In April, AccessWorld published A Review of the Jitterbug Flip and Smart2Accessible Cell Phones from GreatCall. That article prompted several emails from readers sharing experiences with Jitterbug that were less than positive.
One of these emails, written by Christine Pentland, was published in May’s Letters to the Editor, and outlined some of the challenges her father has experienced as a long-time Jitterbug Flip user.
Readers of the April article may recall that during my initial activation of a Jitterbug Smart2 (Jitterbug’s Android smartphone), several red flags appeared. Activation required numerous calls to customer service, and ultimately the phone required a “hard reset” with the prompting of one of the customer service agents, before activation could be completed. This was not a routine part of the Smart2 activation process, but a fix needed to get the phone to connect to the network. During this process, we were no longer in the world of Android magnification gestures and Talkback screen reading, we were in the world of command prompts requiring a magnification glass to see. It would not have been a positive experience for a user who was new to this technology, or who was expecting the support of a screen reader to complete the setup process.
To complete activation, several calls were made in February during hours when support was not open for activation. The message on the answering machine repeated upcoming “holiday hours” from 6 weeks prior.
Customer service sometimes required a bit of a wait, but the agents were, without exception, pleasant, easy to understand, and helpful. It did seem, at least during the process of activation, that agents requested I repeat procedures performed previously, and also sounded as if they were heavily referencing resource materials to answer questions and complete what was, eventually, a successful activation that resulted in a fully operational Jitterbug Smart2.
In her email, Ms. Pentland outlines several complaints she has with the Jitterbug Flip and GreatCall service her father uses:
- Inconsistent Voice Dial feature.
- Microphone periodically cutting out.
- Fluctuating sound quality.
- Acknowledgement by GreatCall customer service agents that “there is a glitch in the phone…a huge problem with most customers,” that continues on uncorrected.
To learn more about the Jitterbug Flip, I purchased one off-the-shelf at a local Rite-Aid, one of several retailers (also Best Buy, Staples, and Walmart) that stock the phone. Activating the Flip was simpler than the Smart2. On a Monday evening, I called the activation number listed on the Jitterbug packaging and had the option of holding for the next available agent or leaving a number for a call back. I left my number and was called within 10 minutes. I was later transferred to customer service to pay the $35 activation fee and was on hold for 25 minutes (there was no option offered to leave my number). Within 10 minutes we completed the activation information, and I was delighted to learn that because I had recently cancelled my Smart2 service and was reactivating a phone, there was no additional activation fee! Following the agent’s instructions, I powered off the phone, restarted it, and activation was complete.
Tackling items systematically from Ms. Pentland’s list, the first objective was to test out Voice Dial. Voice Dial is a feature that allows users to say the name of a contact listed in their Jitterbug Phone Book and have that number dialed automatically. I found no Voice Dial in settings or on the menu (it should be noted here that there is no on-board screen reader or self-voicing menus on the Flip).
To get assistance and check out another feature, dialing “0” resulted in an immediate response from a human operator who responded to my request for Voice Dial by connecting me to customer service, where I learned that dialing “0” costs $.99 each time, and that the Voice Dial feature is a free feature that must be sent to the phone from customer service in order for it to appear.
Within minutes, Voice Dial was installed on my Flip. When installed, instead of getting a dial tone when the phone cover is opened, an electronic voice says, “Say the name after the beep.” If the name is in the user’s phone book, the software confirms by asking, , “Did you say …?” If the user replies, “Yes,” the call is initiated without the need to dial a single number.
My experience over two weeks is that the Voice Dial prompt was about 95% accurate. If the voice prompt failed and a dial tone was initiated instead, closing and reopening the phone usually resulted in the Voice Dial prompt. When asked about this inconsistency, a customer service agent suggested that the phone needed to be powered completely off and turned back on at least once a week to maintain software consistency in software features such as Voice Dial. He noted by looking at my account the phone had been turned off and restarted three days prior.
As in my original review, interactions with customer service agents were positive and easy to understand, however, their knowledge regarding service features varied. For example, three GreatCall representatives were asked in three different calls how unlimited operator dialing might be secured for less than $.99 per use. The first reported it was available for $9.95/month. The second reported that no price break for operator assistance existed, although she thought that would be a great service package for GreatCall to offer. The third explained that based on what appears on the GreatCall website, unlimited operator assistance is available with the “Ultimate Health and Safety Package for $34.95/month." A fourth customer service agent clarified this further by explaining that if a customer has a verified visual impairment, unlimited access to the GreatCall personal operator was available at no cost without the need for the “Ultimate Health and Safety Package.” To receive unlimited access to the operator, at no cost, customers with a visual impairment must mail or fax a note from their doctor on the doctor’s letterhead. The phone number or account number needs to be in the letter. The letter may be faxed to: 858-724-2750, or mailed to:
Attn: Care Ops VID Phone number or Acct number PO Box 4428 Carlsbad, CA 92018
It should be noted here that the personal operator service is really a significant feature that GreatCall offers over other mobile services. This human operator can place a call, access the user’s phone book to add a contact or call a contact, look up a number, place a phone call, and more. While the Flip does not offer accessibility features beyond the larger print fonts on the phone and display and the Voice Dial feature, the Flip with unlimited access to the personal operator makes an easy-to-use, powerful communication tool.
Microphone and Sound Quality
I agree with Ms. Pentland that the sound quality of the Flip is less than satisfactory. The microphone consistently worked and, when asked, call recipients did not report poor sound quality from the microphone. Overall, the sound from the speaker was a bit tinny, and the external speaker is located on the back side of the phone so it would most likely be facing away from the caller. I found the sound quality useable, but would certainly understand a user with hearing loss having some trouble with it. The Flip is M4/T4 hearing aid compatible, however, and will connect to a headphone via jack or Bluetooth.
Complaints about the microphone and speakers were shared by several reviewers on both Amazon Reviews and Yelp Reviews. Overall, of the 1,436 total reviews of the Flip on Amazon, as of May 31, 2019, 864 were categorized as “positive,” and 572 categorized as “critical,” with an overall rating of 3.3 stars out of a possible 5.
A total of 33 critical reviews were posted on Amazon from April 1 through May 31, 2019. Eight of those reviews specifically mentioned problems with the microphone, four identified poor speaker quality, four indicated problems with service, and three identified other phone quality issues such as poor battery life. Several reviews indicated confusion or disappointment with the $35 activation fee, long wait times during activation and difficulty with activation.
On Yelp, 78 total reviews were recorded since 2009 for a total of 1.5 stars out of 5 stars. This current rating has declined slightly from a rating of 2 stars in 2015. Of the four critical Yelp reviews between April 1 and May 31, 2019, only one mentioned poor speaker quality. The other issues related to billing and activation, and some were later identified as resolved. It is worth noting that a number of the critical reviews on Yelp were responded to in writing by someone identified as “GreatCall Customer Service or Business Owner."
As for the last item listed in Ms. Pendtland’s email, that the GreatCall customer service agents, and presumably GreatCall, were aware of chronic hardware issues with the Flip and software glitches like the inconsistent Voice Dial feature, and that the company is slow to resolve them, she was not alone. Amazon reviewer Dee Ann Douglas reported in her review, “Call to Great Call resulted in customer service rep cavalierly stating they were aware of this software glitch that will be repaired sometime in May. My response was then it’s basically useless in its current state.”
AnAmazon reviewer with the screen name "lostlure again" reported, “Within the first few months the microphone failed. He could hear us but we couldn't hear him. Great Calls [sic] acknowledged this has been an issue and sent us a replacement phone. Three or so months later the exact same failure happened on the new phone. Great Calls [sic] says new software is coming out in a few months, but refuses to replace it again unless we bring it to one of their facilities for debugging.“
I reached out four times to GreatCall to follow-up with the reader response to the April article and ask about repetitive complaints for hardware and software issues. These attempts included an email to email@example.com, a contact form on the GreatCall website, a phone call and message left on the San Diego, California, corporate office, and another email message. GreatCall's response can be found at the bottom of this article.
The Bottom Line
The Jitterbug Flip phone is an Alcatel OneTouch beneath the Jitterbug and GreatCall logos. It is based on the same hardware as the Alcatel Go phone used by Sprint and T-Mobile. PC Magazine selected the Jitterbug Flip as an Editor’s Choice and gave it a four-star rating (out of five) as recently as the November 2018 issue.
Although the Jitterbug Flip pricing plans and features may seem a bit challenging to figure out at first glance because of the optional “Health and Safety Packages” that may be added to their Talk and Text rates. For example, the unlimited Talk and Text rate is $39.95/month, but unlimited talk and text with the Ultimate Health and Safety Package, which, among many other features, offers unlimited use of the personal operator, costs $54.95/month. Customers who are willing to provide a doctor’s proof of visual impairment, can access the personal operator for free. There is also a one-time activation fee of $35.
It seems clear from comments from readers and reviewers that there are some persistent hardware issues with the Jitterbug Flip phone and the absolute reliability of the Voice Dial feature. For some, this may be a deal breaker. Without question, the Jitterbug Flip remains one of the simplest mobile phones to use, which might be enough for some users to overlook other issues. Clearly, a microphone failure or continued degradation of a feature like Voice Dial, which some users need to rely on to initiate phone calls, are critical issues that customers may rightly expect to be corrected promptly. During my limited experience, I found the customer service reps to be better than most, and certainly comparable to what I’ve experienced with T-Mobile. The overall experience warranted a rating higher than Yelp’s—a solid 3 stars out of 5. If you are interested in purchasing a Flip, I would recommend buying the phone locally in case it needs to be returned or replaced,, completing the paperwork for no-cost access to the personal operator, adding the customer service number to your phone book, and being proactive about possible service issues. The Jitterbug Flip is not the phone for everyone looking for an easy-to-use cell phone, but it's definitely a solid option for some.
GreatCall understands the issues being brought up in Steve Kelly’s article, and we regret any inconvenience to the users. For the past few months, we have been collecting user feedback like these and have put in various improvements in the next software release. This software release will be available in the next few weeks and will be deployed over-the-air. If any users are having the issues mentioned in this article, we encourage them to call in, and our Care associates will prioritize the deployment of the software to their phone, as soon as it is available.
The GreatCall Team
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.