Jitterbug Touch review

The Jitterbug Touch from GreatCall is an okay introduction to smartphones for seniors, but it isn't as simple as it should be.
Photo of Jitterbug Touch

Have you thought about getting a smartphone, but fear you won’t know how to use it? GreatCall has just the phone for you. Sort of. Known for simple feature phones like the Editors’ Choice-winning Jitterbug Plus, GreatCall is now offering the $149 Jitterbug Touch, a smartphone for seniors. The Jitterbug Touch is a keyboarded Android phone with a simplified user interface that makes it easier to understand for new users. Unfortunately, that new user interface is sometimes sloppy, and not everything is as simple as it should be. It’s also running on dated hardware that hasn’t aged gracefully. The Jitterbug Touch from GreatCall is an okay introduction to smartphones for seniors, but it isn’t as simple as it should be.

Design, Call Quality, and Data Plans
The Jitterbug Touch is actually the same phone as the Kyocera Milano  that we reviewed on Sprint over a year ago. Here it’s been rebranded and loaded with GreatCall’s simplified user interface.

As far as design goes, the Jitterbug Touch is identical to the Milano. It’s short and squat, at 4.13 by 2.4 by 0.67 inches (HWD), and a bit heavy at 5.57 ounces. The back panel is made of a matte gray soft-touch plastic and features the GreatCall name and logo in black beneath an imprinted Kyocera logo.

The display is a 3-inch, 320-by-240-pixel touch panel, which is really starting to look lackluster. I dinged the Milano for this a year ago, and it only looks worse now. Compared with the display on a standard feature phone it isn’t terrible, but this is about as low as you can go on a smartphone. The screen itself is too small, and the low resolution makes everything look fuzzy or jagged. It becomes a little easier to see when you crank up the brightness to the highest level, but the automatic setting is way too dark.

The Jitterbug Touch slides open to reveal a four-row QWERTY keyboard. It features keys that are well-sized, raised, and backlit. It’s easy to type on, though the phone itself is short, so there isn’t much room to stretch your thumbs out and really get going. Still, this phone will work just fine if you want to send text messages or emails.

There are four physical function keys below the display that work fine, though you can see the phone’s backlight through them, which is annoying. There’s a Power button and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack on top of the phone, a Volume rocker and power port on the left, and a Camera shutter button on the right.

GreatCall uses Verizon’s network. The Jitterbug Touch is a 3G device, but only hits EV-DO Rev. 0 speeds, which aren’t as fast as EV-DO Rev. A and nowhere near as fast as 4G LTE. I saw data speeds of just 0.1Mbps down and 0.3Mbps up on the Jitterbug Touch, which is slow, even for EV-DO Rev. 0. But GreatCall’s data plans are small, so this guarantees you won’t be able to fly through your monthly allotment. The Jitterbug Touch also has 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi.

Reception and voice quality are average. Voices sound somewhat scratchy and robotic in the phone’s earpiece, but are still easy to understand and plenty loud. Calls made with the phone sound a little muted and grainy, and noise cancellation is poor. Calls were fine through a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset, and standard Android voice dialing worked well. I had some trouble connecting to the headset, which I’ll explain further below. The phone is also hearing aid compatible with an M4/T4 rating. The speakerphone sounds good and is loud enough for outdoor use, and battery life was good at 9 hours and 57 minutes of talk time.

As for pricing, GreatCall’s pay-as-you-go service plans start at $14.99 per month for 50 minutes, up to $79.99 per month for unlimited minutes, text messages, operator assistance, and voicemail. Otherwise, text messages are 10 cents each and voicemail costs an extra $3 per month.

Since this is a smartphone, you’ll also want a data plan, which allows you to access the internet on the go. GreatCall’s “Get Started” plan gets you 10MB of data for $2.49 per month. That sounds like a bargain, but keep in mind that 10MB of data won’t go very far. You can use that up just by checking email. Calls do not consume data and you can always connect your phone to Wi-Fi, but if you plan to surf the Web on Verizon’s network, GreatCall offers data plans up to 500MB per month for $25. The phone comes with an app to track your data usage, and if you go over your montly limit, it costs 20 cents per 1MB.

Android, Simplified UI, and Apps
The Jitterbug Touch is running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread). Ordinarily, such an old version of Android would make me cringe, but it’s been Jitterbugged past the point of recognition. GreatCall has simplified the OS with a new interface that makes it fast and easy to access often-used features.

When you turn the phone on, you get two main tabs at the top of the screen: Apps and People. Each of these tabs, as well as the other menus, are laid out in scrolling lists with large fonts, which makes it easy to figure out everything your phone can do. Apps is a list of the applications you plan to use the most. It comes preloaded with Phone, Messaging, Camera, and Gallery, which, if you’re looking to keep things simple, are pretty much all you need. You can add and remove apps from this list as you please. The People tab, meanwhile, allows you to store your favorite contacts. There are also touch buttons on the bottom of the screen which open tabs for All Apps and GreatCall services.

(Next page: UI Issues, Hardware, Multimedia, and Conclusions)

Pressing the GreatCall button gets you access to Usage, Featured Apps, Help, and Contact. Usage shows the amount of minutes, texts, and data you’ve used, and how much remains on your account for the month. Contact will put you in touch with a customer care agent to assist with your account, or an operator to help you make a call. Help provides you with a detailed list of how to use your phone, and Featured Apps highlights GreatCall’s 5Star and MedCoach Android apps, as well as a few non-related apps, all of which are also available in the Google Play store. Since this is still an Android phone, you also get access to the Google Play store, which has over 600,000 apps. When you download an app, it will automatically appear the next time you open up the All Apps tab.

GreatCall’s 5Star Urgent Response can connect you immediately to a certified urgent response agent, allows for GPS tracking, and offers 24/7 access to unlimited health advice from live, registered nurses for $14.99 per month. MedCoach helps you stay on schedule with your medications and refills for $10 per month. It should be noted that these apps are also available on any Android or Apple phone, as well as on the Jitterbug Plus. Unlike the Jitterbug Plus, however, this phone is not capable of receiving over-the-air updates from GreatCall, so you cannot have an operator program it remotely for you.

Back to the phone: The All Apps tab is pretty self explanatory. There, you get a list of all of your phone’s apps and functions available, from calendars and Gmail to Google Maps and YouTube. You also get access to the standard Android settings app. The problem is, once you start navigating your way through menus that haven’t been given the GreatCall touch, things can start to get confusing. Not only that, but fonts get smaller, and you’re already working with a tiny screen as it is.

UI Issues
The UI has several other sloppy touches. When you turn it on, for instance, the first screen you see says Milano by Kyocera, not Jitterbug Touch. Also, when the phone first boots up, it shows the original Android lock screen rather than the modified version. If you sit back and wait, it’ll just switch over to the modified lock screen automatically, but this is needlessly confusing.

I also had some trouble pairing the phone with Bluetooth headsets. I had to put the headset in pairing mode, pair it with the phone, then put the headset back in pairing mode again and pair it a second time to get it to actually connect.

Then there are some choices that are just downright confusing. To add a new app to your primary Apps tab, select the app you want to move and hold it down, until it brings up a prompt that says Add to Favorites. To remove that app from your favorites you just do the same thing, right? Wrong. Instead, you need to press the physical Options key below the display, which brings up the option to add or remove favorited apps. To keep things simple, these processes should be streamlined across the board. Instead you need to figure it out anew each time.

I also have an issue with the notifications bar at the top of the screen. Yes, this is a very useful tool that comes standard on all Android phones. But again, text and images haven’t been resized, so it can be hard to read when you swipe it down. In general, I really like the modifications GreatCall has made here—I just wish there were more of them.

Hardware, Multimedia, and Conclusions
Powered by an 800MHz Qualcomm MSM7627T processor, the Jitterbug Touch is far behind the times as far as Android phones are concerned. Things can feel slow as you navigate your way around the phone, and apps take a little while to open.

The phone comes with 90MB of free internal storage and a microSD card slot buried underneath the battery. There’s a 2GB card preinstalled; our 64GB SanDisk card worked fine as well. For music, I was able to play AAC, MP3, OGG, and WAV files, but not FLAC or WMA. Sound quality was fine through a pair of wired headphones as well as Altec Lansing Backbeat Bluetooth headphones, though again, I had some trouble connecting to them at first. Standalone videos only play back in H.264 and MP4 file formats at resolutions up to 800-by-480 and look unimpressive on the phone’s tiny screen.

The 3.2-megapixel camera features auto-focus, but lacks an LED flash. It takes a while to capture a photo, at 1.3 seconds on average. Test photos are unimpressive, with average color, but soft, smudgy detail. The camera is also able to record 640-by-480 videos at a jerky 10 frames per second indoors, and 14 frames per second outside, though neither looks very good.

As far as simple phones go, our favorite is still the Jitterbug Plus, which is a straightforward flip phone with a good keypad, an easy-to-navigate interface, solid call quality, and good battery life. The Just5 J509 and Snapfon ez One-c are also good options, and are even more basic than the Jitterbug Plus, if you’re looking for Zen-like simplicity.

The Doro PhoneEasy 740 is another smartphone running a highly simplified version of Android, and looks to be even easier to use than the Jitterbug Touch. It’s still a slider, but it slides up vertically and has a physical number pad instead a keyboard. It does have some very cool features, though, like the ability to use its camera as a magnifying glass, wideband audio (“HD voice”), a very loud speaker, and a programmable panic button on the back. Better yet, it can be controlled through a PC-based interface that lets relatives set up and monitor the phone from afar, which provides a feeling of security for both the user and their loved ones. The only problem is we don’t know when it will be available. Doro phones have traditionally been sold through Consumer Cellular, but there’s no definitive word on the 740 yet.

But if you’re looking for a simple smartphone right now, your options are still pretty limited. Our choice would be the Pantech Flex on AT&T. It’s a regular Android smartphone, but it comes with a simplified Easy Experience mode that makes it a little easier to use. It’s not as foolproof as the Jitterbug Touch, but everything else about the phone—from its larger, sharper display to its much faster processor and better camera—make it a better overall experience than the Jitterbug Touch. If you buy the Jitterbug Touch, get it not for its hardware, but for GreatCall’s no-contract plans and assistance services.

More Cell Phone Reviews:

Service Provider GreatCall
Screen Details 320-by-240-pixel TFT LCD
Bands 800, 850, 1900
Physical Keyboard Yes
Operating System Android OS
Network CDMA
High-Speed Data EVDO Rev A, CDMA 1X
Form Factor Slider
Megapixels 3.2 MP
Bluetooth Yes
Camera Yes
Battery Life (As Tested) 9 hours 57 minutes
Camera Flash No
microSD Slot Yes
802.11x 802.11 b/g/n
Processor Speed 800 MHz
Screen Size 3 inches
CPU Qualcomm MSM7627T
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 90 MB

The Jitterbug Touch from GreatCall is an okay introduction to smartphones for seniors, but it isn't as simple as it should be.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc