Jitterbug Smart2 – Review 2018

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Jitterbug Smart2 - Review 2018

The Jitterbug Smart2 pairs a great set of services for the elderly with disappointing hardware that can’t handle the load. The Smart2 costs only $149.99 with no contract, which is a very low price for a 5.5-inch smartphone with a custom interface, voice-over-LTE, and a 13-megapixel camera. Clearly, the company is trying to make sure its phone is affordable to low-income seniors. But it simply isn’t good at handling day-to-day tasks, like phone calls.

Service and Design

GreatCall is a senior-focused virtual carrier that runs on the Verizon network. Its basic service packages aren’t particularly cheap: unlimited talk and text with 100MB of data is $49.99 per month, although you can get less heavily laden packages for less.

The carrier becomes interesting when you add extra services. For $24.99 per month you get immediate, unlimited access to nurses and emergency responders over the phone, and the ability for distant family members to monitor your phone’s location and status using their own smartphones. For $34.99 you get the ability to dial ‘0’ and have a human operator help you with using your phone. Adding one of those packages gives you unlimited talk, text, and data for $40 on top.

The Smart2 is actually an Alcatel A30 Plus with custom GreatCall software on it. We reviewed the A30 Plus a while ago. The basic rundown: It’s a 5.98-by-3.03-0.33-inch, 5.57-ounce plastic phone with a 5.5-inch, 720p screen on the front. It has a 5-megapixel front camera and a 13-megapixel rear camera. There’s 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, of which 7.1GB is taken up by system files. The phone has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, an old micro USB charging jack, and a microSD card slot. Feel free to read our Alcatel A30 Plus review for more. It isn’t too inspiring.

Poor Performance

The Smart2 has a 1.5GHz Mediatek 6738 processor running a highly customized version of Android 7.0 Nougat. Unfortunately, performance is unacceptably slow. Geekbench results of 637 single-core and 1,717 multi-core are on par with other low-end Android phones, but the real problem seems to be that the hardware can’t handle what GreatCall wants to accomplish.

What GreatCall attempts to do is noble. The Smart2 has a very simplified interface, with messaging and camera options clear and prominent using words, not confusing icons. Fonts are very large and bold; options are always labeled with clear language. The touch keyboard is big and well spaced, and has a clearly marked option for voice dictation. For making calls, texting, and basic web surfing, this is a much simpler and cleaner interface than default Android or iOS.

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But it’s dog-slow. Screens take a noticeable amount of time to appear. Apps other than the core messaging and browser apps (most notably, Google Play Music) crashed a few times in testing. The deal breaker, though, comes if you try to download any apps that aren’t already on the phone. Trying to download and update apps, I saw the Google Play store stall, freeze, and white-screen several times, making it very difficult to use. Maybe the target market for this phone isn’t going to download any apps, but this also affected auto-updating the existing apps, which (along with the use of two-year-old Android 7) makes me concerned about security.

Phone call quality, and especially volume, is very important to seniors, and the Smart2 does not deliver. Phone call volume in the earpiece is 8db lower than an iPhone XS or a Samsung Galaxy S9 when measured in a test call with a decibel meter right against the earpiece, and speakerphone volume at six inches is 7db lower. That’s not acceptable—if nothing else, this phone should be loud. It supports voice-over-LTE with HD Voice on Verizon’s network, but not the latest EVS encoder, which brings higher voice quality.

Networking performance is also disappointing. The phone runs on Verizon’s network and has that carrier’s basic bands. But the phone kept dropping Wi-Fi on different 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks to the point where Wi-Fi, in general, seemed unreliable in testing.

Battery life isn’t great. We got 4 hours, 57 minutes of video streaming over LTE. Now admittedly, seniors probably won’t be streaming video, and this device has plenty of standby time on its 3,000mAh battery. But it still isn’t great.

The 13-megapixel and 5-megapixel cameras here are the same as on the original A30 Plus, which is to say, they are slow and not good. OK, sure, in good light, they’re fine. But low-light photos are dim and grainy, and the grindingly slow processor means that you have to “hold the phone still” (as the UI says) to get HDR shots. Easy HDR should be table stakes in 2018.

Comparisons and Conclusions

The Jitterbug Smart2’s failures are frustrating because the service package is compelling. Could elderly people use a simplified smartphone with built-in health contacts that can be monitored by family members? Heck yeah. Should it be this grindingly slow, too-quiet slab? No.

We will continue to recommend the Jitterbug Flip voice phone for people who like GreatCall’s service package: It’s loud, simple, and has the same health services and monitoring that this phone does, without the frustration. We gave the Flip four stars and this phone two stars even though they have many of the same services, because the Flip delivers, and the Smart2 does not.

Otherwise, think about getting a used Samsung Galaxy S7 and configuring it for your elderly relative. Here’s why: The S7 has an Easy Mode home screen option to simplify the Android interface. It has EVS for high-quality voice calls (on T-Mobile, at least) and an Increase Volume option in calling, to really boost volume. The camera is excellent, it’s available for every carrier, and there are a lot of used ones around. It’ll be a much less frustrating experience.

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