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One of the most overlooked demographics in the cell phone industry is that of our senior citizens. Most cell phones on the market these days are tiny and laden with complicated multimedia features, which may be difficult for the elderly to use. When asked about the right cell phone for the elderly, we usually recommend a phone with large, easy-to-read buttons, a display with large fonts, and one that is devoid of multimedia features, to keep things simple. Such phones can be hard to find, which is why we're glad to see a company like GreatCall take the lead in giving us cell phones like the Jitterbug Dial, which matches our description above. GreatCall is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) that works with Sprint, and specializes in phones and services for baby boomers to keep in touch with their parents. Combined with the GreatCall service, the Jitterbug Dial is perfect for seniors with basic telephone skills. It is available now for $147 each.
A far cry from most skinny cell phones, the Jitterbug Dial is big, measuring 4x2x1 inches and weighing 4.4 ounces, with a rounded and curved body. Styled in white with slight beige and gray accents, the Dial is not a looker by any means. On the front is a small 0.8-inch monochrome external screen that displays the time and date as well as caller ID. Below the screen is the volume rocker. When the phone is open, we found it a little awkward to change the volume since we had to reach behind the device to access the volume rocker. But that is a minor quibble. The phone feels comfortable in the hand, and even more comfortable when held against the ear, thanks to a soft rubber cushion surrounding the speaker. This cushion is built to accommodate hearing aids as well.
Open the phone and you'll notice the first thing that makes this phone so great for seniors: An actual dial tone. With this simple innovation, you immediately know that the phone is active and ready to go, similar to a landline phone. The 1.8-inch, 65,000-color display is bright, with large fonts immediately greeting you with a message asking whether you want to place a call. There is essentially no real menu to navigate -- all you have are simple Yes or No questions that will guide you on your Call History, Contacts list, and so forth. You can scroll through your Contacts or Call History, but that's about it.
The usability of the keypad is where this phone really shines. There is a dedicated On/Off button, as well as large Yes and No buttons, along with two simple arrow keys in the middle to scroll through lists. The number keys are similarly large and amazingly tactile, making it very easy to dial by feel if you so choose. Using this phone couldn't be easier.
Features of the phone are fairly basic, which is understandable considering its target demographic. The phone's contacts list holds up to 50 numbers, and you can even have up to 15 numbers pre-programmed by GreatCall when ordering the phone. You have a few ways to add or remove numbers from your contacts list -- you can either do it manually through the phone's simple interface, or you can dial zero for the operator to do it for you. Alternatively, you can mail or fax your desired changes to GreatCall. Another great option is to change your contacts list via the GreatCall Web site. You can arrange for your friends or relatives to have access to this list, so they can help edit your contacts list for you.
Other basic features include voicemail, voice dialing, a speakerphone, a battery management alert that tells you when the phone needs charging, and the ability to create lists. You can create and update the lists via operator or a secure Web page on GreatCall. Activating the speakerphone is a little tricky. You can only turn it on during a call, and you do so by increasing the volume repeatedly until it turns into Speakerphone mode. We also found that voice dialing sometimes takes a few tries before it understands what you're saying. However, GreatCall provides operator services to hold your hand at every step of the way in case you have any questions -- you can even make calls through the operator for an additional fee.
We tested the tri-mode Jitterbug Dial (850/1900 CDMA; AMPS) in San Francisco using GreatCall's network. Call quality was excellent, and callers could not tell we were on a cell phone. The speakerphone was very loud, and since we could not change its volume, it was sometimes a little too loud for us.
The Jitterbug Dial has a rated talk time of 3 hours and a rated standby time of 8.3 days. According to FCC radiation tests, it has an SAR rating of 0.5 watts per kilogram.