Mossberg’s Mailbox

The Search for a Simple Cellphone

Published on April 5, 2007
by Walt Mossberg

There’s no other major item most of us own that is as confusing, unpredictable and unreliable as our personal computers. Everybody has questions about them, and we aim to help.

Here are a few questions about computers I’ve received recently from people like you, and my answers. I have edited and restated the questions a bit, for readability. This week my mailbox contained questions about finding a simple cellphone, Apple TV’s video formats and networking two Windows PCs.

I am approaching 70, and I wonder if there is a “simple” cellphone available, or something close? I want one that merely makes and receives calls, records messages, and retrieves messages with the push of a button.

Most cellphone carriers and electronics retailers sell very basic phones that mainly do just that. If they have additional functions they are optional. Another choice is a phone called the Jitterbug, which not only focuses on these basic functions, but also has large buttons and other features designed for older users. More information is at Our review of the Jitterbug can be found at:

Will the Apple TV play back non-copy-protected video in the AVI format?

No. Apple TV doesn’t support AVI. The principal non-copy-protected video format it supports is MP4. It also supports copy-protected video, but only in the format used by Apple’s iTunes Store. Apple’s free QuickTime program, which comes with the iTunes software for both Windows and Mac computers, has a function that can convert some types of video files into formats that Apple TV can use.

I have a laptop that operates on Windows XP. If I get a new desktop with Windows Vista will I have any problems networking the two of them?

Networking in Windows can be flaky, and it’s impossible to say with certainty that you won’t have any problems. But I can say that, in my own limited tests, mixed networks of Windows XP and Windows Vista computers worked properly.

* * *

Because of the volume of e-mail I receive, I can’t routinely answer individual questions by e-mail, or consult on individual problems or purchasing decisions. I read all questions I receive and select three each week to answer in the column.

Write to Walter S. Mossberg at

Return to: The Search for a Simple Cellphone