Samsung Recalling Some Jitterbug Cell Phones; Potential Failure To Connect To 911

Samsung and the CPSC are recalling some “Jitterbug” cell phones because the pay-as-you-go phones, which come with a “Live Nurse” option and are marketed to older Americans, might not be able to reach 911 when in a no-service area.

Samsung is offering a free software upgrade to consumers who purchased these phones between March 2008 and May 2009. Retailing for around $150, the phones are available nationwide at drug stores and electronics stores.

The recall affects model numbers SPH-a110 and SPH-a120 with standard key pads. Contact Samsung at (866) 304-4980 for additional information.

Samsung Recalls to Upgrade Certain Cell Phones [Consumer Product Safety Commission]


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  1. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I thought you couldn’t reach 911 if you were in an area without service because…well, there isn’t any service.

    Or am I mistaken and the call 911 feature that is supposed to be on all phones only supposed to act as a GPS feature for emergency authorities if you can’t get a signal?

    • emis says:

      @pecan 3.14159265:

      I’m guessing it’s a roaming issue — the phone isn’t connecting to an available (but non-preferred) network to make the emergency call, which it should be.

      Otherwise I agree… you’re out of coverage area, you’re out of coverage area… no SW update in the world is going to fix that!

  2. josephbloseph says:

    One of the phones pictured in the link doesn’t quite have a standard key pad…

  3. Crim Law Geek says:

    Perhaps they mean outside of the jitterbug service area. Maybe when calling 911 a cell phone is supposed to connect to any network it can physically connect to regardless of provider (i.e whatever CDMA 1800 MHz network is around)?

    • esd2020 says:

      @Crim Law Geek: Correct. They are also supposed to be given preference for routing calls. Even if the cell tower is at capacity, it should bump someone else off to make room for a 911 call.

    • jamar0303 says:

      @Crim Law Geek: CDMA 1800MHz doesn’t exist. CDMA 800MHz, however, does. But yes, it’s supposed to do that. Even a de-activated foreign CDMA phone brought to America will still be able to put through calls to 911.

  4. bender123 says:

    What? They couldnt display the top selling model in the article? The one with the “Country Kitchen Buffet” button and the one that instantly tells you when a nickel slot becomes available at your nearest Indian Casino?

    This article, despite info on the recall, is clearly short selling the awesome hardware that Jitterbug makes. A better article is the reason any sane person would blow $20 a month for 30 minutes of talk time, to get a phone made for toddlers.

    • spanky says:

      @bender123: Because a lot of older people have difficulty with small keys as a result of declining dexterity and eyesight; and because people who are less comfortable with technology (including some older people) often prefer simple, limited function tools without multiple layers of menu to navigate.

      It doesn’t mean they’re stupid.

      • bender123 says:


        I work in senior services (former nursing home administrator, actually…) and I dont think seniors are stupid, not by any means. The mere existance of the phone with “tow”, “911” and “home” buttons is basically implying seniors are dumb. We had 100 year olds in computer labs checking email and in classes.

        The Jitterbug preys on the elderly by oversimplifying a problem any elderly person can overcome with 5 minutes of sit down time with a real customer service person. They then charge an insane rate for a service that would be half the cost on any other carrier.

        • spanky says:

          @bender123: Oh, I’m not disagreeing it’s a ripoff. It is, and it’s a shame.

          But you can’t train someone to restore their eyesight or the coordination lost to arthritis. My mom has trouble using her phone sometimes due to physical limitations alone.

          I’m not defending Jitterbug, though. I’m attacking all the other providers for leaving that niche open for Jitterbug to exploit.

          • jamar0303 says:

            @spanky: Yep- funny how in Japan, every provider has something that caters to older people (with twomodels capable of being brought to the US and made to work if you have an elderly parent in your home and don’t like Jitterbug) but in the US you have this exploitative entity because none of the carriers want to make something like this happen. And note that the Japanese don’t dumb down their phones for the elderly. You have the full compelement of features (videocalling, camera, music, movies, etc on top of calling/texting with voice input) but arranged to make it easy for older people to use.

        • usa_gatekeeper says:

          @bender123: They’re getting $150 for these phones??? What a ripoff.

          They’re comparable (yes, I noticed the different buttons – I’m just saying they’re not high end) in technology to regular pay-as-you-go phones for $25-$30 tops, and those usually come with a bunch of free minutes.

  5. AidelMaidel says:

    I have hated this product for a long time. I’m sorry but senior citizens are smarter than we make them out to be. It’s a waste of time and you can get a base phone with any number of great plans that is far more cost effective. I’m surprised Consumerist hasn’t called shame on Jitterbug already.

    • stopNgoBeau says:

      @AidelMaidel: This phone is marketed to people who aren’t as smart as we would like all seniors to be. My grandfather never used his cell phone because he couldn’t press the individual numbers and he could never remember to press the “Send” button.

      For seniors who can’t figure out cell technology, and for their kids who are willing to fork over the money for a piece of mind, its not a bad sell.

      For seniors who can work a cell phone, then get them a cell phone (or better yet, let them get it themselves).

  6. I Love New Jersey says:

    Thankfully I haven’t seen their annoying ads on TV for some time. Now, I am amazed Jitterbug doesn’t offer one of these:

    • mdoublej says:

      @I Love New Jersey: I just saw a Jitterbug ad in the Sunday Paper, and they claim the phones actually have a “DIAL TONE”!

      • temporaryerror says:

        Yes, they do. I’m guessing that it’s simply a .wav or mp3 (or whatever) file that is embedded in the firmware and starts an endless loop when the phone is opened. I could be wrong on how it works, but it does have one that activates when the phone is opened.

        • temporaryerror says:

          You can also fax or mail in your desired contact list and have the company edit it. (I’m guessing the updated list gets pushed to the phone?)

          • Brielle says:

            @temporaryerror: There’s a few ways to add new contacts to the phone – web, fax, mail, or call the operator. Once the change is done, it takes a little while, but the phone receives the new contacts list.

            My mother got my father one of these phones… I wasn’t all that impressed with it. I think they’re ripping her off with the cost, but whatever.

      • jamar0303 says:

        @mdoublej: My cellphone has it too, but it’s Japanese. It plays if you press “talk” then dial a number. Of course you can dial normally too.

  7. tom2133 says:

    I think it’s interesting that they employ LIVE operators based in the USA. That’s something in itself there.

  8. FuryOfFirestorm says:

    Everytime I see a commerical for these, I get a certain song stuck in my head…

    “You go boom boom into my heart

    You send my soul sky high when your loving starts

    Jitterbug into my brain

    My beats per minute will never be the same”

    AHHHH! George Michael mincing about in hot pants! KILL IT PLEASE!

  9. cete-of-badgers says:

    Woohoo, another excuse to tell my grandfather not to get one of these things. For some reason, he expressed an interest in one the last time I visited, so I threatened to buy him a Blackberry for his birthday next month. I am hoping to find a cellular “compromise” by then.

  10. ivealwaysgotmail10 says:

    WOW…. i mean just WOW…. Does anyone else think is abso-#*@&$ing-lutely halarious That a phone with only 3 functions (calling 911, tow or Operator) is being recalled due to not being able to complete not only just one of the functions but the most important one?

    THERE ARE ONLY 3 BUTTONS ON ONE OF THOSE! “TOW” “911” “OPERATOR” and someone didnt test the BIG RED 911 button?

  11. Martin Tsang says:

    My question is, how do they know that? Did someone try to use it and couldn’t get medical help?


  12. mbz32190 says:

    My grandmother is able to use a phone..a Palm that is nicer than my phone :( (Got it from a relative..she would never pay for that or a Jitterbug service)

  13. icntdrv says:

    Basically, the way this works is there is a file in the phone which tells it which towers it can and cannot roam on. However, when making a 911 call, the phone is supposed to ignore that file and connect to the strongest carriers tower and make the emergency call. The cellular providers are required by federal law to honor the connection.

    It appears that the phone is not ignoring that file and is continuing to display “no signal” when in fact there is one.

  14. FLConsumer says:

    I can see it now… Granny opens the phone and hears the dialtone and thinks it’ll work fine because this phone generates a fake dialtone any time it’s opened.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I would gladly buy another cell phone for my mother with cheaper phone time, but Jitterbug is the only one that I’ve found that has buttons large enough to accomodate her arthritic fingers, or numbers large enough for her to see. I wouldn’t expect her to keep a pencil handy to push the buttons of those other phones. She has the least expensive program and for her, that’s just right…she can call me from anywhere and that’s all that counts (I can call the 911 for her if I have to). I first bought her a little “pay as you go” phone and she almost threw it at me, as she couldn’t work the buttons. I get the feeling that there aren’t too many people replying to this “Consumerist” story that have family with cognative or physical issues they have to accomodate. We will all get old someday, or may eventually suffer from physical challenges if we live long enough…so no “smart alecks” need reply.

    • Anonymous says:

      Boy, I sure agree with Orson. I have permanent brain damage from a TBI, and using even a stripped-down standard cell phone that my husband customized for me became too difficult. Unless you are elderly, have poor vision, or are disabled, it’s difficult to have sympathy for those who are, I guess. Jitterbug is not ripping me off — without it, I’d have no cell phone at all. Here’s other stuff you get with a Jitterbug — a backlight that doesn’t turn off until you close the phone — crucial if you have poor night vision. BIG, Big numbers , black on a white background. No call waiting — no one ever calls in and interrupts a call you are on, confusing the hell out of you. A very simple payment plan, even if it isn’t cheap (and who among the target user group is going to gabbing away on their phones?) It also has the best reception, biggest range, and clearest voice signal I have ever heard. You can have my Jitterbug phone when you pry it from my cold-dead fingers, 40 or 50 years from now!@OrsonHaruhism:

  16. Anonymous says:

    Most of you people commenting don’t seem to realize that there ARE people that DON’T NEED all the bells and whistles on their cell phone. I have had my Jitterbug for a couple years and it has ALWAYS served my BASIC purposes. I have no kids, no spouse, no relatives in the area (or friends that I have to talk to constantly). I pay the $20 a month for 60 minutes of service and barely use 15 minutes each month, so I’m considering the $10 a month plan for 30 minutes. To me, that’s WAY cheaper than having a FREE phone and paying over $50 a month for hundreds of minutes that I don’t NEED and would never USE, and all the bells and whistles I don’t need and wouldn’t use. And I’m not a senior, I’m 53. I just don’t need to get to the internet, take pictures, or talk to anyone CONSTANTLY. Maybe I’m the only one the Jitterbug was created for, but that’s FINE by me! I love mine. And even though I had to pay for the phone, it’s paid for itself within just a few months of owning it. And if Jitterbug goes away, I just won’t HAVE a cell phone, which was the case for YEARS until the Jitterbugs came out. And I never even TURN ON my Jitterbug. I only got it to MAKE calls, not RECEIVE them. And every call with my Jitterbug is clear, with no cutting in and out of whoever I’m talking to. I had that with EVERY other cell phone I had before the Jitterbug. I went without a cell phone for a few years until the Jitterbugs came out, but have had other cell phone contracts, and even PAID to get out of the contract. I’m sure I’m in the minority regarding what I use my cell phone for, but I know that there ARE people out there that don’t NEED all the frills.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I’m a nurse practition er (NP) and we have many, many elderly patients in our practice. They have and feel safe with land-lines as their primary phones, and carry Jitterbugs for “travel only” use. It makes good sense for those on fixed incomes , who neither text nor incessently yak while driving, walking, etc., to buy only limeted mnutes for emergency use. Our office recommends them, as they are simple to use, easy to read and now, hopefully, are turly safe. I’ll be posting a sign by the receptionist and have copies of this article for our patients tomorrow. Until you understand the very elderly ( 80+), stop criticising their choice fo phone. Seems to me there were laptop computers recalled a few years back when they were catching fire from over-use. Too much time on Facebook, kids…

  18. Jane120 says:

    This failure of Jitterbug was shared to me by my friend before reason why she discouraged me to buy my Dad the Jitterbug phone. So instead of getting him the Jitterbug, I opted to buy the Just5 cell phone. This one really functions well. My Dad hasn’t encountered any issue with it yet. In fact, he is very satisfied with the way it functions. I’m very satisfied with this phone, too, as I usually spend $3.33 a month for the cheapest minute plan of this provider. It’s so nice to get the service of a provider that assures both quality and affordability.