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Computerized Investing > September 29, 2012
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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

$119.99

AA battery-powered emergency mobile phone.

As National Preparedness Month draws to a close, I take a look at the SpareOne Emergency Phone that was given to me by their PR firm. This unique device allows you to place emergency calls (911, etc.) even without a SIM card. Furthermore, the SpareOne's single AA battery has a shelf life of 15 years, which means you can throw it in your emergency kit and, theoretically, still have a workable phone several years down the line.

Out of the Box

Utility is the name of the game when it comes to the SpareOne. This simple plastic phone measures 4.7 inches by 2.4 inches by 0.5 inches and weighs less than three ounces. Just because it's plastic, however, don't think it's cheaply made. It has a surprisingly solid feel to it, which is something you would hope for from an emergency phone. It's the first mobile phone I have ever seen that does not have a screen. Instead, there is a clear plastic window that shows the single AA battery that powers the phone. The front is made from white plastic, with 12 large light-gray number keys along with call, flashlight, power and volume buttons. If you didn't catch that, the SpareOne also has a built-in torchlight that provides 23 hours of continuous light. There is also a large red emergency button in the middle along with a small keypad lock button on the bottom right of the phone. Along the bottom right of the display window is a flashing green battery indicator light and along the bottom left of the window is a flashing blue light to indicate reception.

There are two different versions of the phone: a dual-band 850/1900 MHz phone for use in the U.S. and a 900/1800 MHz model for use in Europe/Asia/Africa/Oceania. Ideally, there would be a quad-band model available that you could use with an inexpensive SIM card while traveling.

The SpareOne is unlocked, which means you can use a SIM card from a GSM-based carrier, such as AT&T, T-Mobile, etc. However, you don't need a SIM card in order to place emergency calls.

The back of the SpareOne is made of red plastic with a removable plate where you can install your own SIM card, if you choose. The SpareOne also comes with a micro-SIM adapter that is found beneath the removable backplate.

Performance

Some of the other reviews I have read about the SpareOne rip on its call quality. However, it seems that the reviewers lost sight of what they were reviewing—an emergency phone! This phone isn't intended to be your primary phone, nor is it intended to be used for hours on end. There is no speakerphone mode and there are only two levels of volume. It is a functional mobile phone that delivers average call quality. I installed my AT&T SIM card without any problems and was able to place calls immediately. The biggest challenge is making sure you dial the correct number, as there is no display to see what you are dialing. The lack of display also means there is no text messaging. However, you can send a "call me back" SMS text message to any of the nine numbers you are able to store in the speed dial memory. It can auto reply to any SMS messages you receive on the SpareOne, assuming your SIM card has the space to store SMS.

The built-in torchlight isn't the brightest, but it is better than nothing when it's your only option.

The company claims that the SpareOne’s single AA battery will stay charged for 15 years, assuming proper storage. Furthermore, the battery will also provide up to 10 hours of talk time.

Price

I was a little taken aback by the cost of the SpareOne. It appears that when it first came out earlier this year you were able to buy it directly from the company for around $50. Now, the price listed on the SpareOne website is $119.99. I am not sure if this is because of supply or demand, but I wouldn't pay full price for a phone that, I hope, would only sit in an emergency kit and never be used. I was able to find it on other Internet vendors’ sites for around $50, making the peace of mind it offers much more reasonable.

Overall

In the event of an emergency, chances are your normal cell phone may not survive. If you have a waterproof emergency kit, adding an emergency phone such as the SpareOne makes a lot of sense, especially if you live in an area that is prone to hurricanes and tornados, or if it's not uncommon to lose power for extended periods of time.

The SpareOne isn't the best mobile phone in the world, but it doesn't try to be. It's a backup phone that allows you to place emergency calls even without a SIM card. And with its 15-year shelf life, chances are pretty good it will power up should an emergency arise. The SpareOne is going into my emergency kit, and I would recommend it for yours too.

Pros:

  • Makes emergency calls even without a SIM card
  • Uses a single AA battery
  • Up to 15-year shelf life

Cons:

  • No display
  • High retail price for an emergency phone
  • Mediocre call quality
  • Quad-band model not available

SpareOne Emergency Phone

$119.99 (currently $52 from Amazon.com)

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA is a vice president and senior financial analyst at AAII and editor of Computerized Investing. Follow him on Twitter at @WayneTAAII.


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