The young rule the digital age. It’s fascinating to watch children born in the last few years take to a tablet like it’s nothing, and most folks in their 20s and below know how to work a smartphone with little help. However, this isn’t always true for those of older generations.
Some people still use a basic (“dumb”) phone either because they don’t want a smartphone or don’t know how to work one. If you have family members who aren’t tech-savvy but need a smartphone, we’ll show you some of the best smartphones to start them out on. In addition, we’ll review ways to set up any phone to be more usable for the elderly.
Note that years ago, we covered the best cell phones for seniors, but those are basic phones without smart capabilities. If you’re buying for someone who doesn’t need a phone, perhaps a senior-friendly tablet would be better.
Let’s look at the phones on the market that are specifically designed for those who aren’t tech-savvy.
Jitterbug has long been the premier name in basic cell phones for seniors, and its new offering brings that legacy into the smartphone market. The Jitterbug Smart costs just $150, and it’s specifically designed for easy use.
The screen is 5.5″, the same size as the iPhone 7 Plus (our review). It organizes apps into a basic list, so there’s no chance to accidentally hide apps or move them around. Jitterbug also has a library of videos on using your smartphone that you can review at any time.
Of course, the specs on this phone aren’t anything phenomenal. A paltry 8 GB of internal storage means you won’t have space for many big apps, but it does support microSD cards for extra space. It connects to 4G LTE for the fastest mobile data and includes a front-facing camera for chatting with loved ones.
What makes the Jitterbug Smart a great buy for the elderly is the no-contract plan that comes with it. If you like, you can opt for three different levels of the “Health & Safety Package.” These cost extra but include services like 24/7 access to nurses, medication reminders, and brain games. Note that there are some apps that will perform these services for free. Of course, these aren’t required, but subscribing to one also reduces the cost of monthly minutes.
Even if you forgo the safety plan, you can choose how much talk, text, and data you want. The cheapest options are $15 for 200 minutes, $3 for 300 texts, and $2.50 for 40 MB of data. Chatty types can purchase unlimited talk and text for $50/month, with 100 MB of data included. This allows those who want to text but not call to only spend money on what they’ll use. Any overages cost a standard price.
Overall, the Jitterbug Smart is a decent phone built specifically for seniors at a fair price. It allows for the use of smart features without being overwhelming.
Doro 824 SmartEasy
The Doro 824 SmartEasy, offered by Consumer Cellular, provides a similar experience to the Jitterbug. Its screen is 5″, a great choice for smaller hands while still being large enough to provide a clear picture. It has the standard budget specs of 8 GB of internal storage (with space for a microSD card), 4G LTE connectivity, and basic cameras on either side of the device.
What sets the SmartEasy apart is the My Doro Manager app, included on each phone. This allows the owner to get remote help from trusted contacts. If you’ve been tech support for family before, you know how difficult it is to help over the phone when you can’t see. With this app, those quick questions are much easier to solve. The phone also features an emergency button on the back to call specific contacts.
The device costs $200, which you can pay outright or pay $50 at checkout and $25 per month on your bill for the next six months. Plans range from $15/month for 250 minutes to $50/month for unlimited minutes. If you prefer, you can pay $10/month and be billed for only what you use ($0.25 per minute). Should you go over your plan, Consumer Cellular automatically bumps up your plan so you get the best deal.
Texts and data are optional. The cheapest option is $2.50/month for 300 texts and 30 MB of data, while $20/month gets unlimited texts and 1.5 GB of data. All plans fall under Consumer Cellular’s standard, which means no contracts. You can also add a family member onto your plan for only $10/month.
The Doro is a bit more expensive than the Jitterbug, but it also provides a smaller screen for those who don’t want a huge device. Having remote access built-in is great, but you can also achieve that with other methods as we’ll see below. Both plans are fairly similar, but you might be able to save a few dollars per month depending on how much you use calls versus texts and data.
Any Recent Samsung Phone
The above phones are specifically made for seniors and don’t feature a “normal” mode of operation. Samsung doesn’t make any phones targeted at the elderly, but they do include a mode in nearly all of their devices called Easy Mode that’s perfect for seniors.
Samsung makes a variety of phones for any need — whether you want a big screen or small, high-end or low-end — so you can get the device that’s just right for your loved ones. As a bonus, most mid to high-end Samsung devices boast a sharper screen and more internal storage than the two phones above.
To activate Easy Mode, open Settings on your phone and scroll down to Easy Mode. You’ll see a note about what Easy Mode does, then you can turn it on. Easy Mode makes the phone much more streamlined, with bigger fonts, less navigation options, and shortcuts for trusted contacts. This abstracts much of Android’s more confusing elements away from someone who doesn’t need them.
Easy Mode is available on the premium Samsung Galaxy S7 (our review), but an older S6 or even S5 would likely be fine for your loved one. A Galaxy Note 5 or 4 provides a larger screen (without the explosiveness of a Note 7), and it’s worth checking out Samsung’s other phones, like the J3, for something a bit cheaper.
Other Senior-Friendly Tools
Perhaps you don’t want to buy one of the three phones above or plan on giving a spare phone to someone. You still have plenty of options for making Android more accessible on any device.
We’ve shown you how to capitalize on Android’s accessibility features to make your device easier to use. As a part of that, if your family member has trouble typing on a touch screen, you’re able to control Android completely by voice.
Looking for suggestions for a smart phone for my elderly mother. She hates not getting pix of the grandkids. Thinking Android but openminded
— Everard Santamarina (@lokibeat) November 30, 2016
Further, there are apps that can completely change the look of the phone, similar to Samsung’s Easy Mode. Using a simple launcher replaces tiny icons with big pictures and text that keep navigation easy, such as Wiser Launcher.
Set Up for Success
Once you’ve selected the right phone/tools, it’s important to go over a few things with your parent or grandparent to make sure they understand everything about their new phone. Have them read through parts one and two of our Android beginner’s guide to pick up on the basics. If you like, you can even show them what not to do with a new Android phone and apps to avoid installing.
Before you send them off on their way with the phone, take some time to set it up and make it easy to use. Set them up with a Google account if they don’t have one, and be sure to secure it. Remove any bloatware apps that came on the phone and be sure to install a backup app so they don’t lose any data.
Turn off notifications for annoying apps so they aren’t bothered. Add their most important contacts and make them favorites for easy access. Install some of the best Android apps, like Textra to replace the crummy default SMS app.
Install a remote access app on their phone so you can get to it anytime. A good choice is TeamViewer: you’ll have to install TeamViewer QuickSupport on the receiving device, and TeamViewer for Remote Control on your device.
Before you’re done, take some pictures of their device. Note the locations of buttons in case you have to guide them through some actions over the phone. Take screenshots of their home screen and app menus so if remote access fails, you have some idea of what their screen looks like. Consider writing down the steps to perform certain critical actions so they can follow those the first few times.
Chances are they’ll need a bit of help before they master using their phone. Taking some time to go through the above steps ensures you have an easier time supporting the phone in the future.
Ready to Buy Your Loved One a Phone?
While it does take some consideration, buying a smartphone for those without technical experience doesn’t have to be a pain. Whether you opt for a special senior-optimized phone or a normal phone with compatibility apps, there’s a solution perfect for your needs. Cap the setup off with remote access tools and guides for the new user, and your grandparents will be well on their way to being smartphone masters.
Thinking that a new computer might be a better choice than a phone? Check out why Chromebooks are the perfect computer for seniors.
Do you have non-tech-savvy loved ones in your life who are looking for a smartphone? Let us know if these tips helped you, and share your favorite senior-friendly devices and apps in the comments!
Image Credits: Cherries/Shutterstock