Editor's note: The phone we used in this review was not a final product.
Given that cell phones exploded in popularity only in the last decade, there are quite a few people who have lived well into their adult lives without ever owning one. Since learning to use a new technology can be challenging for anyone, a few companies have introduced cell phones designed specifically for senior citizens. Instead of being jam-packed with unnecessary multimedia features, these senior-friendly models are all about communication. More importantly, they're designed to be as easy to use possible. We've already seen the Samsung Jitterbug from Great Call and Verizon Wireless' UTStarcom Coupe and now we consider the ClarityLife (not the best name, we know). Like its predecessors, the ClarityLife is a basic phone with a simple design, but it offers some unneeded features (text messaging, anyone?) and the menu system is more complicated than it should be. Call quality was decent, however, and we like that the GSM handset is sold unlocked. Clarity, the phone's manufacturer, says the ClarityLife will go on sale later this year. We don't have pricing information at the time of this writing, but you can check Clarity's Web site for the full scoop.
Just to be clear, the ClarityLife is meant to be big and bulky, so we're not going to knock it for being a brick of a phone. And what a brick it is. At 4.5 inches by 2.25 inches by 0.80 inche, the ClarityLife is bigger than the Jitterbug, and at 5.4 ounces, it's heavier than many smartphones. Indeed, this is a handset that's meant to be carried in a bag or an oversize pocket. But as we said, the phone's heft really is the whole point. The large display and the oversized buttons are designed for users with visual impairments, while anyone accustomed to using a standard landline phone should find the ClarityLife's size more than comfortable. To be perfectly honest, if the handset's bulk is a turn-off, you're not a ClarityLife customer in the first place.
Though this is Clarity's first cell phone, the company appears to be well aware of cell phone design trends. We expected the ClarityLife to have a candy bar design, but to our surprise, it's a slider phone. In the closed position, only the phone's display and navigation controls are visible. The display measures 2.75 inches, which allows for large, easy-to-read text. Though it has a monochrome resolution, we're not going to put up a fuss here. The yellow backlighting is extremely bright, and we like that you can change the backlighting time as well as the contrast.
The menu interface has its good and bad points. On the upside, the main menu screen consists of five choices arranged in a simple list. We also like that when you pause the cursor over a menu choice, you get a short explanation of what that particular feature is for (you can turn off the prompts if you prefer). Yet we didn't like how items were arranged in the submenus. For example, you can access the phone book settings under both the Settings and the Phone Book menus. That could be confusing for some users. Also, for some unexplained reason, the menu interface changes to a stripped down version when you close the phone. Though it puts the phone book and calling lists within easy reach, you can find only a limited amount of other information.
Below the display is the simple navigation array. There's a Talk and End key and two navigation controls for moving up and down through the menu list. When inside a menu, the Talk and End keys double as OK and Back controls, respectively. We're somewhat divided on this arrangement. Though we realize fewer keys in the navigation array is a good thing, the controls do involve a slight learning curve. Fortunately, onscreen text just above the Talk and End buttons will remind users which functions each control performs. On a similar note, though the keys are quite large, they have a cheap plastic feel.
To expose the keypad, just slide the ClarityLife's front face upward. Like on the Jitterbug, the oversized keys have large numbers and bright backlighting. Still, we were disappointed the buttons didn't have more definition. Like on most slider phones, they're almost completely flush, which made dialing by feel a bit difficult. Also, like the navigation buttons, the numeric keys felt a tad flimsy.
The ClarityLife's slider mechanism moves up and down easily, but it's a bit looser than we'd prefer. Also, because of the phone's size, it can be difficult to close the phone with one hand. Another design quirk is that phone's battery makes it rather bottom heavy, particularly when the ClarityLife is open.