At Home Everyday Gear

A Simple Cell Phone

Image of a Jitterbug PhoneAfter one of my dad’s early back surgeries, part of his rehabilitation program was to walk in the neighborhood. Because he was prone to falling, and under doctor’s orders not to get up on his own if he took a tumble, we got him a cell phone to take on his meanderings. He carried it around for a while after I left the west coast, and then turned it back in. He just didn’t get the concept, and thought the phone was a pain to use. The keys were too small and unreadable; the icons impossible to interpret; it did so many distracting things that he could hardly figure out how to dial 911.

It was a pain to use; cell phones generally are unless you were born with one in your hands. If you don’t see particularly well, if you have stiff fingers, if you grew up believing that a phone’s purpose in life is to let you speak briefly to another person, or to summon help in an emergency, adapting to a cell phone bloated with features you actively don’t want can be a curse.

Enter Jitterbug. It’s simplicity in a cell phone. Large keys, no icons, an easy-to-read screen, and actual “yes” and “no” buttons to use when responding to the few options available. It’s flip-phone style, but with a padded earpiece optimized for hearing aids, and to filter out external noise. And it’s bigger than standard flip phones — when opened, in some photos it looks as large as a standard handset. That’s a big (no pun intended) advantage for people who have trouble holding onto typical cell phones.

Image of Two Jitterbug Cell PhonesThere are two versions — one with a regular keypad, for standard dialing, and one with just three main keys, for three pre-programmed numbers: one to call the Jitterbug operator; another to call a number of your choice; and the third to call 911. Populating either phone with the number(s) of your choice is about as simple as it can be: either connect the phone to a computer and edit the list, or call a Jitterbug operator and he or she will do it for you.

The phone allows voice-activated dialing — a real plus, in theory, but working with a voice recognition system can be difficult, and this feature may not be useful for everyone.

So what’s not to like? Well, the phone is $147 (USD), a pretty standard price for a full-featured mobile phone — not a great price, but maybe not really out of line. But I’m not very happy with the cost of the service plans. The “Simple SOS” service, at $10 (USD) a month, lets you call 911 at no cost, but any additional minutes cost a ridiculous 35 cents (USD) a minute.

The “Simple 30” plan is theoretically for quick daily ‘check-in’ calls, but at one minute a day, that’s one fast check-in, and this plan won’t even get you through a 31 day month. All calls cost at least a minute, regardless of length of the call, so there’s no way to conserve here. The Jitterbug user pays for all calls either placed or received.

For someone not familiar with the intricacies of cell phone billing, this could be financially disastrous. Someone who understands the 35 cent a minute cost, but who has been frugal for a lifetime, may not be willing to use the phone at all, for fear of running up the charges.

Actual cost of the services is substantially higher, of course, once you add in taxes, fees, assessments, etc., that are tacked onto communications bills by various governmental entities.

There are other plans with more minutes, but they’re no bargain either. Calling the Jitterbug operator will cost you a whopping 5 minutes PLUS the length of the call — quite costly for those who need that assistance. This isn’t a consumer-friendly industry, and Jitterbug, while adding ‘disability’ ‘boomer’ and ‘senior’ into the service mix, hasn’t made it any friendlier by charging these rates.

The website gets huge kudos for clarity — you do have to read carefully, but everything is spelled out, the information’s easy to find, and you can access the whole service agreement in a quite readable .pdf document — that’s something you won’t find at your local phone company store.

Further details on the Jitterbug website.