a person or company in your Phone Book. The Jitterbug J uses the Nuance text-to-speech software, which is very effective at recognizing your speech and finding the correct entry in your phone book. This is nice, since it does not require you to spend time labeling each contact, and it allows other people to use the Voice Dial feature of your phone.
Current Price and Calling Plans
The Jitterbug J retails for $99.00, and can be purchased through GreatCall.com or a number of other vendors online. You must purchase a calling plan to use the Jitterbug (there is no pay-as-you-go plan), and you have the option of a 50, 100, 400, or unlimited minutes per-month plan for $15, $20, $40, or $80, respectively. There are no long distance, roaming, or peak time charges, and your unused minutes roll over each month. There are also Family Plans available if you're interested in purchasing multiple phones, as well as the ability to add on minutes in bundles of 100, 250, 500, or 1,000 minutes, at a cost of $20, $40, $70, and $120, respectively. When you set up the phone for the first time, you will be required to pay a $35 activation fee in addition to any calling plan charges.
If you purchase the phone through GreatCall.com, you will be able to set up the calling plan online. If you purchase the phone through another vendor, then you will be prompted to call customer service and purchase a calling plan the first time you turn on the Jitterbug J.
In addition to the calling plan, there are services you can add to the cell phone that are specially designed to accommodate users with specific health needs. These include receiving wellness calls and reminders for medications, and having access to a registry of nurses for live health advice.
The Bottom Line
The Jitterbug J is pretty much exactly what it is supposed to be, a phone that is easier to use than a standard cell phone for a person with visual impairment. If you or someone you know wants a basic phone that has a friendly interface and easier-to-read menus, then the Jitterbug may be a good option. Of course, the user-friendly interface comes at the cost of functionality, such as picture taking, e-mail, playing music or video, or searching the Internet, but for many people, those features are neither necessary nor desired.
In the last review of the Jitterbug, we mentioned five improvements that we would like to see in the next Jitterbug: enlarged text for the highlighted areas, an improved external display, a nib on the 5 key, more extensive calling plans, and improved documentation. With the exception of the documentation, the Jitterbug J improves upon all of these features, although the text sizes on both displays could still be larger.
The Jitterbug J succeeds in offering a simple, low-cost, accessible solution for anyone looking for a basic cell phone. If you purchased the original Jitterbug and are thinking about upgrading, be warned that aside from the introduction of text messaging, call waiting and slightly improved text size, the Jitterbug J is very similar. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but may not be worth the additional $99 cost for a new phone.
You may not be able to try out a Jitterbug J before you buy it, because the phones are not available in most retail stores. You can go to the GreatCall website to see if the Jitterbug J is carried by any stores in your area. Or, if you live in the Dallas, Texas, area, you can see the Jitterbug phones by visiting the American Foundation for the Blind's Center on Vision Loss at 11030 Ables Lane. Call (214) 352-7222 to schedule a tour of the center, where you can try out the Jitterbug phones along with many other blindness and low vision products, and find many other options for working and living independently with vision loss.
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