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Doro, a phone manufacturer that tailors its products to seniors, told me recently that designing a senior device isn't as easy as it looks. In addition to a strong call performance, the handset also has to be user-friendly both in its physical design and user interface.
But if its newest feature phone, the Doro PhoneEasy 618, is any indication, Doro is doing a great job at providing simple and comfortable devices for seniors.
Not only is PhoneEasy 618 equipped with many of the basics you'd expect from any phone, but it also has a handful of useful tools that allow you or your loved one access to important information and emergency services. Priced at $60, the device will be available online on December 10 and at select retail stores on January 2013.
A lot of thought goes into designing senior phones, and the Doro PhoneEasy 618 shines at being comfortable and easy to use. Its plastic build makes it light (4.05 ounces), without it feeling too fragile.
When closed, the device measures 4.02 inches tall and 2.09 inches wide. At nearly an inch thick (0.91 inch, to be exact), it will be a snug fit inside small front jean pockets. But its compact clamshell body will stow away easily in purses and back pockets.
On the left there are a Micro-USB port and a 2.5mm headset jack. To the right is a rubber volume rocker, with plus and minus icons to easily distinguish which button increases or decreases volume. At the bottom are two prongs for docking an optional charging cradle.
On the front of the handset is a 3.2-megapixel camera. To the right of the lens are a camera flash (that doubles as a flashlight) and an LED notification light. This flashes either red (when it's charging or when the battery is low) or green (whenever you get a new message or miss a call). There's also an external display that shows information like the time or the number of an incoming call.
The back houses a large emergency call button that you can program to call one number after you click it three times quickly. To the right is an audio speaker. The back plate is coated with a rubbery material, which provides a bit more resistance toward slick surfaces. To remove the plate, press on it and slide downward. Once off, you can access the phone's 900mAh battery, SIM card, and MicroSD card slot.
The closing mechanism for the PhoneEasy 618 is snappy and sturdy. It takes more than a light flick to whip it open or shut it closed. Once opened, you can see the 2.375-inch screen. Oddly, there's a thin black bezel around the display that thickens at the bottom. Because it's just blank space (and the Doro logo at the bottom), it would've been better to extend the entire scope of the screen to these edges. Above the display is an ear speaker.
All the buttons, including the alphanumeric keypad, are generously sized and have a grippy rubber texture. However, they're flush with the surface of the device, which makes them difficult to press sometimes. Above the number keys are four buttons for your top three contacts and text messaging. Above that row are the call and end-call buttons, with two navigational arrows nestled between. Three more buttons are above that for the left selection, camera, and right selection.
On all the buttons, you need to press the very center of the keys to get them to register. This isn't a problem since most of the keys can be covered by your whole finger -- except the call and end-call buttons. These two are the largest keys, and there were times when I'd press just a part of these keys and they wouldn't do anything. Only when I moved my finger to the very center did they work. Though it's not much of a bother, it's something to keep in mind.
Software features and OS
The handset includes 12 features in its menu, but instead of showing all or a group of items in one screen, you'll need to scroll through each option individually. The phone book holds up to 300 contacts. Each contact can have multiple numbers for mobile, work, and home, and you can assign gallery photos to them.
Other menu features include messages, a call log, a camera (more on that later), a photo gallery or image viewer, an alarm (which can only save one alarm time), and an organizer where you can access a calendar or a daily reminder feature that alerts you for important tasks. In addition there's a calculator, an FM radio, a flashlight, and an icon called ICE for in cases of emergency. Here you can store pertinent medical details like your birthdate, height, weight, insurance info, important contacts, your doctor's number, any listed conditions, allergies, medications, or vaccinations, and your blood type.
Lastly, there's settings, where you can turn on and off keypad sounds and ringtones, adjust display brightness, activate Bluetooth, set a password, and much more.
You can customize the home page with different wallpapers or you can choose from a photo in your gallery. The screen has designated icons for the current reception, data network, sound settings, and battery level. It also displays the date and time.
The interface is extremely user-friendly. Although it's a pain to scroll through every menu item, I know it's a matter of personal preference. Going through them one by one may be tedious, but it allows easy readability. Fonts and icons are large for those who have difficulty seeing, and I appreciate features like a flashlight and ICE. By themselves these may be small additions, but when considered as part of a whole, the phone is great for someone who wants something that's easy to use but appreciates everyday essentials that make life a bit easier.
As expected, the 3.2-megapixel camera has only a handful of features. It has a flash that can stay continuously on or adjust for red-eye reduction. It also has a 4x digital zoom and a brightness meter that you can adjust with the volume keys. Other settings (which are located in the Settings feature, not natively accessible in the camera app) include adjusting the shutter sound to low or high (though not off, unfortunately) and three photo sizes that range from 1 to 3-megapixels.
Photo quality was understandably mediocre, but passable. With ample, outdoor lighting, objects in general are captured clearly. However, there is a lot of digital noise, edges are blurry, dark hues are hard to distinguish, and bright lights are usually blown out. Photos taken indoors or with lower lighting fared worse, obviously, and any slight movement from your hand will translate to huge motion blurs in the photo.
I tested the tri-band (900/1800/1900) Doro PhoneEasy 618 at our San Francisco offices and call quality was perfectly adequate. There were a few times when voices sounded slightly scratchy, but my calls were never dropped, there was no extraneous buzzing or static, and volume levels were satisfactory. Likewise, I told my voice on the other side came off loud and with strong clarity.
Listen now: Doro PhoneEasy 618 call quality sample
The audio speaker was also great. Even on maximum volume, voices didn't sound tinny or harsh. Though it did sound a bit rough around the edges with scratchiness, it was never to the level that voices were inaudible or hard to understand.
The emergency call button also worked well. It was easy to set up and works whether or not the phone is closed or opened. Keep in mind, however, there is a delay of 10 seconds after you press the button three times to give you enough time to cancel your call. After that passes, it begins dialing the appropriate number.
During our battery tests for talk time, the device lasted 5.6 hours. Anecdotally, battery life was disappointing. A mere 30- to 40-minute call would drain about a fourth of the battery's reserves and charging the handset took a pretty long time. To get even half the battery life back would mean charging the phone for an hour or so. According to FCC radiation standards, it has a SAR rating of 0.62.
As phones become inundated with more high-tech specs like quad-cores and NFC chips, it's a challenge at times to find a device that does the basics and does them well.
The PhoneEasy 618 is one such handset that does just that. It's one of the cheapest phones on Consumer Cellular's network (currently, it's only surpassed by the Motorola WX416 at $35), and while it's stripped of many features you'd see in modern-day handsets, it excels with its call and audio quality. And when extras are thrown in, they are deliberate and pragmatic. Tools like a camera, a continuous flashlight, and a daily reminder module will not only help those who use this phone feel safe, but ultimately, self-sufficient as well.