By: Richard Caro | Posted: February 18, 2016 | Updated: March 22, 2023
Since 2015 we have been doing comparative evaluations of a wide variety of medical alert systems, including those for “out and about” use, which we call “mobile medical alert systems”.
On this page we include some of our original, in-depth testing results, because even though some of the products have been replaced with newer models, much of the testing results and methodology remain relevant.
For example, response times relate to the way call centers are organized, as well as to details of specific hardware products. And details about how well devices can “find someone” continue to have relevance, as they depend on features of the GPS system.
To read some of our original research results, still relevant today, read on.
To see the latest “recommendations” for the best mobile medical alerts for a specific life situation, (updated for today) see:
As part of our research project into “which medical alert system should I buy?“, we set out to do a comparative evaluation of products in the “mobile, monitored, go anywhere” class of medical alert systems (personal emergency response systems). These are medical alert systems that work anywhere there is cell coverage, and which have a professional monitoring service that responds when you press the emergency button.
After weeks of testing multiple different “mobile alert systems” (personal emergency response systems), here are the results (first set of research, done in 2015).
We looked at appearance, ease of use, speed to respond when we pressed the “help” button, how well the “location capability” worked in various different locations, battery life, sound quality, price, and more. While none of the products was “perfect”, several worked rather well. But some fell short.
You can learn more about this research project, the team doing the work, our medical alert system selection tool, deep dive analysis of individual products and other analysis at our “Topic Hub” below. For those unfamiliar with medical alert systems, we also created a short tutorial and an online workshop, both of which you can access from the Topic Hub.
- View our “Topic Hub”: Medical Alert Systems: Selection Guide.
Update Q1 2020
Since the original evaluations described below were conducted, some of the products have been replaced or updated. We have updated the appropriate sections of the analysis below to identify where such changes have taken place.
The most significant change has been that the GreatCall Splash has been replaced by the GreatCall Lively Mobile, which in turn has been replaced with the Lively Mobile Plus. The Lively Mobile Plus is a product with similarly strong performance to the Splash (but was subject to a recall and was only relaunched in late Feb 2020).
The various versions of the MobileHelp Duo continue to be available. Philips now offers a product called the GoSafe 2 which does away with the home base station of the GoSafe, thus making it a direct competitor to the GreatCall products.
There is an important new product in this category, made by a manufacturer called Freeus, and called by them the Belle+. It is available from various resellers under various names. The version of the Belle+ which we recommend is the Active Guardian, sold by Medical Guardian. There is also a product called the Mini Guardian, from Medical Guardian that we added to our coverage in 2020.
There have been some additional noteworthy products that have entered the market recently. In particular, there is a handful of products we think of as “Smartwatches that work like medical alerts“. We recently published a comparative evaluation of those products, and that is worth reading as well as the study below which deals with more conventional mobile medical alerts.
What follows is our original research, conducted in late 2015, but largely still relevant.
Table of Contents
- The different products we tested
- Different feature sets
- Test protocol
- Testing results
- Special issues
- Conclusions and Recommendations
The Mobile Alert Systems we Tested
The two criteria for the products we analyzed in this portion of the research were that they:
- work everywhere there is cell coverage; and
- are “monitored” (ie a professional responder recieves the alert rather than friends, family, or a direct call to 911).
Our selection tool identified 20 products that meet these criteria. However, many of these are actually the same product, sold under different names by different distributors (it is rather confusing). We focused on products available in the USA, chose one example of each of the products that are resold by multiple distributors, eliminated a handful of products based on their feature set, and narrowed down our selection for testing to 5 hardware products (corresponding to 11 of the products on our list) and 3 “Apps” for a smartphone. See more about how we selected the mobile medical alert products for testing here (3).
The hardware products we studied were as follow (links go to the detailed analysis of each product by our analyst team. We include links on the product analysis pages to the company websites so you can learn more, or purchase the products if you wish):
- “Splash” from GreatCall; [Now replaced by the GreatCall Lively Mobile Plus].
- “GoSafe” from Philips Lifeline (as well as the Philips Lifeline GoSafe 2 reviewed in July 2019);
- “Premium Guardian” from Medical Guardian (a rebranded version of the Numera “Libris”). [Medical Guardian no longer sells this product. However an updated version of the Numera Libris is now sold by LifeFone as the LifeFone At-Home & On-the-Go GPS, Voice in Necklace. It is also sold by Alert1, and likely various other vendors];
- “At Home & On-the-Go GPS” from LifeFone (a rebranded version of the MobileHelp “Cellular Duo”). Variants of this product are available also from other vendors.
- “Kelsi” from Alert1 (a rebranded version of the Freeus “eResponder”). [no longer sold by Alert1 in the form we evaluated here, but it is still available from ResponseLink (“MobileMedical Alert“)].
We also included these monitored “Apps”:
- “5 Star” from GreatCall;
- “Mobile Alert” from LifeFone;
- “Response App” from Philips Lifeline.
Important, Differentiating Mobile Alert Features
These products have many similarities but some important differences.
All of these products are designed to “work anywhere” (at least anywhere there is cell service). All involve some type of “wearable” that you carry with you at all times. When you activate the alert (or the built in fall detector in some cases activates the alert), a person in a call center responds and helps you (calling 911 if need be). And in each case, that responder can talk directly to you through the wearable and you can talk back to them.
All of these products communicate to the responder via the cellular network. The hardware products all include the components to do this in the product itself, and they do NOT use your cell phone or your cell minutes, or require you to worry about the cellular connection. The “Apps” run on your smartphone, and use your cellular carrier.
The obvious differences between these products are:
- whether or not they have built in automatic fall detection;
- whether or not they have built in location capability (GPS);
- battery life (time between recharging — all have a rechargeable battery);
- the cellular network on which they operate.
Price is also a very important differentiator. And our testing uncovered some additional unexpected differences.
“Pendants & buttons”
|Philips Lifeline GoSafe||Yes||GPS||1-3 days||$859||AT&T|
|Medical Guardian Premium Guardian|
(rebranded version of the Numera Libris)
|LifeFone At home, On-the-Go GPS|
(rebranded version of the MobileHelp Cellular Duo)
|Alert 1 Kelsi|
(rebranded version of the Freeus eResponder)
|No||No (2)||3 months||$547||T-mobile|
Apps on Smartphone
|GreatCall 5Star||No||GPS||1 day||$180||Your smart-phone carrier|
|LifeFone Mobile Alert||No||GPS||1 day||$84||Your smart-phone carrier|
Philips Lifeline Response App
|No||GPS||1 day||$168||Your smart-phone carrier|
Notes: some of the products have automatic detection of falls as an optional extra. The pricing reflects this. “no auto-fall” means the price of the system without the auto-detection capability for falls. “incl. auto-fall” means the price including this auto-detection capability.
Our Comparison Test Protocol
Over a period of two months I routinely wore some or all of these products during my daily routine. I learned which ones were convenient to use and which were not, although that is quite subjective. Every now and again I sat down at some location where I thought I would want to be sure the products worked, and one after the other I pressed the alert buttons and waited for the responder to come on the line.
In each case, I timed how long it took between when I pressed the button and when the responder started talking.
When I spoke with the responder, I explained we were testing the system, and asked them to tell me “where I am right now?”. Typically, they were able to give me a street address and exact GPS coordinates. I cross checked these with my map.
I carried out this routine on 20 occasions in 15 different locations, mostly in the San Francisco Bay area, but once on a roadtrip to Sacramento and several times in Tahoe City. The locations ranged from out on a trail during a small walk, to on the seventh floor of the parking garage I use to go to evening events downtown. I included both indoor and outdoor locations, and tried to select the locations based on where I would expect people’s everyday routine to take them.
Results: Three Months of Mobile Medical Alert Evaluation
The responders were uniformly friendly and pleasant. I did not have any bad experiences with any of the responders. I would be happy thinking they were a resource for an older adult about whom I cared.
“Works Everywhere”?: The Cell Networks
In our testing in the San Francisco Bay Area we saw very few problems due to cell network coverage. However, in areas where one or other of the carrier networks has better coverage than others, this could be an important differentiator. As you hone in on a specific product, check that the carrier it uses (see table above) has good coverage where you want to use the product. Many observers of the telecom industry in North America identify AT&T and Verizon as the top two carriers for coverage, but T-mobile is investing heavily to catch up.
All the hardware products had fairly good response times. The Apps also had good response times, except when they failed completely (see below). However there were some significant differences if one feels that minutes matter.
At one extreme, the GreatCall product had very fast response. The responder was usually talking to me within less than 15 seconds of my pressing the button. At the opposite extreme was Philips Lifeline. Their responder typically came on the line after well over a minute. The other products fell in between these extremes, mostly in the range of 30-60 seconds.
- GreatCall Splash: (average: 16 seconds; Max: 53 seconds; Min: 5 seconds; N=19)
- Medical Guardian Premium Guardian: (average: 44 seconds; Max: 72 seconds; Min: 24 seconds; N=14)
- LifeFone, At Home & On-the-Go GPS: (average: 62 seconds; Max: 120 seconds; Min: 20 seconds; N=13)
- Philips Lifeline GoSafe: (average: 91 seconds; Max: 146 seconds; Min: 66 seconds; N=13)
The results in this section were a bit surprising. The big picture is that (at least out of doors) most of the products know where you are most of the time. But they are far from “perfect”.
Each of them was off by a block or two at least once. If you can talk to the responder, and are alert, this may not matter. But if you are confused or have become unconscious, this could be important.
- The Philips Lifeline GoSafe and the Great Call Splash were within a block most of the time (90% of tests).
- The MobileHelp Cellular Duo (Lifefone At Home, on the Go) was within a block in 76% of tests, but on 3 of 13 occasions was off by more than 10 blocks.
- The Numera Libris (Medical Guardian Premium Guardian) was within a block in only 50% of tests, and on 6 of 14 occasions was off by more than 10 blocks.
As best I can tell, the errors occured after I moved from one location to another. I suspect the products that erred most may update their GPS readings less frequently than those that are more often correct. Typically, the error involved the responder thinking I was at some location I had been at maybe 15 or even thirty minutes before.
The other challenges I found were that indoors, on several occasions all the systems were unsure where I was. In several instances, they were so unsure as to be not useful as locators.
When I simulated hurting myself on the seventh floor of the downtown parking garage, the systems all knew I was within a block or two of where I actually was. But none of them would have known which floor I was on (GPS does not know about height). This would make finding me tricky if I could not speak. (See below for a special feature in this regard by the Philips Lifeline GoSafe).
Responder Training and Services
In this analysis we have not tried to cover the differences between the responder call centers that each of these systems uses. We plan to cover this in a later piece of research. Details that we currently think will be important differentiators for some people include: multi-language capability; level of responder training and certification; call center redundancy; whether or not the responders offer additional services beyond emergency response; and how well the companies protect and keep private the data they are collecting.
Battery Life and Ease of Charging
The Kelsi (Freeus eResponder) stands out with respect to battery life and convenience, with a 3 month time between charges. The reason it can do that, of course, is that it does not include features like GPS or automatic fall detection.
The other products are all designed with the idea they need to be charged every day or two. In 2015 there were some differences (see table) but they were modest. In general, I think one would want to plan on a routine in which they are charged daily. While all the products have a light that tells you if charging is needed, the Philips product talks to you and is quite personable, and reminds you exactly when and how to charge it.
There is a very important subtlety in regard to charging. For the GreatCall Splash, Lively Mobile Plus, and the Philips Lifeline GoSafe and GoSafe2, it is the pendant itself that needs to be charged daily (or maybe every second day). This is not at all inconvenient, and you can charge it by the bed at night. However, it does mean that while you are charging the pendant you most likely are not wearing it, and that could be just the time you need it. Philips Lifeline makes a point that you can charge the pendant while wearing it, but we did not think that was at all realistic.
In contrast, for the MobileHelp Cellular Duo (LifeFone At Home & On-the-Go) the pendant has its own battery with a very long life (18 months, according to the manual). The thing that needs daily charging is the portable base station. And while that is charging, the pendant / wearable continues to work just fine, communicating with either the main base station or the portable base station depending on how things are set up. This makes it far more likely that one would keep the wearable on 24/7, and for many that may be a decisive factor!
Update: Battery life has changed significantly as of 2019.
- Battery Life for the Philips Lifeline GoSafe 2 is extremely impressive. In our tests the lifetime was roughly two weeks!. So a weekly charge seems very realistic, which would be a big step forward.
- The new Medical Guardian Active Guardian has a battery life in our tests of over 4 days.
- The Lively Mobile had problems with its battery life, which the new GreatCall Lively Mobile Plus was designed to address. In our tests the GreatCall Lively Mobile Plus had a battery life of over 3 days. However this product had been recalled and was relaunched in Feb 2020, and we have not retested its battery life after the relaunch.
It is important that you can clearly hear the responder when they call you back through the wearable after you press the alert button. The Philips Lifeline GoSafe stands out in this respect. It is very loud and very clear. At the opposite extreme, I found the Kelsi (Freeus eResponder) noticeably scratchy and faint and hard to hear. In between these extremes, I thought all the other hardware products had quite adequate sound quality. In noisy places I needed to put them near my head. If I were hard of hearing I would definitely favor the Philips Lifeline product in this regard, although I think the other products are quite acceptable.
Ease of Use, Appearance, and Wearability
The main problem with this whole class of products is that they are all quite ugly and they scream “I am old and frail and need help”. Many of the older adults in our Explorer circles dislike that aspect of them, and we are frequently told this is a reason people don’t wear them.
The GreatCall Splash stands out a bit in a good way here, as it looks like a pager or other type of consumer electronics, and is not too noticeable. The Premium Guardian (Numera Libris) rides on the belt and is unobtrusive but ugly. The Kelsi (Freeus eResponder) is a smallish black rectangle and is also quite innocuous. And of course, the Apps don’t require you to carry anything but the phone.
The Splash, Kelsi, and Premium Guardian are all pretty easy to use with a single large button to press in case of emergency.
I found myself in two minds about the remaining two products with respect to ease of use and wearability. The LifeFone At Home & On-the-Go (MobileHelp Cellular Duo) includes an extra component. It belongs to the “portable base station” flavor of product. As such, it is quite a bit more clunky than the other products. But it has a big benefit. Namely, it works both out and about, as well as at home, where it connects via its home base station. And the wearable itself can be quite a bit smaller than in the case of the “all in one” products that make up the rest of the list.
The Philips Lifeline GoSafe has a number of very cool extra “features”, that an engineer like me definitely admires (see below). In terms of look and feel it very much telegraphs “I am a medical product”. It is white, very nicely ergonomic, and comfortable to wear under the shirt. It has a very nice positive feel when you press the button. And all in all, it feels like a piece of german engineering. But it definitely says “I am old and sick and I need help”.
The final wearability issue has to do with whether you would wear each of these in the shower. I think one would be much less likely to wear a Splash or a Kelsi or a Premium Guardian in the shower, although they say you can.
Weight of the Pendants
|Product name||Weight (oz)|
|Philips Lifeline GoSafe||2.1|
|Medical Guardian Premium Guardian|
(rebranded version of the Numera Libris)
|LifeFone At home, On-the-Go|
(rebranded version of the MobileHelp Cellular Duo)
|Alert 1 Kelsi|
(rebranded version of the Freeus eResponder)
NOTES on weight:
- This was done with our kitchen scale. I expect the relative weights to be accurate. The absolute numbers may be off a bit. I did not try and calibrate the scale.
- The MobileHelp weight refers only to the pendant (the fall detection version). It also requires the portable base station of course, which weighs an additional 2.4 oz. However, this weight goes away when you are at home, and when out and about I am assuming it goes either on your belt or in your purse, and is not too bothersome as a result.
Finding You When GPS Fails
After testing these products I have the opinion that you don’t want to fall and hit your head inside, in a large multistory building. With one exception, the responders explained to me that if the GPS was not giving a good reading and they could not talk to me, that would be a problem.
The exception is the Philips Lifeline GoSafe product. When I discussed this issue with the responder from Philips Lifeline, they explained to me that the pendant contains a very loud siren, and that if they get an alert and don’t know where I am and can’t talk to me, they will activate the siren to help the emergency responders track me down. This struck me as an excellent solution to the fact that GPS is not perfect.
At Home Connectivity
Each of these devices works wherever there is cell coverage. Some people have poor cell coverage in some parts of their house, and all but two of these products will not work in those places, because they rely solely on cell coverage to communicate to the responder.
Both the Philips Lifeline GoSafe and the MobileHelp Cellular Duo (LifeFone At Home & On-the-Go) products include a type of dual functionality. When they are away from home they use the cell network to communicate, as do the other products. But when they are “at home”, they communicate via a base station in the house. The communication between pendant and home base station uses a more robust type of wireless communication than the cell network, and is much less likely to have dead spots. So these two products are a bit more “perfect” than the others, in terms of working at home in areas where cell reception is bad.
Planes and the “Off Button”.
Most of these products have an “off button”. The Kelsi (Freeus eResponder) does not have an “off button”, that I could find. Some of the vendors claim that when going on an airplane you need to turn the pendants off, and this would not be possible with the Kelsi. I have not verified whether the airlines do indeed care about this.
Problems with the Apps
I had high hopes for these three Emergency Response Apps. When they worked, they worked well. The main issue, common to all Apps, is that to activate them you need first to navigate the lockscreen of the phone, and find the App, and wait for it to open — and then press the button. Some of our Explorers think this is too complicated to do in an emergency. But some think it would be fine.
Other than this, the GreatCall 5Star App worked well. It opens easily, has a nice big red button to press, and when pressed it connects to the same responder as did the Splash. The GPS seems to work a bit better on the phone than on the stand alone devices, with slightly fewer errors.
In contrast, I consider both the other two Apps to be unusable!!
See my detailed reviews of each App for my discussion of why exactly that is the case. But the short summary is this.
- More than 50% of the time, in my testing the Phillips Lifeline App froze before it reached the button you need to press to summon help.
- The LifeFone App works quite well when you activate it. However, instead of a big obvious button to press when you open it, it has a very tiny little icon at the bottom that is almost unreadable (by me at least). In an emergency I don’t think you would figure out what to press.
Conclusions: Comparison Tests
In our original evaluations, we included here a section summarizing the results, and recommending some specific products.
Those conclusions are no longer terribly relevant, as the new products have addressed some of the shortfalls, and we have updated our recommendations accordingly.
To see what we recommend today in this category of “Mobile Medical Alert Systems” (as well as detailed reviews), see:
And, if you are interested in medical alert “apps”, see: Best Medical Alert App: Bake-off.
In the table above we estimate a rough total annual cost for each product. The products typically come with some up-front fee, and a monthly fee, but we think comparing annual total cost is a good way to have a single number to compare.
The pricing here is based on the prices we actually paid (in Oct, Nov or Dec 2015), but modified to reflect the lower prices we could have got if we signed up for an annual plan. In reality, we typically signed up to pay by the month, which costs a bit more. In some cases there are specific features you can add for additional cost, but we ignored that for the purposes of comparison — except for fall detection which we called out in a separate column. In our product analysis pages, we include links to the company websites where you can see the latest prices. Use the table above only as a guide please.
(2) GPS and location
The Kelsi does not have any built-in way to know where it is. The vendor explains that after you talk to the responder, if the responder calls 911, they can use the 911 locating technology to find you. As discussed in our detailed review of the Kelsi, this is better than nothing but falls a long way short of the locating capability of the other products in this list.
(3) Product selection background
The way the emergency response industry works is that a handful of companies make actual hardware products that are then remarketed under a variety of different names by a much larger group of resellers. This is why, when you look at our selection tool and search for products by characteristics, you see a number of identical-looking products with different names, from different vendors. Thus the results above apply to a broad range of products from different vendors.
We did not test the GreatCall Jitterbug, although it gets excellent reviews, simply because, as a cell phone with built in emergency button, it is a little different from other products in this analysis. It uses the same 5 star response service as both the Splash and the 5 Star App, both of which we did study.
We also left out for now two products that seemed slightly less good on paper but which would be worth testing. These were the “Sentry Pal” from LogicMark (also sold as the “MobileGuard” from OnGuard Alert); and the iHelp Alarm from Medical Alarm Concepts. You can see the product analysis sections for these two products to learn more.
Finally, we like the look of the Limmex emergency watch and the Everon PERSmobile (both are in our data base if you are interested), but they are not available in the US and for now we left them out of the analysis.
For each of the products we reviewed, you can read detailed, hands-on test results in the detailed product analysis for that product. We also have included some desk analysis for all the other products in our database. You can access all this material through our main report home page here.
*Disclosure: The research and opinions in this article are those of the author, and may or may not reflect the official views of Tech-enhanced Life.
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In some cases, when we evaluate products and services, we ask the vendor to loan us the products we review (so we don’t need to buy them). Beyond the above, Tech-enhanced Life has no financial interest in any products or services discussed here, and this article is not sponsored by the vendor or any third party. See How we Fund our Work.