When the Jitterbug first debuted several years ago, there weren't that many senior-friendly phones around to compete with it. Now it seems there is more than just a handful; we've seen the Doro PhoneEasy devices, the Clarity ClarityLife, and a couple of Pantech phones like the Breeze II and the Ease. As long as the phone is supereasy to use, with a bright display and simple controls, it can be considered a phone that's friendly for seniors.
Just 5 is yet another company making such handsets. We first noticed them at CTIA 2010, though they've been around for a while in Europe. Unlike some of the phones mentioned above, the Just 5 handset is available unlocked, so you can use it with any GSM carrier you want. For the U.S., that would be either T-Mobile or AT&T. The company's current model is the J509, which is as simple as a phone gets: there's no camera, no Bluetooth, and no music player. However, you can send and receive text messages, and there's even an FM radio. Though the J509 is certainly great for seniors, we think it would be good for kids or just anyone who wants a stripped-down basic phone. The Just5 J509 is available for $119.99, but that's without any contract.
The Just 5 J509 looks very much like a calculator at first glance, with its simple blocky design, small display, and big buttons. It measures 4 inches long by 1.9 inches wide by 0.8 inch thick, and it has straight sides with slightly curved corners. The back is also covered in a soft material that is pleasant to the touch. The overall design is minimalistic, yet playful, stylish, and functional. We're not surprised that the phone has won both an iF Product Design Award plus a Reddot design award.
The display, as we said, is quite small. It's around 1.8 inches diagonally, and it is monochrome with an orange backlight when not on standby. The default screen displays the time, date, signal strength, and remaining battery life. Though you can't adjust the font size, the text is very large already, so we don't think that's a problem. You can adjust the display contrast and choose either English or Spanish as the language.
Underneath the display are three large keys: the Send/OK key, an up-and-down toggle for navigation, and the End/Power key. To access the phone's menu, you press up. The menu consists of SMS, Call History, the PhoneBook, Settings, and that's it. You can then press the Send/OK key to select.
The number keys on the keypad are almost comically large, and reminds us a little of the toy phones that kids play with. The digits are nice and big as well, which is great for those with poor eyesight. The keys each have a slightly raised corner, which is great for dialing by feel, and they push down quite easily. If the phone is not on silent mode, it makes a very loud sound each time you press a button. If you want, you can also have the phone read out the numbers to you as you press them.
The three keys on the bottom (the asterisk, zero, and pound keys) have additional functions. The asterisk and pound keys can be mapped to speed dial numbers; just press and hold down those keys for it to activate. The zero key will toggle the speakerphone during a conversation.
Entering text for SMS messages requires you to enter in the letters one by one via the ABC input method. You can turn on predictive text, however, which will help for faster messaging. The message interface also has a few stock reply templates like "Please reply" and "I'm in a meeting."
On the left side of the phone are the volume rocker and FM radio toggle, on the top is a small LED bulb that acts as the flashlight, and on the right are the flash light toggle, and the keypad lock toggle. The charger jack and 3.5mm headset jack are on the bottom. On the back is an SOS button, which is created specifically for an emergency. When you press it, the phone will text and dial up to five preprogrammed numbers until one is answered. If you don't program the phone, it'll automatically dial 911. While dialing, the phone will emit a very loud alarm.
As you might expect, there isn't a whole lot in way of features for this phone. The J509 does have a few basics, like text messaging, a speakerphone, a calculator, and an alarm clock. The phone book only holds 100 contacts, with the rest relegated to the SIM card. You can only have one number per contact.
As for alerts and sounds, you can customize incoming call ringtones, the alarm tone, and the SMS tone. For the ringtones and alarm tones, you have up to six choices, and another six choices for the SMS tones. You can also change the number keypad tone (two choices plus a silent option), and the sound the phone makes when it powers on and off. There's a vibrate mode as well.
You can check voice mail from the Just5 phone, but that depends on the network you're on. For T-Mobile, just press and hold the 1 key. For AT&T, you need to dial a certain number (it's 213-300-1059 according to Just 5), and then add that to your phone book for easier accessibility.
Another nice feature is the FM radio. Just toggle it on, and you can use the up-and-down toggle to tune to the desired station. Unlike other cell phones, you don't need to plug in a headset for the FM radio to work; you can just play it over the phone's speaker if you want.
We tested the Just 5 J509 (GSM 850/1,900) in San Francisco using both T-Mobile and AT&T SIM cards. Calls made over AT&T sounded choppy and muffled with a lot of static and crackling, whereas T-Mobile calls sounded much better, so we went with T-Mobile for the most part. On T-Mobile, we heard our callers loud and clear with hardly any background noise, and callers said they heard us clearly.
The Just5 J509 has a rated battery life of 1.7 hours talk time and six days standby time. The J509 had a disappointing talk time of 2 hours and 4 minutes.