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The 411: Do the Jitterbug

Every week, CNET editor Nicole Lee answers your questions about cell phones and their accessories.

Welcome to the 411, my new Q&A column answering all your questions about cell phones and cell phone accessories. I receive plenty of questions about these subjects via e-mail, so I figured many of you might have the same questions, too. At times, I might solicit answers from readers if I'm stumped. Send your questions and comments to me at nicole.lee@cnet.com. If you prefer to remain anonymous, let me know in the e-mail.

Samsung Jitterbug J was designed for seniors. Corinne Schulze/CNET

What is your opinion of the Jitterbug for seniors? My dad is 93, in good mental and physical shape and travels quite a bit. He wants a phone for emergencies, but I can't justify the cost of a two-year service contract, etc. for a carrier. I can't add a line to my phone since I have a phone issued by my company. Jitterbug seems to fit the bill, unless you have a better option than the $150 for the phone and $15 a month I'd pay with JB. -- Gregg, via e-mail.

The Jitterbug phones are usually our go-to suggestion for seniors, because that's who they were designed for. Indeed, the most recent Jitterbug J is one big handset, with big keys, a bright screen, an easy-to-use menu interface, and even a dial tone when you open it up to better simulate a land line phone. You also get a lot of operator services when you sign on to the Jitterbug/GreatCall carrier, but you should be aware of the additional costs associated with those. And as you've noticed, it does cost around $150 up front. However, the upside is that the Jitterbug requires no contract, and is available for the starting price of $15 a month (You can also carry over your minutes in case you don't use all of them in a month). You could go with a contract phone like the Pantech Breeze for AT&T (which we think is another senior-friendly handset), which is a lot cheaper at around $30, but that one requires a two-year contract for a lot more than $15 a month. So yes, I do think the Jitterbug J is the best bet for your father. But be careful! Check with Jitterbug to make sure it has service in the areas it doesn't cover the entire country.

I think I'm stuck. I've read so many reviews across tons of sites, and I don't know what to do. I honestly have to get rid of my current phone. I have the Samsung SPH-M520, and it was great, but not so much right now. As for a new phone, my decision is between the Palm Pre and the BlackBerry Tour for Sprint. People complain about the battery (on the Palm Pre), which is a serious issue. I've been to the store though, and really like this phone. I have yet to see a bad review for the Blackberry Tour. It almost seems as if nobody hates RIM. Kind of weird. But the Blackberry Tour doesn't have Wi-Fi, its menus are completely old and eye-fatiguing, and no one seems to know whether or not the BlackBerries actually have true threaded txt messaging. Another pro for the Tour is that fantastic keyboard, another great display, but no touch screen or world roaming features. I probably will not use this phone around the world, but this means that the phone has a SIM card which would allow me to buy unlocked phones later on that usually only work on GSM bands. Is that correct? Since they are both the same price, what do you think is the better decision? -- CNET reader, via e-mail.

Let me parse your question into a couple of sections. First let me address your concerns about the BlackBerry. As I understand it, Blackberries don't quite have "true threaded text messaging." While it is true that you can see a back-and-forth conversation between you and the other person on the BlackBerry messaging interface, it does not store the entire conversation in just one thread--all of that person's messages will still fill your message in-box, one by one. "True threaded text messaging" is one entire conversation stored under the message recipient's name, like how it appears on the Apple iPhone and in the Palm Treo, thus minimizing the load in your message in-box. I think of this as a rather minor point, but I understand if it matters to you. Also, you are correct that the BlackBerry Tour comes with a SIM card. However, it is only configured to work with certain carriers outside the U.S. Sprint does not have roaming agreements with AT&T and T-Mobile USA, so you won't be able to use that SIM card here.

Now, as to whether you should get the Palm Pre or BlackBerry Tour. It truly depends on whether you think the battery life of the Palm Pre is a big enough issue to stay away from it. I personally think there are ways to maximize the battery life of the Pre and that it's possible to get away with just daily charging. It also seems like you dislike the menu interface on the BlackBerry Tour, and that you won't be using its world roaming features as much. All that in mind, it seems as if the Palm Pre is the better phone for you.