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Review: Jitterbug Smart2 for GreatCall

Hardware Software Wrap-Up Comments  

Dec 20, 2018, 7:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   @zeman_e

The Jitterbug Smart2 for GreatCall may be an Android smartphone, but the interface has been simplified so your older relatives can handle it. It also gives the elderly access to select healthcare services directly from their phone. Can the Jitterbug Smart2 fill this vital role for your loved ones? Find out in Phone Scoop's in-depth report.

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Is It Your Type?

The Jitterbug Smart 2 is very specifically marketed towards older users. Apart from a simplified user interface, the appeal of this phone comes from access to GreatCall's health and emergency tools. If you need to get an aging parent or grandparent a phone, the Smart2 is a potential contender.

Body

The Jitterbug Smart2, made by TCL — the same company that makes Alcatel and BlackBerry phones — is a simple and straightforward device. It's a variant of the Alcatel A30 Plus. The phone has plain black and gray coloring and is made almost entirely of plastic. It's definitely boring, though jazzy styling isn't the point of a phone like this. The design is conservative, and that's fine.

The front is black glass, of course. A thin plastic rim runs along the edge of the glass. It's so thin I'm not sure it has any effect as far as protecting the screen is concerned. It's also fairly sharp-feeling against your skin. The glass is set into a gray plastic frame that could be mistaken for metal. It has a metal-esque sheen to it. The rear is formed by a large plastic shell. The panel has a gentle curve as it approaches the sides. It has a matte finish and the plastic has the slightest texture to it.

Smart2  

The Smart2 is a sizable phone. That means a big, easy-to-see screen, but I still have to wonder if the overall size could be off-putting to some potential owners. It's not much smaller than an iPhone XS Max, with a height of 6 inches and a width of 3 inches. It's not a chunky phone, but svelte it ain't. I didn't have any issues holding or using it comfortably, but those with petite hands might find it too much. One benefit of all the plastic: the phone is relatively light. I appreciate the fact that the Smart2 doesn't weigh a ton. It fits into most pockets just fine.

Build quality is relatively cheap, as expected for a phone in this price range. The glass face feels fine, as does the frame. I wish the rear panel didn't come across as quite so flimsy. It's not actually flimsy, it just feels it. The major body parts are all fitted together tightly. The phone isn't rugged, but the plastic build goes a long way in helping protect the device. It is not water-resistant.

The face is all black save for the metal-colored earpiece. The bezels surrounding the display are rather thick and the glass isn't protected by a fingerprint-resistant coating. It looks gross after using it for a while.

Controls along the side edges are typical. The screen lock button is on the right edge. I like the ridged texture, which makes it distinct from the smooth volume toggle. The lock button has good travel and feedback. I'm not the biggest fan of the volume toggle, which comes off a bit stiff.

A headphone jack is on top and the microUSB port is on the bottom. I understand that adding USB-C can add a tiny bit of cost, but in this case USB-C would be a much more logical choice for seniors, thanks to its reversible design that's easier to use. That's a missed opportunity.

The most standout feature on the phone's rear panel is the camera module. There's a two-tone flash just off to one side. The rest of the rear panel is plain black plastic.

Believe it or not, you can remove the rear cover. Once the cover is off, you have access to the SIM and memory card slots. The battery is embedded, however, so no swapping batteries for you. Putting the rear cover back on the phone requires some firm pressing along the outer edges.

Hand Fit  

The Jitterbug Smart2 doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is: a low-cost phone for those who prefer function over form.

Screen

The display measures 5.5 inches across the diagonal and has 720p HD resolution in the traditional old 16:9 aspect ratio. This means it looks like many phone screens did back in 2016. The 720p resolution is good enough for what the Smart2 offers. All the text on the screen is easily legible and the icons are sharp.

Brightness is the Smart2's real hero feature. The display is crazy bright, even when you set the brightness down. Surely this helps owners read what's on the screen with less difficulty. Not even direct sunlight can diminish the beacon of light this screen produces. Bright sun does illuminate the ample fingerprint grime the uncoated glass collects. Viewing angles are quite good.

There are no advanced settings for the screen.

Display Controls  

Signal

GreatCall is an MVNO that runs on Verizon's network in the U.S. To that end, the phone does really well.

Perhaps most importantly, the phone connected all calls on the first dial. Moreover, it kept those calls connected across miles of highway driving. For a device that's chief marketing point is safety, this type of reliability is key.

LTE data speeds are unsurprisingly pokey. This phone isn't meant for crazy amounts of media streaming. It can handle email syncing and web browsing just fine. Google Maps data takes longer to load than I like.

Sound

Call quality is a bit uneven. The earpiece does a fine job in the clarity department. Voices come through the speaker with pleasing tones and no distortion. The volume, however, is insufficient for anyone a little hard-of-hearing. Even set to the maximum, the Smart2 isn't loud enough for noisy spaces. People I spoke to through the Smart2 said I sounded very clear.

The speakerphone has the opposite performance. It's plenty loud, but the distortion is particularly annoying. I was able to hear calls in a moving car just fine, but understanding them was another story. The distortion overcomes about 25% of what you hear, leading to lots of dropped words. This should be better.

Calls and ringers are very loud, and the vibrate alert is strong enough.

Battery

GreatCall was smart to pick a 3,000mAh battery for the Smart2. I could not kill it entirely. It lasts and lasts and lasts and lasts, which is exactly what it should do. The battery had plenty of juice left after three days using the Jitterbug interface. The Smart2's battery gets the job done. There's a reason for this.

The Smart2 has an aggressive "standby intelligent battery saver" on board. It stamps out background processes and basically puts the phone into a sleep mode when not being used. It's effective at preserving battery life, but you lose some notifications. Moreover, apps won't be refreshed when you open them You can turn this off if you wish and use the more common Android battery saver tool if you prefer. Even with the intelligent battery saver off, the phone pushes through days of battery life.

There's no rapid charging and no wireless charging.

Battery  

Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi

The Smart2 supports Bluetooth 4.2. The software on the phone includes two avenues for connecting to other devices: the "normal" way for an Android device, and a simplified way via the GreatCall interface. I used the latter and didn't run into any issues connecting to standard accessories. Call quality was a bit rough through Bluetooth headphones, and my car via Bluetooth. Music sounded okay with Bluetooth headphones.

The GPS radio is fast and accurate, but Google Maps has a hard time keeping up when you're on the move.

NFC is not available on this phone.

I appreciated having WiFi, as it was much faster than LTE.

I'm surprised there's no FM radio.

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