Extra-large, 6.2-inch display. Long battery life. Loud speaker. Simple voice controls. Video chat. Streamlined menu. Urgent care button notifies a doctor or nurse. Inexpensive data plan.
No way to block spam numbers or texts.
Especially affordable. Large buttons and display. Amazon Alexa voice controls. Extra-long battery life. Loud speaker. Convenient reading magnifier. Streamlined menus. Available in red and graphite.
Users cannot rearrange apps on its menu.
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The increasing complexity of smartphones is not to everyone’s taste. Functionality can be confusing, and even the largest screens can be difficult to read when overloaded with apps. Many people are attracted by the simplicity and straightforward nature of jitterbug phones — and not only the seniors they were originally designed for.
There are lots of choices, and many of these devices are very affordable. However, the vast range of models and the associated health and safety services can provide their own challenges.
We’ve made a few recommendations that highlight the variety available, which could be the solution you seek.
The concept behind the jitterbug phone is to provide a device that’s easy to operate for those who have reduced mobility, vision and/or hearing. Many of the phones also have built-in health and safety features, too.
The Jitterbug brand name belongs to GreatCall, a health technology company out of California that many see as the market leader. However, other smartphones for seniors have also come onto the market, and the term “jitterbug” is often associated with them, too. (For the purposes of this review, when we’re talking about GreatCall devices, we’ll use a capital "J," and for similar phones from different makers, we’ll use a lowercase "j" for jitterbug.)
There are two main choices here: traditional buttons and touchscreen. Voice activation is also available.
Buttons: Some prefer a keypad, and several jitterbug phones have big, clear buttons with embossed numbers that are easy to identify and press. The solid feel is reassuring. The drawback is that you lose somewhere between 33% and 50% of the available screen. If all you’re looking for is a device to make phone calls, these phones are an effective and generally affordable option. If you want to take photos or access a greater range of services, this type of phone can be too restricting.
Touchscreen: These phones don’t necessarily have to be cluttered with dozens of apps. Many popular jitterbug phones may not have buttons, but the display offers terrific clarity and a simple list of functions in large, plain font that’s still easy to read.
Voice: Many smartphones don’t just operate via physical contact. Voice interaction is a possibility, and several of these phones use Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or similar technology for spoken commands or composing and sending texts. Almost all jitterbug phones are hearing aid compatible (HAC) and offer volume controls suitable for people with hearing loss.
Answering: Check how easy it is to answer. Is it by pressing a button, pressing the side of the phone or swiping across a screen? If it’s a flip phone, does it need to be opened? Some can be answered without opening.
Size: Most jitterbug phones are a size that makes them easy to hold, but there is some variation. While a flip phone may be compact and convenient for carrying in a pocket or purse, if the person using the phone has limited dexterity, it might not be appropriate.
Durability: It’s also worth thinking about how robust the phone is. Physical limitations can mean that dropping happens more often, so a phone’s ability to withstand being dropped is another consideration.
Flip phones remain popular because of their compact size, and there are jitterbug versions available. While generally easy to use, you might want to consider whether the user has the physical capability to open one.
Internet: While service providers offer coverage that reaches most of the country, not all jitterbug phones provide internet access. Some, like the low-cost Jitterbug Flip, rely entirely on telephone networks. That has actually made many of these devices popular with younger users who are trying to disconnect from what they perceive as increasingly invasive technology.
Health and safety feature: While these are a major benefit for some, you don’t have to subscribe to them if you don’t want to.
Bluetooth: This is usually available for downloading photos to a tablet or laptop.
Camera: Basic models start at 2 megapixels, which is fine for snapshots. High-end models offer 12-megapixel cameras and all manner of photographic enhancements.
Video: Video recording and video chats are other possibilities. While some seniors might have limited mobility, other senses can remain active. Anything that provides stimulation is usually considered beneficial.
Radio: Some basic jitterbug phones have built-in FM radio and can usually take headphones via a jack plug. Of course, music access isn’t a problem if the phone can connect to the internet.
Apps: If you’re considering a full-on smartphone and a bunch of apps, then memory is a major factor. For security reasons, most apps now only use the phone’s internal memory and cannot be added on later.
Battery life and charging are also worth investigating. It seems the smarter the phone, the more frequently it needs recharging, and some apps are hungrier than others. A charging cradle or wireless charging is a good idea for anyone who would struggle with cables and small connectors.
There is a lot of variety in the price structures used for jitterbug phones.
If you’re just looking at the cost of the handset, a cheap jitterbug phone can cost anywhere from $40 to $80, while more expensive models cost close to $1,000.
However, no matter what jitterbug phone you choose, the handset is only part of the total cost. Much depends on your network provider and associated services. You can often finance the cost of the handset over a number of months. Some companies also discount the handset in order to get your phone subscription. Some offer great deals if you sign a longer contract, though we’d advise caution with those.
It’s important to spend time examining your options. If it’s not clear what costs are involved, consult the manufacturer or carrier. If you’re not getting the help you need, move on until you get the right answers.
Senior care aspects are arguably among its biggest attractions, but what can you expect? The following are typical of what’s currently available in terms of health and safety, but you may not find them all from a single service.
A. It depends on the brand. Some are locked to a single provider, though they usually have a range of plans so you can find something suitable in terms of cost and service. Some work on a variety of networks and technically are unlocked, but that doesn’t mean a particular carrier will necessarily provide service for them. This often changes, so you’ll need to investigate what’s possible at the time when you buy your phone. You can usually keep your existing number, even if you change the carrier.
A. You need to look at a particular phone’s specifications. There’s an international ingress protection (IP) rating standard that indicates just how well a particular phone resists dirt and water. If it doesn’t have an IP rating, it might be waterproof, but you’ve only got the maker’s word for it.
A. If we’re talking about Jitterbug phones from GreatCall, then there are no discounts on equipment or plans. However, the AARP does assist with the apps offered with those services that are specifically designed for seniors' health and safety. Some manufacturers of similar devices and other service providers do offer AARP member discounts, but these vary, so you’ll need to check at the time of purchase.
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