Japanese electronics company Fujitsu has taken its time pushing beyond its home smartphone market. The company is best known for slick, slender high end smartphones in Japan but earlier this month it announced a European play — eschewing the crowded top tier of devices in favour of a niche in the seniors space, with a custom skinned Android-based smartphone. The Stylistic S-01 is designed to be easier for older people to use. Fujitsu is bringing the device to France in partnership with France Telecom/Orange in June but was showing it off at Mobile World Congress, where we went hands on.
Now Fujitsu is not the first to enter the senior mobile space. Other established players include Emporia, which basically makes simplified feature phones, and Doro, which makes a mix of devices (including dabbling in tablet software). Doro was showing off its own Android-based seniors phone at MWC last year so, again, Fujitsu is a follower here too. But late to the party though it is, it has crafted what feels like a solid and well thought through first offering.
The handset has a rubberised coating to add grip and more curves than the sleek, slick high end smartphones du jour so rests nicely on the palm and feels less inclined to take a tumble than the average slab phone. On the front, there’s a clearly labelled home button below the 4 inch touchscreen. The button is slightly convex making it stand out so it’s easy to press. The buttons on the side of the device — power and volume up & down keys on one side, plus a dedicated camera key on the other — are also labelled (albeit with icons). These keys are raised slightly but don’t feel like they stick out enough to press accidentally.
Fujitsu has made the Stylistic S-01’s capacitive touchscreen deliberately less sensitive to cut back on erroneous key presses for a target group of users which isn’t likely to be as dexterous as the average mobile owner. The screen didn’t feel awkwardly unresponsive during my hands on but on-screen buttons did sometimes need a more deliberate press — which seems like a reassuring feature for the intended user-base.
There are a couple of odd hardware touches. The Micro USB port sits behind a cover which has to be prised off with a fingernail. The cover has likely been included because the phone is dust and waterproof but it does mean that accessing the charging port isn’t as easy as it could be.
The phone is also equipped with an alarm — in case of emergencies. This makes a loud noise to alert people in the vicinity that the owner is in trouble and also dials out pre-chosen contacts. The alarm is located on the back of the device, to the left of the camera lens. The physical switch is rather small and again has to be pushed out with a fingernail or similar. Of course it’s no good having the alarm go off accidentally but in an emergency it could prove a little difficult to activate.
Android but not as you know it
Moving on to the software, this is where the phone really stands out from the Android crowd, thanks to a simplified custom UI that foregrounds key functions, tucks away complexity and does a spot of thoughtful hand-holding — with help buttons and guides and even a phone manual included on the device. The homescreen is divided up into large, clearly labelled icons that decrease in size as you scroll down to reach functions that are likely to be accessed less. The two largest buttons are the call button, and the phonebook (a much more senior-friendly way to describe contacts).
Messages and email also appear on screen at the top of the homescreen, along with three numbered buttons that can be pre-set with specific functions for quick access. Scroll further down and there’s an info widget displaying news updates and weather. Below that, there are a variety of phone functions laid out in a grid of squares — and again clearly labelled. These include Internet, camera, maps, video, gallery, a help forum and a manual. The only button that stands out as slightly obtuse is the one labelled ‘Play Store’ (thanks Google).
Android apps can be downloaded to the phone via the Play Store, or via a ‘download apps’ button. Other preloaded apps are tucked away under ‘More applications’ and ‘Orange services’ — so although the phone has been simplified, the functionality has not been removed entirely. Rather they are cleared out of harm’s way until the user feels confident enough to drill a little deeper.
There are lots of thoughtful little touches in the design, such as the Phonebook app being made to resemble a traditional filofax, and the button called ‘My number’ to help users out who can’t remember their phone number. The gallery also includes a ‘Take a picture’ button, to steer anyone who went into the gallery looking for the camera in the right direction. The back button is also clearly labelled with the word ‘back’ — rather than having a cryptic symbol to confuse people. And the browser has a question mark button at the top which leads to a help page to explain the browsing process for first time mobile web users.
Elsewhere apps are nicely stripped down, simplified and clearly labelled — such as the camera app, which has just a camera button and a flash toggle button, and the dialler app which has two folder-style tabs to show either a dial option, or history (for call log). Time has clearly been well spent by the UI designer figuring out an intelligent way to layer a smartphone for a senior user-base that will probably feel most comfortable taking small steps away from telephones in order to get to know smartphones.