The impact of smartphones on the world has been immense, changing how we shop, interact with each other, do business and even how we spend our time on the toilet. To many though, the sheer complexity of these devices -- I'm looking at you, Samsung Galaxy S5 -- is somewhat overwhelming.
To help the older generation get to grips with the smartphone world, Doro has launched the Liberto 820. Although the phone runs Android at its core, it's been heavily skinned, making it much more simple to navigate but still giving access to the hundreds of thousands of apps in the Play Store. The phone is also able to be remotely controlled by family members who'll be able to update settings and troubleshoot, without the need to give directions over the phone.
It sounds good, but at around £250 ($418, AU$448) SIM-free, it's not particularly cheap. Especially when you bear in mind that it'll be competing not with other senior-oriented smartphones, but with old handsets, handed down for free by kids or grandkids.
The phone is due to go on sale globally towards the end of September, although availability in specific regions -- or indeed more detailed pricing -- is yet to be announced.
The Liberto 820 runs on Android KitKat but you'd never know by looking, as Doro has completely skinned it in order to make it much more basic and easy to use. The multiple home screens are there, but they're now just grids of app icons. The icons are large and very easy to see so should be fine for anyone with poor eyesight.
The contacts, email and messaging apps have all been stripped down to the bare minimum too. The Web browser, for example, has two huge buttons at the top -- one's a star for favourites and the other for tabs. Simple.
Finding the settings menu is extremely easy too (something that's deceptively difficult on many top end phones), as is finding the Google Play Store, which just involves tapping on the "Add new applications" button on the top. Once you're in the Play store though, the interface is the same as on any phone -- it isn't particularly easy to use. To help with that though, friends or relatives are able to remotely access the Liberto from their own Android phone (using a Doro app) to perform a variety of tasks including sending apps to be installed.
The Liberto can be accessed by up to three people this way. With the app, they can see usage (if they're going over their allowances or if phone hasn't been used at all), change settings like volume and brightness (I've had to talk my gran through changing the brightness over the phone on more than one occasion, so this is very welcome), connect the phone to wireless networks, and send apps to be installed. In my hands-on time, it was very easy to change the brightness in the app on a demo Galaxy S3 and see, only seconds later, the Liberto's screen darken.
It sends the commands over the Internet, not Bluetooth, so you can manage a phone from the other side of the world if you want. It's also easy to revoke access or set relatives to "read only" -- stopping a mischievous teenager from fiddling with your settings, for example.
Although already far more basic than regular Android, the Liberto 820 does have an even more simplified home screen mode. With this mode enabled, you'll see home screens populated with only four massive app tiles, which can be easily populated by tapping on the icon and selecting an app to put there from the list that appears.
It's useful if you want to set it up to only show the phone dialler, messaging and contacts for a particularly technophobic relative -- although I'd argue that a basic feature phone would be more suitable in this situation.
Other features of the Liberto 820 include an 8-megapixel camera. It has a dedicated shutter button on the side so you can hold the phone and take pictures in exactly the same way you would with a regular camera (so no more "just tap the little camera picture on the screen....oh, oh no, that's the home button, start again") and it can launch the camera too by pressing and holding, which will be quicker than finding the camera app on screen.
I'll have to wait for the full review to see how the camera actually performs. There's a front-facing camera as well, which lets you video call over Skype or Google Hangouts -- or for your gran to send some amazing selfies from bridge club.
The phone has a quad-core processor, which should be more than enough for anything it's likely to be used for. In my hands-on time it was perfectly swift with no noticeable lag when swiping around the interface.
Although it has a relatively compact 4.5-inch display, the phone is rather more chunky than you might expect. The wide bezel around the display bulks it out, as do the physical menu, home and back keys on the bottom. The keys are large and easy to see and press however, which is important, so I can't complain too much about the space they take up.
The phone felt strong and durable in my hands-on time. I'm sure it can withstand a few knocks and bumps, as well as a few plummets to the carpet, although dropping it on concrete would, I'm sure, destroy it as it would any other phone.
At around £250 SIM-free, the Doro Liberto 820 isn't particularly cheap, especially when it's likely to be competing with hand-me-down smartphones for your gran's pocket space. Its super-simple interface and extremely helpful remote access make it a very sensible purchase for those who would struggle to get to grips with the complexity of regular Android phones, however.