There’s probably no sector of the high tech industry more competitive than cell phones. Nokia, which used to dominate the business, is now circling the drain – and we may hear the final gurgle any day now.

An iPhone costs $200-$300 and yet the whole world wants one. A friend of ours just got one, and she only does calls, text messages and photos. What about all those other features? She wouldn’t know an app from an apple, and doesn’t care. So why is she paying $80 a month? Because it’s an iPhone.

The new $99 Samsung “Jitterbug Plus” does everything she does with her phone but for $25 a month, which includes unlimited photos in or out. Of course it is designed for, and marketed to, the senior citizen set. For that very reason, she would never get one. (She’s in the senior citizen set, but she’s also in denial.)

Jitterbug Plus has big buttons, a 25-day battery life, and a friendly old-fashioned operator who answers with: “Hello, am I speaking with Mr. or Mrs. Schwabach?”  when we push the “O” button. You don’t have to be from an older generation to like that. And is it ever useful.  For instance, we were at the San DiegoAirportand it was raining like a dress rehearsal for The Great Flood. We couldn’t figure out how to return our rental car to the Enterprise lot, which was off campus, so to speak.

We dialed “O.” Can you tell us how to get there, we ask the friendly operator. No problem, she says, and gives us directions and asks if we’d like to call them as well. What a service! We have used it several desperate times. No extra charge.

If we were ailing, an extra charge of $4 a month would have us transferred us to a registered nurse, who would listen to our symptoms, offer an opinion and suggest whether we should seek out a doctor right away. For $15 a month you can get the “5 Star Urgent Response” service with a 24-hour team that has your medical information. They can locate you via GPS and assess the danger of your situation, contacting family and emergency services if needed. “Medication Reminders” tell you when to take your pills.

That about wraps it up. We can go on and on about battery life, screen size, camera resolution (1.3 megapixel), etc., but we took a “no-boredom” pledge back in college. But okay, one “this will burn your cork item” is that it costs 25 cents to send or receive a picture. Now a whole bunch of people with regular cell phones are going to say: “It doesn’t cost me anything to send or receive a picture.”  Well, yeah, but you’re paying $80 a month, minimum, and the Jitterbug minimum is $15 a month, and get this: no contract or cancelation fees! Ever try to get out of a Verizon or AT&T contract? If you’re really a photo nut, for $10 a month you can send and receive an unlimited number of pictures on the Jitterbug.

At this point in the proceedings, we lean back and reflect: Whenever we’ve written about the Jitterbug, readers tell us they got a $10 TracFone at the drugstore with $10 a month service. We have one ourselves. Works okay, but when we’re in California, it gets no service. We have to guess this could happen in other parts of the country as well.  Fortunately, the Jitterbug service has worked everywhere we’ve gone.

The bottom line? Get a Jitterbug for the extra service and big buttons. Or if you only need the “LiveNurse” app, it just became available for the iPhone with a 30-day free trial of the $4 a month service.


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