capsule review

Jitterbug J (GreatCall)

At a Glance
  • Samsung Jitterbug J

    PCWorld Rating

    A simple cell phone for older adults or those who simply want to make calls and nothing else.

The Jitterbug J ($147, no contract; price as of 10/22/09), a clamshell CDMA cell phone manufactured by Samsung, is a study in simplicity. Like the original Jitterbug Dial of a few years back, the unit's keypad and menus couldn't be more straightforward. And if you don't want to deal with the phone's few settings and features, live help is a keystroke away.

And that's the point: The Jitterbug J is aimed at older users or anyone who wants to make phone calls--and nothing more. If you're seeking a business, entertainment, or social networking phone, the Jitterbug J would clearly not be your choice.

The Samsung phone (model SPH-a310) is packaged with only a battery and an AC charger; it doesn't need a data cable. The face of the phone has a 1.1-inch external screen that shows the time and date, notifications, and the Caller ID of incoming calls. The 2.5-inch internal color display is clear and very readable. A rubber-covered volume rocker switch sits next to the external display.

The 4-ounce phone uses the GreatCall, which operates on the Verizon Wireless network. I found the phone easy to use, thanks to its large keys and large screen fonts. Instead of using icons, the phone spells out notifications such as "You have a new voice message." Call quality was good, assisted by a large earpiece. At 2.2-by-3.9-by-1 inches, the phone is a little bulky, but fits comfortably into your palm.

It doesn't have many customization options or extra features. You get a small choice of ringtones and color themes, but no camera, media player, or GPS capability. Navigating the menus is a simple matter of scrolling up and down and pressing the "Yes" or "No" buttons.

The unit offers one familiar feature not usually found on cell phones: A dial tone. It kicks in as you open the phone or view a menu option like the phone book. It has no real effect on the call, however, and shuts off after about 30 seconds if you don't start dialing.

If you don't want to key names and numbers into the phone's 50-name phone book, you can log into your account at MyJitterbug.com and enter them in via your PC. You can also call a Jitterbug operator who will enter the names and numbers for you and download them into the phone. The operator can also look up numbers for you.

Many features that usually require customer configuration are done before you purchase the phone. For example, once your name is on the account, the voicemail system ($3 extra per month) uses it to announce your name to callers with a synthesized voice. A new option is Jitterbug LiveNurse ($4 monthly), which provides 24-hour access to a registered nurse who can answer basic medical questions and offer advice.

However, the phone can't do some simple functions, like copy numbers from the calling history into the phonebook. The Jitterbug J does provide Bluetooth support, making it possible to use wireless headsets and other external wireless devices.

Monthly plans run from $15 for 50 anytime minutes to $80 for 1000 anytime minutes plus 500 night/weekend minutes. Unused anytime minutes roll over for 60 days. The phone is available in graphite or white.

The Jitterbug J may not be a glitzy cell phone, but older audiences will appreciate its ease-of-use as well as extra features like LiveNurse.

--Ginny Mies

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    A simple cell phone for older adults or those who simply want to make calls and nothing else.

    Pros

    • Large keys and screen fonts
    • Excellent call quality

    Cons

    • No camera or media player
    • Somewhat bulky
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