Doro 824 SmartEasy (Consumer Cellular)

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For seniors, smartphones can seem intimidating due to tiny text, low earpiece volume, and complicated software and menus. The $200 Doro 824 SmartEasy is built with these concerns in mind. Available on Consumer Cellular, the 824 SmartEasy comes has large, highly visible apps and icons, a loud, but clear, earpiece for calls, and customized software that guides you through the basics of using apps. Throw in an Emergency Alert button, and the 824 becomes a great option for both seniors and first-time smartphone users alike, and our Editors' Choice for simple smartphones.

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Design and Display
The 824 SmartEasy's design stands out, melding a combination of physical buttons, heavy branding, and a black-and-blue color scheme on a polycarbonate body (the phone is also available in all black). At 5.74 by 2.85 by 0.40 inches (HWD) and 5.54 ounces, the 824 has roughly similar dimensions and weight to the Huawei Vision 3 (5.68 by 2.86 by 0.36 inches; 5.64 ounces) and the Motorola Moto G (5.59 by 2.85 by 0.48 inches; 5.47 ounces). It's easy to hold and use in one hand, and the physical buttons on the front, side, and back are all within easy reach.

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The front of the 824 consists of a 5-inch 1,280-by-720 LCD. It looks clear, with big icons and text making it extra visible for users with poor eyesight. The display gets bright enough to use outdoors and viewing angles are good. Overall, it's a solid display for the price.

Above the screen, you'll find the earpiece and a Doro logo. Below the screen is a physical Home button in the middle, surrounded by an Options button on the left and a Back button on the right, all of which are satisfyingly clicky. They are also backlit, and the Home button has a dimple so you can find it more easily. 

Doro 824 back

On the right edge of the phone you'll find a volume rocker, power button, and camera button, all of which are clearly labeled. Only the Camera button feels somewhat mushy in comparison with the more responsive power and volume controls. The bottom is home to a micro USB charging port and the top has an audio jack. The left side has dock connectors, intended for use with the included charging dock.

On the back, there's a prominent Consumer Cellular logo and a metallic strip with a speaker and another Doro logo. You'll also find a camera with a single LED flash. The back panel peels off to give you access to a removable battery, a SIM card slot, and a microSD card slot that worked with a 64GB Leef Pro card. Doro has disabled moving apps onto SD cards, so you're mostly limited transferring music and photos.

You'll also find the Emergency Assistance button on the back. Pressing the button three times will automatically make a call to the contact of your choice. The button is flush against the back, so I never accidentally pressed it when the phone was in my pocket.

Network Performance and Audio
Consumer Cellular is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that uses AT&T and T-Mobile's towers. The carrier has done very well in PCMag's Readers' Choice poll several years in a row.

The phone supports GSM (850/900/1800/1900MHz), UMTS (850/1800/1900/2100MHz), and LTE (2/4/5/17) bands. It operated on T-Mobile's network during our testing in midtown Manhattan, where it maintained strong connectivity. Indoors, I saw download speeds range from 3Mbps to 6Mbps. Outdoors, I got a high of 20Mbps. Upload speeds were unusually strong, averaging around 20Mbps both indoors and out.

Call quality is excellent. Transmissions are clear, with a natural tone that doesn't suffer from any distortion or garbling. Earpiece volume is loud, and you shouldn't have any trouble hearing what the person on the other end is saying. Noise cancellation is also strong. I couldn't detect any background noise when making calls on a crowded city street.

Wi-Fi is single band, and there's no NFC, but that's to be expected of phones in this price range. Bluetooth and wired audio are both of decent quality, and there are three audio profiles—Normal, High, and Hearing Aid Compatible (M3/T4). The speaker gets very loud, though it sounds rather tinny. It's loud enough to hear voice calls in noisy environments, but I don't recommend using it for music.

Processor and Battery
The 824 has a Snapdragon 410 processor clocked at 1.2GHz with 1GB of RAM, which is on par with the Moto G. It scored 19,980 on the AnTuTu benchmark, which tests overall system performance. That's a bit lower than the Moto G (25,166), though the phone is still perfectly fine for most common tasks.

The 824 can handle a certain degree of multitasking, though you'll hit the RAM usage limit if you try to do too many things at once. It's not the fastest with launching apps, but it was capable of handling everything I threw at it—including texts, phone calls, pictures, using Facebook, Gmail, Google Maps, Hangouts, YouTube, and Uber. The only thing it isn't good at is gaming—the phone ran out of memory while running GFXBench, which tests graphics capability. I also wasn't able to test it with Asphalt 8 or GTA San Andreas, as the phone lacks sufficient internal memory to install these games.

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Battery life is fine, but nothing special. The phone clocked 4 hours and 24 minutes in our battery test, in which we stream full-screen video over LTE at maximum brightness. That's on par with the 5.5-inch Jitterbug Smart (4 hours and 16 minutes). All-day use shouldn't be much trouble, especially with the handy charging dock that lets you put your phone right on your desk or nightstand and use it as an alarm clock. And the battery is removable, so you can always swap it out for a fresh pack if you need more juice.

Software and Apps
Software customizations are a key selling point of the Doro 824—it runs a heavily altered version of Android 5.1 Lollipop. The changes are intended to make the phone easier to approach for seniors and first-time users. Icons are large and distinctive, and everything is clearly labeled with big text that spells out what each app does. The overall look resembles Microsoft's Windows Phone OS, with a tile setup for apps and widgets.

The main screen has a few key apps you are likely to use, like the Play Store, Phone, Messages, and Camera. You swipe left or right to get to other screens, and there are on-screen buttons for apps and the main menu. All the stock apps like Camera, Email, Gallery, and Messages come with a helpful walkthrough when you launch them, explaining how to do things like sharing pictures or sending texts.

Doreo 824 back

If you want even more assistance, you can use the My Doro Manager app to get help from select contacts. Helpers need to download the My Doro Manager app themselves, and once connected you choose the level of permission to grant them. Helpers can share content with you, provide tech support, and even configure settings for you.

Enabling Easy mode in the Settings menu makes things even more basic. Icons and text become even bigger, and your selection of available apps is whittled down to the most essential ones like Alarm, Camera, Calculator, and Email. You can always switch between this mode and the regular mode as you become comfortable. 

While all of these software customizations make the 824 easier to use, there are also some downsides. You can't switch to a standard version of Android as you can with the Huawei Vision 3, and this modified version doesn't allow you to freely rearrange apps, home screens, and widgets. In addition, the software load is pretty is heavy—of the 8GB of internal storage, you only have 4.5GB available.

Camera and Conclusions
The 8-megapixel rear-facing camera is generally unimpressive. It can take decent photos in well-lit settings, but in less-than-ideal conditions, it suffers from patches of noise or blur. Indoors, pictures are softer than they are noisy. Color reproduction is fairly accurate, but favors starker colors. The rear camera is also capable of recording stable 1080p video at 30fps. The 2-megapixel front-facing camera is a bit stronger; it takes clear, detailed selfies and is good for video chat.

For first-time users and seniors, the Doro 824 SmartEasy on Consumer Cellular is an excellent option. Its physical controls, clearly labeled apps and icons with step-by-step explanations, and the My Doro Manager app make for an intuitive, comprehensive experience. It's a better bet than the Huawei Vision 3, which isn't quite as tailored to new users. And it's even simpler to use than the Jitterbug Smart on GreatCall, which also lacks an Emergency Alert button. That makes it easy to call the Doro 824 SmartEasy our new Editors' Choice for simple smartphones.

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