AARP offers simple phones for seniors

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If you are more than 50 years old and a member of AARP, you may have noticed that AARP is offering cell phones at a discount. These phones (and the related cell service) are provided through Consumer Cellular -- a company whose product offering targets older Americans.

Key to Consumer Cellular and AARP's offering is a set of low-cost, no-contract service plans and an exclusive set of phones made by Doro, a Swedish cell phone manufacturer. The cell plans start with a $10 plan called Anywhere Casual, which is meant as a way for senior citizens to carry around a phone only for emergencies. Minutes cost about 25 cents each. (AARP members get a small discount.) If Mom or Dad actually plan to use the phones to connect in nonemergency situations, they can opt instead for a plan with 250 to 2,000 minutes from $19 a month to $60 a month -- again with no contract. Any of these plans use the AT&T network.

Although phones from Motorola and Nokia run on the network, the real benefit is an exclusive set of Doro phones. The Doro PhoneEasy 345 is a brick-type phone that costs $40 (plus activation fee). The Doro PhoneEasy 400 is a $50 flip phone. Both phones come in a white or black body with similar features that are specifically aimed at senior citizens who want ultrasimple phones that are easy to read and with tactile attributes made for people who don't quite have the same hand-eye coordination as younger adults and teenagers. Both phones have large buttons with big bright text on both the buttons and the screen, making them very easy to use.

My wife and I took the phones out for test drives for several weeks and found them to be excellent for basic calls, but not quite so if you want to use slightly more advanced features.

We both really like the bright display and big buttons as well as a lime green edge that makes it easy to find in the dark. (The white phone is a particular favorite for the same reason.) The PhoneEasy 410 also flips open easily with your thumb, using one hand. The utter simplicity of these functions, though, is what gets in the way of the more advanced functions.

Instead of the four-way rocker button to toggle through functions, the Doro phones have a two way toggle (up and down) to move through menus and icons. It's easy but lacks flexibility. If you've never used a cell phone before, you won't notice the inflexibility though. I was surprised that the phones allow you to do text messaging; but again, it seems to be optimized for the casual texter. It's tough to read through long text messages and scroll through long threads.

The call log is particularly inept. It shows one listing per person; you can't return a phone call directly from the call log; and it says how many calls have come in from each person, but not when.

The most important features for the target audience are there. You can set an emergency number and your favorite speed dials. It is hearing-aid compatible. And you can turn off call waiting, a particularly compelling feature for seniors, because they often have trouble hearing the tone anyway while on another call. For the more tech-savvy seniors, the phones offer an FM radio and the choice of connecting their headsets by wire connection or wirelessly by Bluetooth.

David Radin: .


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