“Wow, that’s different!” was our first reaction to GreatCall, a San Diego-based medical alert company. We review lots of medical alert brands, and most look similar at first glance. Well, GreatCall is different because their portable buttons are stylish, and they also sell phones! GreatCall Jitterbug phones look like standard mobile phones but are especially senior-friendly. For instance, they show text in large print, and each device has a dedicated button for emergency help. Also, if you sync a GreatCall Lively button, your phone can automatically call for help if you fall.
GreatCall has options for regular Androids and iPhones, too. Service costs slightly less than mainstream cell phone plans, so GreatCall might be useful for all age ranges in the senior set. But there were a few things we didn’t love about our experience. For starters, our exact monthly rate wasn’t clear right away, and the Jitterbug phones aren’t water-safe like many of the alert systems we test. Read on for our latest in-depth review!
In 2005, Arlene Harris founded GreatCall with her husband Martin Cooper. By 2007, she was the first woman inducted into the Wireless Hall of Fame.1 What happened in the meantime? Jitterbug! GreatCall’s Jitterbug phones hit the market in 2006, and they show off Harris’s invention: a mobile alert technology called SOS.
Today SOS is common across the cell phone industry. It lets us quickly call for help and share location data. Still, GreatCall is unique for their special collection of services. In 2009, GreatCall introduced Urgent Care, an award-winning service that lets subscribers talk directly to a doctor or nurse anytime.2 In 2011, they launched 5Star for urgent help and MedCoach for medication reminders by text.
Did You Know: GreatCall founder Arlene Harris revolutionized pager systems in the 1970s, and her husband Martin Cooper is known as the “father of the cell phone.”
We found registration to be fairly easy at GreatCall’s website. We could choose from two phones and two medical alert buttons. Comparing them didn’t take long, as GreatCall lets you see their products side by side.
Then, we chose a month-to-month monitoring plan (which we’ll discuss in just a bit). When we clicked a feature, details popped up on the same screen, which we thought was a nice touch. Finally, we liked how checkout was secure and encrypted by Norton, not to mention shipping was free, with delivery expected in three to seven days (a little slow in our opinion). Note, you can pay $20 for next-day service.
FYI: Payment for equipment is separate from monthly service plans. However, we found the total cost of GreatCall to be cheaper than what we’re used to seeing in the industry.
Setting up our GreatCall phone was easy. The Smart2 arrived with enough juice to start right away. When we pushed Power, the phone’s foolproof Setup Wizard came to life. The font was easy to read, so there’s no need to hold the phone at arm’s length! We chose “Get a fresh start,” and the setup process was painless from there. It took under 10 minutes from start to finish.
For some seniors, a caregiver should set up the phone. But we think most seniors won’t have any problems getting started. Also, a senior or caregiver can personalize the device by installing a home screen picture, setting a custom ringtone, and customizing the phone after the wizard closes.
As for setting up other GreatCall devices, that’s even easier. The Lively Mobile Plus button arrives ready to go. Just hit Power, and soon the device will receive a test call. Installing the Lively Wearable 2 just involves downloading a GreatCall app to your phone, then pairing the button over Bluetooth.
Did You Know: With GreatCall, you can enhance your current iPhone or Android phone* with fall detection. This function works by pairing the phone with a GreatCall Lively pendant. *iOS version 11.0 or later and Android 8.0 or later.*
In our experience, using Jitterbug Smart2 is easy. It’s just like using any other smartphone, plus there’s the 5Star emergency call button at the bottom of the screen. If you choose Jitterbug Flip instead, your phone will feature oversized keys and a round red button for emergency help. The list-style menu on the Jitterbug Flip makes it especially easy to access the camera and other features.
As for the Lively buttons, these gadgets are also simple to use. In case of an emergency, just press a button! A button may also automatically call for help if you choose fall detection.
As far as mobile phones go, GreatCall’s Smart2 is pretty convenient to carry around. At 6″x3″ though, we thought it was a bit large for jacket pockets (one of our biggest gripes with GreatCall), so we see the appeal of the Jitterbug Flip in comparison, as it’s only about 4″ when folded.
As for the Lively medical alert buttons, we think these are attractive alternatives to what some other companies offer. Lively Wearable 2 doubles as a step counter, and it looks like pedometers from mass-market fitness brands. Also, we think Lively Mobile Plus is pretty sharp, too. It’s charcoal grey, and it can clip to your pocket. In fact, it reminded us of the pagers we used in the age before cell phones… are we wearing a medical alert device, or are we expecting an important call? Intriguing!
GreatCall’s 24-7 emergency monitoring service is called 5Star. It’s included with all three monthly plans: Basic, Preferred, and Ultimate.
Pro Tip: GreatCall uses the Verizon network. Before you add 5Star, Urgent Care, or other special services, rates start at $14.99 per month with Jitterbug Flip or a Lively mobile button, and $17.48 per month with the Smart2.
We can reach 5Star by hitting a dedicated button, and it’s OK if we call by accident. Canceling is easy. GreatCall responded to our test calls in about 10 seconds. Generally, GreatCall’s SOS service is quicker than what you get with medical alert buttons from other brands. When we test competitors, we often wait 20 seconds or longer.
It’s important to note that in serious emergencies, 911 should be your first call. GreatCall explains that in case of critical incidents (fire, heart attack, home intrusion, etc.), users should call 911 instead of hitting the 5Star button. Meanwhile, GreatCall will automatically get notified if you call 911 from one of their phones. After a 911 call is complete, a 5Star operator can call you to see if you need additional help. Note that 5Star agents are certified by IAED, the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch. They can guide callers through CPR and other emergency procedures.
Did You Know: With 5Star it’s OK to call for non-emergencies. For example, you can call if you feel nervous walking to your car at night. An operator will stay on the line until you feel safe.
We were able to reach GreatCall customer service by phone or by filling out a form online to request a callback. The hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST from Monday to Friday. We’d like to see some weekend hours, too. Our wait was just four minutes, and GetHuman.com reports that two minutes is the average wait time with GreatCall.5 Emergency service, of course, is a 24-7 feature and gets an immediate response.
Also related to customer service, we like how the company has proactively placed safety and customer service first. Specifically, when GreatCall discovers that a button might come loose, they provide customers with product replacements and other compensation, including cash. Also, GreatCall has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, where they’ve been registered since 2006.6 Finally, GreatCall posts product manuals and answers to FAQs on their website.
Pro Tip: If you aren’t happy with your GreatCall equipment, you can return it within 30 days for a refund. Customers only need to pay return shipping.
Now, let’s look at the goods! GreatCall has two phones, one wearable button or pendant, and one clip-on alert button.
Jitterbug Flip is a pocket-sized mobile phone made with cherry red and graphite grey finishes. Like any flip phone, it has a hinge to open and close. You might call this a clamshell design. On the outside is a 1.5-inch window that displays the time, date, and the words “5Star Enabled.” It can also show the number for an incoming call. Opening the phone, you’ll see a larger screen and big buttons, including a 5Star button and Yes/No buttons for menu navigation. The Jitterbug Flip costs $99.99, and its features include:
The Jitterbug Smart2 is GreatCall’s most advanced mobile phone. Unlike the Jitterbug Flip, it’s web-connected and can run apps from Google Play. Compared to the Jitterbug Flip, the Smart2 has a significantly larger screen. GreatCall designed both Jitterbug phones in partnership with Samsung, and the Smart2 is similar in size to newer generations of Samsung smartphones. It can either show a typical smartphone screen layout with icons, or it can display an easy-to-navigate text menu with a relatively big font. The Jitterbug Smart2 will set you back $149.99, and its features include:
GreatCall Lively Wearable 2 is the step-counting medical alert button previously mentioned. It can sync with a smartphone by GreatCall or another company to let the phone call for help. Also, your phone can automatically call for help if you pair it with a wearable button. Additionally, with a button you can use the Lively mobile app to access GreatCall extras, like the library of health info that’s included with Urgent Care. The Lively Wearable 2 sells for up to $49.99. Here are its features:
Did You Know: Smartphones typically have Bluetooth ranges of about 10 meters or 33 feet… so if you choose a Lively Wearable 2, it can sync from quite a distance.7
Lively Mobile Plus is GreatCall’s most traditional medical alert product. Unlike the Lively Wearable 2, the Lively Mobile Plus doesn’t sync with a mobile phone. Instead, it features its own GPS signalling. We really like the look of this product, as it’s reminiscent of pagers from yesteryear. The casing is graphite gray, rather than medical white, and the button can clip to a waistband, pocket, or purse. The Lively Mobile Plus costs $49.99 at the regular price. The main features of the Lively Mobile Plus include:
|Devices||Smart2||Jitterbug Plus||Lively Wearable 2||Lively Mobile Plus|
|GPS||Built-In GPS||Built-In GPS||GPS data from synced mobile phone||Built-In GPS|
|Range||Verizon 4G Network||Verizon 4G Network||Verizon 4G Network||Verizon 4G Network|
|Waterproof||No||No||No, but water resistant||Yes, 3 feet for up to 30 minutes|
|Fall Detection Available||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
GreatCall sells lots of add-on services and accessories. We mostly found GreatCall’s pricing to be customer-friendly, but these aren’t exactly the cheapest products we’ve seen.
Each GreatCall device comes with a charger. You can buy extra wall chargers starting at $19.99 and in-car chargers for $24.99. We think the phone car chargers are smart investments in safety. It can be scary to lose power away from home.
Extra Phone Batteries
An extra battery is handy for instant power-ups. For the Jitterbug Flip and Smart2, extra batteries sell for $19.99.
A Bluetooth headset lets us make hands-free calls and listen to music or podcasts without straining our ears. We were surprised to see a price of just $39.99. The last time we bought a similar product, the cost was much higher. GreatCall’s choice is high quality, too, with three sizes for comfort.
We highly recommend getting a protective phone case. For the Jitterbug Flip, cases cost $19.99. For the Jitterbug Smart2, we get a choice of snap-around casings for $19.99 and a Wallet Folio Case for $24.99. The wallet folio has pockets for cash and cards. It’s designed with dark grey go-with-anything fabric and brown stitching. Pretty stylish!
A screen protector is very thin, tempered glass. Perfectly clear, it can cling to your phone screen to give it extra protection from scratches and cracks. These protectors cost $9.99 for either the Jitterbug Flip or Smart2.
Lively Mobile Plus Carrying Case
This $14.99 Lively Mobile Plus case can attach to a waistband or purse. It’s made from black synthetic leather. Magnetic closure makes the Lively device easy to access.
Lively Mobile Plus Belt Clip
Like the carrying case above, a belt clip makes Lively Mobile Plus more convenient to carry or wear. We figured it would be free with the button, but the $9.99 price isn’t so bad.
Lively Mobile Plus Wristband
A wristband for Lively Mobile Plus costs $19.99. The Lively Mobile Plus button is pretty chunky to wear around the wrist, so we opted for the belt clip instead.
Lanyards let you wear a Jitterbug phone or Lively button around your neck. Again, fall detection technology only works when you wear the buttons as pendants, not elsewhere on the body.
FYI: GreatCall sometimes includes accessories like car chargers and carrying cases as free promotions. So, keep your eyes peeled!
Now, let’s touch on the unique senior-friendly services that you can get with GreatCall. Most are paid upgrades, but some are free with GreatCall products.
Fall Detection — Fall detection is a potentially life-saving feature that’s available with GreatCall devices. If you slip or fall, it allows your phone to dial for help when you can’t. Note, for fall detection to work, you have to wear the medical alert device around your neck, not on the wrist or in a pocket.
5Star — 5Star service connects you with an expert emergency call agent at GreatCall. 5Star agents can call emergency responders and your personal contacts, or they can just stay on the phone as a safety companion, ready to call 911 until you feel safe. For example, you can keep 5Star on the line when you have a flat tire or hear a strange noise outside your house.8
Urgent Care — Urgent Care, formerly called LiveNurse, is for when you have medical questions and would rather not wait to talk with your doctor. Subscribers can speak with RNs and doctors on-demand, plus UrgentCare has recorded info about common healthcare concerns. This service won GreatCall the Hottest Mobile Consumer Application award when it launched in 2009.
GreatCall Link — GreatCall Link is an app for caregivers. It lets a caregiver know if the subscriber called 911. With the subscriber’s permission, it allows GPS tracking by caregivers, as well. Additionally, GreatCall Link provides a library of caregiving articles and tips.
MedCoach — MedCoach is a text-based solution for medication management. Reminders arrive by text, and you can indicate that medicine has been taken. You can also tick a box explaining why you skipped a dose. The app creates a chart to show compliance over time. The app also includes prescription renewal alerts in addition to the take-your-pills reminders.
Check-In Calls — This upgrade lets you get check-in calls from a GreatCall agent. Caregivers can instruct GreatCall to ask simple Yes or No questions and save the answers for review. For example, “Have you taken a walk today?” or “Did you take this morning’s medicine?” You can set up to six calls per day, or check-ins can be as infrequent as once per month. We like how much you can personalize the service to your necessities.
Brain Games — Brain Games arrive preloaded on each Jitterbug phone. These activities are clinically proven to help sharpen memory, attention, and focus.
The Wellness Call — The Wellness Call is a motivational program by Dr. Brian Alman, an expert in his field. Once a week, subscribers receive recorded messages by phone. For example, some messages focus on sound sleeping. Others focus on weight management, pain management, coping with loneliness, and more. This feature seems like a worthwhile service.
GreatCall Rides — Another nice feature, this functionality was added since our last Jitterbug testing round. With one-button service, you can get a ride. Just press 0, and a GreatCall operator will send a Lyft driver to your location.
Fitness Tracker — Lively Wearable 2 can track fitness by counting your steps. Daily totals show in the GreatCall Lively mobile app, where you can also see charts of your progress. This feature is free with monthly monitoring of the button. You can also install a variety of Android pedometer apps on the Jitterbug Smart2.
Personal Operator — Jitterbug phones can connect us with operators, kind of like phones in the good ol’ days. In addition to sending Lyft cars, GreatCall operators can look up phone numbers, connect us to numbers in the U.S. and Canada, and provide other concierge services. There’s no charge per call.
|Devices||Smart2||Jitterbug Plus||Lively Wearable 2||Lively Mobile Plus|
|5Star Urgent Response||✔||✔||✔||✔|
We enjoyed testing GreatCall. We tested the brand awhile back, and we see the phones have kept pace with the competition. We really like the equipment selection for phones and medical alert buttons alike. It’s neat how the Lively Wearable 2 can work with non-Jitterbug Androids and iPhones, too, letting them have the same service benefits described above.
We think the products are attractive and can satisfy style-conscious people of all ages. And the names make perfect sense for active seniors: Lively and Jitterbug (swing dancing!). Just keep in mind that your monthly bill can be much higher than the lowest advertised price of $14.99. But you will still (probably) pay less than you would with other mobile phone companies, and you’ll get a little extra peace of mind for your money.
Arlene Harris (inventor). (March 28, 2020). Wikipedia. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment. (2009, October 13). Jitterbug LiveNurse™ Wins Best Mobile Consumer Application Award. Business Wire.
PR NewsWire. (2017, June 7). GTCR Announces Acquisition of GreatCall. Cision.
Carman, A. (August 16, 2018). Best Buy just spent $800 million on GreatCall, the company that made the JitterBug phone. The Verge.
Get Human. (2020). GreatCall.com Phone Number.
GreatCall: Better Business Bureau® Profile. (2020, April 23). BBB.
Peshin, A. (2018, January 9). What Is the Range of Bluetooth and How Can It Be Extended? Science ABC.
GreatCall. (2020). 5Star Urgent Response.