In 2006 GreatCall entered the cell phone market with a flip phone and cell service targeting users who wanted more accessibility and simplified phone features. GreatCall's first two cell phone models shaped an emerging niche of phones designed specifically for older adults. When AccessWorld first reviewed the Jitterbug in 2007, the two available models featured high-contrast buttons, larger display fonts, higher volume levels, and the option of having an operator place a call or provide basic assistance, like adding contact information to the digital address book.
Purchased by tech retailer BestBuy in August 2018, GreatCall and Jitterbug continue to offer phones to users who seek a simplified cell phone experience.
The Smart2 cell phone uses the Android operating system, and functions like any other Android phone, with icons on the screen and apps for e-mail, web browsing, Facebook, and others. These features are packaged beneath a large-print, high-contrast menu structure that combines the power of a smartphone with a straightforward menu system prioritizing the most common tasks such as making a phone call, sending and receiving texts, and taking a picture.
Physically, the Smart2 is a large phone at 3 inches wide, nearly 6 inches tall, and .33 inches high. This format provides 5.5 inches of screen. The body of the phone is almost entirely made of black and gray plastic, and is manufactured by TCL, the same company that makes Alcatel and BlackBerry phones. Although it is a sizable phone, it fits comfortably in the hand and at 5.6 ounces, seems light for its size. It's not water resistant, and the plastic case may not be as durable as those of other smartphones on the market.
When facing the phone, there is a standard headphone jack on the top, a volume toggle and power button on the right side, and a USB port on the bottom for charging and file transfer. The USB port is the old standard, meaning there is only one way to plug in the cord. The newer USB-C port allows the cord to go in either way, would certainly have been a nice touch on this phone.
The battery is embedded in the phone so it's not possible to swap batteries at will; however, the "standby intelligent battery saver,” enables the battery to last several days by placing the phone in a virtual sleep mode when not in use. A SIM card slot and an SD card slot are both found beneath the back cover with the battery. Users can add up to 16G of memory to the on-board 16G in order to store photos.
The latest version of the Jitterbug Flip, like the Smart2 is manufactured by Alcatel. True to the original Jitterbug models, this phone maintains the easy-to-use clamshell design with large, high-contrast buttons, increased font sizes on the menus, and a substantial 3.2 inch, 480-by-320 color display when the phone is opened. The display is bright and offers good visibility, even outdoors. When the phone is closed, there is a second display on the front, nearly 1.5 inches square with the current time and notifications. The Flip is available in two colors, red or gray.
Overall, the phone measures 4.3 by 2.2 inches, and is .7 inches deep. A standard headphone input is on the left side, near the top, and below it, a USB port. Like the Smart2, this is the non-reversible micro USB, so the cord has to be oriented properly to fit in the port. On the right side, near the top, is a button to engage a bright, useful flashlight, and below this, the volume toggle. The keyboard is backlit, and each number has both a raised number and a raised rectangle around the key. Couple that with the backlit numbers on a black background with plenty of space between each key, and the keyboard is much more accessible than most other cell phones.
At the bottom of the keypad is a red 5Star button, which will contact a live operator if the user has enabled the add-on Health and Safety Package (starting at $19.99 per month). The Smart2 also has a 5Star button on all screens, including the initial lock screen. When enabled, the 5Star service connects users to a live operator 24/7 who will triage the call and contact emergency services, if needed. Operators have access to the user’s location through GPS. For users without the Health and Safety Package, pressing the 5Star button will result in a follow-up prompt requesting confirmation to call 9-1-1. Pressing the Yes button will confirm and place the call. Even without the 5Star service activated, this is a quick, simple step to get 911 assistance.
If you are one of those individuals who has been longing for the return of the printed User Guide, the Jitterbug may be just your product! The Smart2 was packaged with a 25-page Quick Start Guide, and a 121 page User Guide. The Flip also offers a generous 140 page User Guide, and a 14 page Quick Start Guide. Although both guides were printed with a legible sans serif font slightly larger than newsprint, many readers will be reaching for a magnifier to read these guides.
The Smart2 offers some additional documentation from the main menu. Selecting All Apps > Support from the Home screen, followed by View Learning Center, will bring up a wide range of topics about phone and app use.
The Flip does not offer a Learning Center, but the menu structure and navigation are quite easy to use, relying exclusively on Up and Down Arrow buttons and a Yes and No button to navigate menu items and return to the main menu. There are far fewer menu items available on the Flip, making documentation on the phone perhaps less essential.
Operator and Customer Support
GreatCall customer support had high and low points during the initial activation. The high points included fast connection during support hours to a live operator who was both courteous and easy to understand. Dialing 0 on the telephone keypad also connected me to an operator. My question about 5Star service resulted in a transfer to customer service.
My Smart2 activation required several calls to the customer service number at 800-820-3558. My first call was an early morning, Eastern Standard Time call that was answered by a recording that sounded as if it were left over from the holidays two months prior. The recording provided their business hours in Pacific Standard Time. Late that evening, and at least an hour before the stated time of support closure, my call again resulted in the cheerful, but dusty, holiday greeting. The following day, when I did reach a support person, she explained that business hours from the activation menu differed from those of regular customer service. This was not at all clear from the recorded message and detracted from the otherwise positive service I experienced from customer service reps during business hours.
Online activation is available using a computer for $25 or by phone with an operator for $35. I completed my Smart2 activation using the GreatCall website to save the $10. It required four calls to customer support to resolve error messages that came up during the phone’s initialization with the GreatCall network. For a time this took us out of the friendly, high-contrast Jitterbug setup prompts and into the world of Android command-line prompts in a much smaller font! These issues were ultimately resolved on the last call by getting prompted through a hard reset of the phone. This may be a rare experience, and the customer service rep was patient and helpful, but this process could be daunting for some users, including those new to cell phones.
Menu Navigation and Accessibility
Like its predecessors, the latest Jitterbug flip phone offers enlarged fonts and good contrast from five possible color settings. Visually, the text, menus, and keyboard on the Jitterbug Flip are perhaps the best available on a clamshell-style cell phone. Accessibility seems to end there, however, with the increased font size and added contrast. Although the Flip offers a Voice Dial menu item from the main menu, it does not offer additional screen reading accessibility.
When you select Voice Dial, you are prompted to say the name of the contact to call (from your address book). You are then asked to verify the name, and the call is placed once you've verified. Although the Jitterbug lacks the spoken menu features of some other flip phones, a phone call can be placed or received easily using the touchpad alone. Menu items such as the Phone Book, Call History, and the like will be inaccessible for text-to-speech users.
Out of the box, the Jitterbug Smart2 required activation using a printed serial number and several introductory screens, none of which offered the option of starting TalkBack, the screen reader that is built into Android smartphones. You can activate screen magnification, text-to-speech, and other accessibility options by selecting Phone Settings, from the Home menu, followed by Android Settings > Accessibility. Although the basic Jitterbug menus are not part of the standard Android operating system, Magnification, TalkBack, and Select to Speak all seemed to work well. An experienced Android TalkBack user may know to try pressing and holding two fingers to the screen to enable TalkBack during the Android system setup. That said, an experienced TalkBack user is probably not going to be the typical Jitterbug user, so setting up the phone, out of the box, as a screen reader user will probably require a sighted assistant.
Apps and Features
Perhaps the strongest selling point for the Jitterbug Flip is its simplicity and ease-of-use, so, not surprisingly, it offers limited and easily accessible features. From the main menu users may access Phone Book, Magnifier, Text Messages, Camera, Games, Settings, Phone Info, My Photos, and Voicemail.
Magnifier is a handy application that turns the camera into a portable electronic magnifier. It is certainly no replacement for a dedicated handheld video magnifier, but it will be effective for some users and may be a great tool to tackle the printed User Guide.
The Flip's Phone Book contains your contacts' names and phone numbers. Entries into the Phone Book may be made from your GreatCall account or by dialing 0 for the Personal Operator. The Personal Operator is available to any Jitterbug user, but unless you have the Ultimate Health and Safety Package ($34.99 monthly) you will be charged $.99 for each call and the calls will use your plan minutes. In addition to adding contacts into the phone book, the Personal Operator can also place calls, look up a number, transfer you to customer service, and other actions.
The Jitterbug Smart2 puts a user-friendly menu over the slightly more complicated Android operating system. The basic menus are text-based and use high-contrast, larger fonts. Some of the apps, like Text Messages seem to be built for the Jitterbug and incorporate higher contrast. Others, like Internet, take you to a standard Google app, such as Chrome or YouTube.
Most of the apps that are likely to be used frequently, like Phone, Camera, Text Messages, Internet, Email Messages, and Phone Settings, appear on the customizable Home screen. At the bottom of this screen is the menu item, View All Apps. When selected, View All Apps opens an alphabetical list of apps that can be scrolled through with a flick up or down. Ironically, the Smart2, with its superior camera, does not have something like the Flip's Magnifier app, although the Camera app with its built-in zoom might be used as an electronic magnifier in a pinch.
At the bottom of each screen, three buttons appear left to right, as constant menu items: Back, Home, and 5Star. Although my current Android phone has both Back and Home buttons at the bottom of each screen, they are small and not always visibly present. For new smartphone users, this consistency with screens and menu items on frequently used applications may make things easier.
Prices and Calling Plans
Where to begin? GreatCall offers a wide range of services aimed at seniors that go beyond voice minutes, texts, and data usage. GreatCall offers a range of service plans coupled with Health and Safety packages that range from $19.99-$34.99 per month. Customers may also select elements of these packaged services and add them to their basic cell service for costs ranging from nothing to $4.00 per month. Both the Flip and Smart2 require a one-time activation fee of $35 if done over the phone with an operator, or $25 if done from the GreatCall website.
The Jitterbug Flip sells for $74.99 from the GreatCall website. Service plans for talk and text start for as little as $14.99 per month for 200 minutes of talk time on the Flip. Selecting the Ultimate Health and Safety Package for $34.99 per month gives you a 50% discounted rate for the Unlimited Talk and Text Plan, which brings that charge down to $20 month. So for $54.99 per month, you can talk and text as much as you like and have unlimited access to the 5Star and Personal Operator services.
From the GreatCall website, the Jitterbug Smart2 retails for $112.49 (discounted from the regular price of $149.99). For as little as $15.49 per month, a Smart2 user can get 600 minutes of talk time, 300 texts, and 40 MB of data. Like the Flip services, adding the Ultimate Health and Safety Package reduces other service fees by 50%, so the monthly charge for Unlimited Talk, Text, and Data plus the Ultimate Health and Safety totals $74.99. As with the Flip, users may select from a combination of talk, text, and data plans and combine those plans with a Health and Safety Package or select individual services.
The Bottom Line
The Jitterbug Flip will appeal to the user with moderate vision loss, where high-contrast and a larger font size make the phone more accessible. But keep in mind that while the Jitterbug Flip’s basic calling functions may be performed non visually by learning the keyboard, texts, reviewing the call history, changing settings, and other functions will be difficult without access to a screen reader on the phone. Text-to-speech accessibility is certainly not new on flip phones and would be a great addition to the Flip.
Although the Flip has limited features, $54.99 per month for unlimited talk and text, plus 24/7 access to a live operator and the features of the Ultimate Health and Safety Package seems like a reasonable cost. Some of the accessibility features the phone lacks may be compensated for with access to a live operator to update the phone book, look up numbers and dial a call, if needed. In addition to the 5Star operators who can alert emergency services and locate the user by GPS, the Urgent Care feature provides access to certified medical professionals for health-related questions, assistance with prescription refills, and the like. In addition, a new partnership with Lyft transportation service permits users to request Lyft transportation by dialing the operator.
The Flip is an easy to use flip phone that may add an extra level of security to complement an independent lifestyle.
As an entry-level smartphone, the Smart2 offers users a more user-friendly version of an Android smartphone. The Smart2 packages all the expected smartphone features of email, web browsing, calendar, Google apps, and more, into a basic, large-display smartphone. It also includes the standard Android accessibility features of Screen Magnification, TalkBack, Select to Speak, and more, to make the phone useful for screen reader users and those requiring additional magnification and contrast.
Like the Flip, the Smart2 offers a la carte packages of services for health and independent living that may be added to the basic cell services of talk, text, and data. Because smartphones require the addition of data service to plans, it will cost as much as an additional $20/month for unlimited everything on the Smart2 versus the Flip.
As an entry level smartphone, the hardware for the Smart2 was less than impressive with its plastic case and sluggish processor speed. That said, its accessibility performance with TalkBack was superior to the entry-level ZTE used by some other cell phone companies.
Jitterbug has done a good job of improving menu design and increasing the ease-of-use for newcomers to the world of smartphones. There is certainly a growing demand for the competent delivery of the types of services available through the GreatCall Health and Safety Packages and for quick access to an Operator to assist with communications tasks when needed. Because of all the features a smartphone brings to the table and the learning curve that necessarily goes with it, it may be worth asking, before making a purchase, if web and email on the go are critical for you. If not, the simplicity, quick access to an Operator, and the independence-promoting service of the various Health and Safety Packages might be a better value on the Jitterbug Flip than the Smart2.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
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