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With the Bellen A100, sound comes naturally

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Talking to colleagues and friends over the phone is something many of us take for granted. However, people who can’t hear well tend to shy away from cellular phones, mostly because they are embarrassed that they may not hear the person at the other end properly. SEAN BACHER reviews the Bellen A100 cellphone, a modest phone, but one that caters for the hard of hearing.

With newer and better cellphones being launched all the time, things can become a little crazy ‚ especially with regard to the myriad features these cellphones sport. We take for granted Internet browsing, e-mail, camera, GPS, operating via voice and on and on.

In this context, the Bellen A100 cellphone was like a breath of fresh air. It is by far the most basic phone on the market today ‚ and I mean this in a good way.

The Bellen is designed for users who only want to make and receive calls, and possibly send the odd SMS. Absurd in today’s world? Hardly. With its oversized buttons and bone conduction technology, the Bellen is designed for older users, users who can’t see very well and users who are hard of hearing.

Being hard of hearing in one ear and completely deaf in the other ear myself, this looked like the ideal phone for me. Aside from being the appropriate candidate to put the phone through its paces, I also put the Bellen through the Gadget 5 Question User Test to answer a few questions for general users.

1 Is it ready to use?

Once out the box and charged up, the phone is as ready as it will ever be. Simply slip in your SIM card and off you go. No syncing, set-up or updating, and no Internet functionality or e-mail client that needs to be configured.

The Bellen A100 has three customisable buttons which can be pre-programmed with frequently dialled numbers ‚ very much like a quick-dial function you would find on other phones.

However, the Bellen has another ace up its sleeve. At the back of the phone is an SOS button which can be programmed to a designated number. The button is big enough to find in the dark, but is cleverly designed so you don’t accidentally push it. You have to push the button in and then slide it upwards before it activates.

2 Is it easy to use?

Apple’s iPhone usually begins to show its true colours in ease of use but, in this case, the Bellen takes the cake. Yes, it is not as sophisticated, but that is what makes it so easy to use.

The phone’s candy-bar design means it fits quite comfortably in your hand, and its oversized keys really set it apart from other brands. If you are familiar with a numeric keypad, you will be able to use the keypad without even looking, or without having to scratch around for your spectacles before you can see the keys.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the colour screen, which is tiny when compared to the keypad. Making the buttons larger is only half the battle won: users still need to read what they are typing and the small display means that you will still need your glasses.

On the sides you will find three buttons: two for adjusting the volume and one for turning the built-in flashlight on and off.

The phone’s built-in bone conduction technology means that it is extremely easy for hard of hearing people to use. Using a cellphone, or any phone for that matter, can be really frustrating for the deaf. Hearing aids do work, but they often distort the sound coming from the phone’s speaker or are continually whistling due to the sound being echoed back and forth. Some hearing aids do come with a telecoil option, but you need a cellphone that supports this too, and the feature is usually only found on top-end models.

With the bone conduction technology built into the phone, you don’t have any of these problems. Bone conduction works through a phone translating sounds into vibrations. When the phone is pressed to any of your facial bones, the vibrations are transmitted directly to the inner ear, bypassing the middle ear.

Image sourced from www.bellen.co.za

3 Does it operate as advertise?

The Bellen A100 works much the same as any other phone. It makes and receives calls as easily as any other phone. However, due to the absence of bells and whistles, its battery life is phenomenal. And it is perfectly suited to users who can’t see that well and who have hearing problems.

The bone conduction is a treat. Admittedly, it takes a bit of getting used to hearing your phone conversations in stereo, because the sounds are being sent to both your left and right ear. This is quickly overcome and forgotten by the overwhelming sensation of hearing each and every word said ‚ without repeating that inhibiting six-letter word: ‚pardon?‚

4 Is it innovative?

The bone conduction technology is a feature I have never seen on a phone before. In that context, one of the most innovative phones on the market.

5 Is it value for money?

The phone is available from Vodacom from R135 per month on a Business Call contract, which also includes 50 free SMSs per month. It’s not just any phone though: it caters for a specific audience and, if you fall into that target market, it is money well spent.

Conclusion

Although I can still hear through most normal cellphone speakers, using the Bellen A100 really did open my eyes or, rather, my ears, to what I am missing in terms of voice quality. Yes, I was quickly told that I looked ridiculous when I pushed the phone to my forehead to hear, but if you push the phone to your skull just behind your ear nobody will notice the difference.

Speaking to other hard of hearing people before the phone was launched to South African users, I learned that many of them shied away from talking on cellphones altogether ‚ to the point where they would deliberately leave the device at home or let the battery run flat so they would not have to talk on it.

The Bellen does offer an affordable alternative, and if you are either hard of hearing or can’t see too well, you will not look back after using the Bellen A100.

Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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