The first Jitterbug phone was released almost three years ago, and since then, the name Jitterbug has become synonymous with senior-friendly phones. Indeed, that was the target demographic of GreatCall, the company behind the Jitterbug phone and service. The original phones were the Samsung Jitterbug Dial and the Samsung Jitterbug One Touch--both are large, easy-to-use phones with big buttons, which are great for the elderly or for those who like a really simple phone. The Dial had a regular number keypad, while the One Touch only had three buttons for emergency purposes. They both were designed to make and receive calls and little else.
Now, Jitterbug has released a new phone that is just as easy to use, but it has a few more features. Perhaps meant to entice more than just the elderly, Jitterbug calls the new Samsung Jitterbug J "the phone for everyone." The two most notable additions to the Jitterbug J are the capability to send and receive text messages, and Bluetooth support. Aside from that, it has pretty much the same features as the old Jitterbug phones.
The Jitterbug phone is tied to the Jitterbug service, which is a mobile virtual network operator that piggybacks on top of other carriers. The company has made deals with various major CDMA carriers as well as several regional providers to provide nationwide coverage. However, note that the Jitterbug service isn't available everywhere--you'll have to check to see if your area is covered. Therefore, when you buy the phone, you're also buying into the service-you can't just use a Sprint or Verizon account, for example. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, since part of the appeal of the Jitterbug is that you can get 24-hour operator services by dialing "0."
The Samsung Jitterbug J is not cheap though, as it is available for $147. There's also a one-time setup fee of $35, though this is waived for each additional user. However, there's no contract required. Rate plans start at $14.99 a month for 50 anytime minutes, all the way to $79.99 a month for 1,000 anytime minutes and 500 nights and weekend minutes. You can also choose the prepaid plan option for $0.05 to $0.35 per minute.
On the outside, the Samsung Jitterbug J is the spitting image of the Jitterbug Dial. It is a big, rounded clamshell like the original, measuring about 4 inches long by 2 inches wide by 1 inch thick and weighing at a rather hefty 4.4 ounces. It comes in both dark gray and white. On the front is a 1-inch monochrome external display that shows basic information like the time, date, and caller ID. Underneath the display is a rubberized volume rocker, which seems like an odd place for it since you have to reach behind the phone to adjust the volume. The phone feels very comfortable in the hand, and thanks to the soft rubber ear cushion surrounding the speaker, it feels comfortable when held against the ear as well. According to Jitterbug, the ear cushion is built to accommodate hearing aids too.
As with the original Jitterbug, the Jitterbug J has a dial tone when you open it. This definitely makes the Jitterbug J feel like a real landline telephone, which is a good thing for those who may not be familiar with cell phones. The main display is a nice and colorful 2.2-inch display with 65,000 colors. It's very bright and you're immediately greeted with a simple scrolling list of options that range from Voice Mail to Phone Book, along with your phone number at the top. You then select an option on the list by hitting either the Yes or No button in the navigation array. There's no crazy wallpaper to select or any fancy animated menu icons--the navigation is just as simple as can be. So simple that you can't even customize the display all that much--you can't change the brightness, the backlight time, or even the font size. Not that you'd want to change the font size anyway, the font size is already quite big. The fanciest thing you can do to customize the look of the display is to change the colors of the upper and lower border.
Underneath the display is where the easy-to-use aspects of the phone really shine through. There's a dedicated power toggle, a speakerphone key, a simple up-and-down toggle to scroll through lists, the Yes and No buttons, and of course the number keypad. The speakerphone key is a big improvement over the original, which didn't have one. We would've liked the power and speakerphone keys to be a little bigger, but all the other keys are huge and hard to miss. The number keypad in particular is the roomiest we've ever used--each key is a big circle with a raised border so it's very easy to dial by feel if you so choose.
Make no mistake, the Jitterbug J is as basic as most phones get. Still, it's just a tiny bit more advanced than the original Jitterbug Dial. Like the Dial, it will hold up to 50 numbers in its phonebook, and you can have up to 15 numbers preprogrammed by Jitterbug when you order the phone. You can even dial zero to ask the operator to do your contacts management for you after you receive the phone. Of course, you can also manually add and remove phone numbers via the phone itself. Alternately, you can mail or fax your phonebook changes, or edit them via the Jitterbug Web site. You can also give a friend or relative access to the list so they can help you with it. Note that you can only add one number per contact.
Other features include voice mail (which costs a premium of $3 a month), a speakerphone that you can activate prior to a call, the choice of seven ringtones, and voice dialing. The voice dialing works well, though note that it only works with contacts that are already in your phonebook--you have to say the person's name, which means you can't voice dial numbers directly. If you want, you can also dial zero for the operator to make calls for you. However, note that all operator-assisted calls will cost you a 5-minute deduction from your available minutes.
The two additional features of the Jitterbug J are that it also includes text messaging plus Bluetooth support. You can write, read, and delete messages via the text-messaging menu. However, note that you can only type out text messages in the ABC format, meaning you have to spell out the word with the number keypad--there's no T9 support for word auto completion. This can take a long time and be quite frustrating. Also note that each text message costs 10 cents to send and receive, and there doesn't appear to be any unlimited message plan option, which can get expensive after awhile. As for Bluetooth, you can pair, unpair, and toggle Bluetooth on and off. There's a handy help tutorial that walks you through the pairing process.
Other Jitterbug services include 24-hour roadside assistance that will help you with car trouble for $4 a month, handset-replacement insurance for $4 a month, and a 24-hour LiveNurse hotline to answer all your health care questions for $4 a month. As you can tell, adding all these premium services can add up to a pretty expensive monthly plan, so we advise you to exercise caution when setting up your Jitterbug service.
We tested the Samsung Jitterbug J in San Francisco using Jitterbug's service. We received a strong signal most of the time, though it did dip to "good" and "fair" signal strength occasionally (You find this out by selecting the Phone Info option in the menu). Call quality was very impressive overall. Callers could still tell we were on a cell phone, and voice quality wasn't as natural sounding as we would like, but the calls still came through loud and clear without any static. The same goes with the speakerphone; callers even said they could not tell the difference between speakerphone and non-speakerphone modes
On our end, we could hear our callers loud and clear as well. The only thing we wish was that there were more volume levels--the Jitterbug J only has three volume levels: low, medium, and high. While we found the high volume level to be loud enough normally, we wanted the volume level in the speakerphone mode to be just a bit louder. Overall, though, we could hear our callers without any problems.