For seniors who are aging in place, having the ability to quickly communicate any needs to those outside the home is essential—especially in emergency situations. Chances are, most seniors have a landline that may also be an integral part of their medical alert device system.
However, seniors are also giving the younger generations a run for their money concerning their appreciation for cellular phones. Whether you are looking for a senior-friendly cell phone for yourself or a loved one, this guide will help you navigate through the various types of phones, features, costs and cell phone providers.
Why Should Seniors Have Cell Phones?
Obviously, being able to make and receive calls anytime, anywhere with contacts available with a click or swipe is the biggest benefit for any cell phone owner. However, there are many individuals today who use smartphones for virtually everything accessible through technology.
For seniors, it’s essential to sit down and make a list of exactly how they want and need to use the device before delving into considering types of phones.
Ask yourself the following questions—Do I want to use the phone to:
- Only make emergency calls and contact friends and family?
- Send and receive text messages?
- Take pictures and/or videos?
- Go online to check email, surf the web, pay bills or do research?
- Video chat?
- Check the weather, date and time?
- Set reminders for appointments medications, or monitor my health?
- Enjoy the security of GPS access to navigate traffic and find locations?
- Control smart home devices?
- Serve as a medical alert connection hub and location device?
Equipped with this knowledge, it is much easier to determine what features are necessary, making it much easier to choose the ideal cellular device.
Types of Senior Cell Phones to Consider
With a checklist of what you want and need in hand, you are ready to start phone shopping. There are three models of phones that are available today: flip phones, block phones and smartphones. Those seeking basic phones for calling and texting will likely prefer the first two options, while those seeking ultimate connectivity and bells and whistles will want to look at smartphones.
Flip Phones for Seniors
Flip phones open up to reveal a small screen and a touchpad. These cellular phones are very utilitarian in design and elementary in function, making them a good choice for seniors simply wanting to talk, text, and perhaps take basic photos or short videos. While some flip phones offer Internet access, the service is typically very rudimentary and very slow in functioning due to minimal processing speeds.
Block or Slider Phones
Another frills-free style of phone for basic users are block style and slider style phones. Block style requires no flipping and feature the keypad and screen on one side, so it’s great for those with dexterity concerns. Slider phones have a large screen face that slides up to reveal a full keyboard that is larger than most phones, making it a good choice for those with vision issues or larger fingers.
Smartphones for Seniors
Because of their intelligent features that can simplify a senior's life in a number of ways, smartphones are quickly gaining popularity among this demographic. Smartphones offer immediate and even continually Internet connectivity if desired, allowing seniors to use them for everything they generally use a computer for. Furthermore, there are endless apps that allow one to watch television, play games, video chat, monitor home security and smart devices and much more.
Before choosing this type of phone, seniors should be comfortable using a touchscreen device and be prepared for a learning curve concerning how to use and manage smartphones. There is also a difference between choosing an Android phone and an iPhone, so seniors will want to take time to learn the difference between the two and their pros and cons, as most phone owners have a strong opinion about which is best. Speaking of pros and cons…
Pros and Cons of Cell Phones for Seniors
With the more rudimentary flip and block phones, there aren’t many cons to buying one. After all, they are inexpensive and don’t generally hold valuable or sensitive information beyond contact lists. However, smartphones are often connected to an individual’s most private info including financial data and instant connectivity to the owner's email and social media outlets. That being said, here are some other pros and cons of cell phone ownership, with most of these being applied specifically to smartphones.
Pros of Cellular Phones
Besides making calls, texting, and taking videos and photos, many higher-end cell phones have handy practical applications. For example, smartphones can help seniors manage the Internet of Things (IOTs) around the home such as controlling smart thermostats, security systems, viewing who’s at the door, operate lighting and control other connected devices remotely. Seniors can set alerts and reminders for important times and dates, and many smartphones feature virtual assistants who can answer questions and provide vocal commands and directions. Not only do these features improve safety in numerous ways, but they also are convenient for seniors with mobility issues.
Cell phones with Internet connectivity can help seniors feel more connected with friends and family, as they easily allow for two-way communications and sharing in a variety of formats. Those who live alone will never have to feel alone or disconnected from the world. Even when craving alone time but wanting entertainment, smartphones feature applications that allow seniors to play games and use brain-training programs that keep their minds sharp and active. Conversely, along with these perks—especially those of smartphones—there are a few cons and risks to consider, as well.
Potential Cons of Cell Phones
While basic phones can be had for as little as $15 for a flip phone and even entry-level smartphones start around $75, some of the higher end cell phones can cost up to a $1000 and even more. This is why it’s so important to know what features you need and want, so you don’t pay extra for bells and whistles that aren’t essential.
One of the biggest struggles that many seniors face after getting a phone—especially smartphones—is learning how to operate them. So many applications and varying set up options can be overwhelming even for experienced cell phone users. Shoppers who shy away from technical challenges might do best with a straightforward cell phone model.
Top Features of Senior-Friendly Cell Phones
There are quite a few cell phone features that are specifically designed to adapt to the special needs of seniors that can make operating the device much easier. Here are a few senior-friendly cell phone features.
- Full Qwerty Keyboards: Texting on a flip phone often requires one to hit a corresponding number multiple times to arrive at specific letter selections. Ease this by choosing a block, slider or smartphone with a full keyboard.
- Larger Buttons and Screens: Senior friendly cell phones often feature larger buttons than usual, have oversized screens and offer font size adjustment options to ease eye strain.
- Internet Access: While seniors may not think they’ll go online with their phone, one might be surprised how handy it can be in a pinch. Consider buying an Internet-capable phone just in case.
- Simple Menus: Many individuals don’t want to deal with dozens of menus that are common on smartphones, so some of the top cell phone companies for seniors such as Consumer Cellular and GreatCall offer no-frills basic menu phones.
- Higher Volume Options: Those with hearing loss can find phones for seniors with higher volume control options, and there are even cellular phones that are hearing aid compatible.
- Voice Typing and Voiceover Features: Voiceover allows the phone to read aloud the text on the screen when a message is received, and there are applications that also offer voice mail to text translations. Voice typing allows one to train their phone to their vocal commands, so the phone can type text messages for seniors.
- Magnifying Cameras: An excellent feature for seniors are magnifying cameras, which magnify the size of whatever it’s pointed at, making it a very handy tool for reading small print such as documents and restaurant menus.
- Closed Captioning: Closed caption features are common on smartphones so that seniors who like to stream videos can read along with the script with ease.
- Alerts, Alarms and Timers: Even basic phones typically have an alarm or timer feature that can help jog seniors’ memory concerning ‘to-do’ tasks like taking medications or doctor’s appointments.
- Emergency Button: Most phones designed specifically for seniors feature a physical button that auto-dials a specific emergency number of the users choosing in times of distress.
- GPS Location: GPS features are essential for seniors who need help finding places, and it is an invaluable tool that can allow emergency personnel or family members to find the user if necessary. In essence, GPS can be a lifesaver.
- Fitness and Health Tracking Tools: Many smartphone devices have the ability to track your fitness routine concerning miles ran or walked, steps taken throughout the day, calories burned, time spent working out, etc. Higher end cellular devices for seniors such as the Apple iWatch can also monitor many health-related statistics such as heart rate.
- Built-In Medical Alert Devices: There are GPS functional phones that also can be connected with medical alert companies through your wireless plan that essentially allows them to also serve as medical alert devices. There are also affordable cell phones designed for seniors such as MobileHelp Smart, Freedom Guardian from Medical Guardian, FallCall Lite App on the Apple Watch and phones from GreatCall that have built-in medical alert devices that feature fall detection as well.
- Electronic Tracking: Smartphones have apps that can help seniors find items that they commonly misplace such as keys, remote controls, eyeglasses, etc. Simply connect a tracking tile to the item and use the phone to activate an alert that guides you to the misplaced object.
- Fingerprint Recognition: Certain newer models of smartphones feature fingerprint recognition as an alternative to password codes to unlock the phone. This is a fantastic feature for seniors who tend to forget passwords, and these can be set to recognize other individual’s fingerprints, as well. This keeps unwanted eyes and ears from using the device, while ensuring authorized users can utilize it anytime.
Costs of Senior Cell Phones
There are basic cell phones that begin around $15 and up to around $100 if you want specialty features without the frills of a smartphone and a touchscreen. The most basic smartphones begin around $50 and can go up to around $250 for one with moderate options, speed and reliability.
However, the top-of-the-line Android and iPhones start around $250 and go well beyond the $1100 range. However, many low-end and middle-range phones are offered for ‘free’ after newer models come out, but there is a catch—the free phone means you must sign a contract that generally ranges between two and three years.
Another thing to be aware of as you shop for phones is that those high-end models are often offered to customers via financing that allows one to make monthly payments on top of the monthly service charges.
If you change your mind about the service, you’ll be held liable for the remainder of the contract and the full price of the phone, and most providers want payment in full immediately upon your contract termination. With the potentially high cost of phones, it may be worth considering insurance and a service protection plan.
Cell Phone Insurance & Service Protection Plans
While flip phones seem to be resilient to just about everything beyond water and sledgehammer type forces, block phones and smartphones tend to be far easier to break. Phones like these with full frontal screens can shatter when being dropped just inches from the floor.
While cases and screen protectors will help to some extent, it can be very costly to fix this issue—up to $250! Even a malfunctioning volume or power button can run $100 or more to repair, and if the phone is lost or stolen, a buyer will be out every penny of their purchase if no coverage is available.
Essentially, an extended warranty or service plan or an outright insurance plan is wise for more expensive phone models, while a cheaper version may do just fine under the manufacturer’s warranty. However, most major cell phone providers offer insurance products that cover theft, loss and irreparable damage for an additional monthly fee.
These policies are often contracts made with other companies such as Assurant and Asurion, so be sure to read the fine print carefully and understand the coverage you are paying for.
Popular Types of Cell Phone Plans for Seniors
Not so long ago, there were limited types of cell phone plans available, and customers simply signed a contract and received service. Today, there are various types of plans that range in cost depending upon the features and services you need and want.
Generally, basic phone plans for calling and texting are very affordable, but smartphone rates can vary depending on the amount of data usage, the number of texts and how many minutes of talk time one plans to use. Here are the types of cell phone plans that seniors can consider, and they are sure to find one that fits both their budget and lifestyle.
Low-Cost Cell Phone Plans
Low-income seniors or those on social security or other government or state-sponsored programs may qualify for low-cost cell phone plans with certain providers. However, there are perks for being within the golden years (55+) with most cell phone companies, as there are often discounts that are specifically designed for seniors with their budgets in mind.
Pay as You Go No Contract Plans
Pay as you go plans are no contract agreements that users can opt to renew monthly or not, meaning that there is no contract involved. Like traditional cell phone plans, pay as you go options typically include a set number minutes, texts and data limitations or either they offer an unlimited plan for a set fee. Most companies offer a pay as you go plan that requires no contract, including major players like Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile.
Flexible cell phone plans have a monthly base rate that keeps the device in service. As you use data, talk or text specified amounts per the contract are added to the rate, usually on a tiered scale that you’ll pay at the end of the month. These plans are excellent for seniors who utilize their phone infrequently or sporadically.
Unlimited Cell Phone Plans
These plans are for seniors who want to use all the phone’s features without time and data limitations. Unlimited plans truly are unlimited in that they let users talk, text, use data, chat and watch videos, etc. as much as they like.
However, the catch may arrive in the form of data use, as after a certain amount of usage, data service may begin slowing down or video quality may lessen. This is known as throttling, and your provider will have a data limit set that will start this process.
Quite a few phone service providers offer senior specific plans and various discounts designed for those 55 and older. Some carriers even throw in extra features for seniors at no cost or a reduced cost such as doctor on-call apps, medication reminders and wellness check-ins. If they do not have a plan for seniors, ask about getting a percentage off regular monthly plans. Consumer Cellular and GreatCall (Jitterbug) offer senior-specific affordable cell phone plans, and more major players will surely follow their lead.
Top Senior Cell Phone Providers
There are quite a few cell phone providers to choose from today, but only a few are true standouts concerning meeting the specific needs and budgets of seniors. Here are the top choices for senior cell phone providers.
From the makers of the Jitterbug, one of the nations first senior-geared phone and service providers, the company is now recognized as GreatCall—and great calling you shall receive. Regardless of whether a senior wants a simple flip phone or a smartphone, GreatCall has it all, and there are no contracts required. Their best selling models are very easy to use and are designed specifically to meet the special needs of seniors. The screens and buttons are relatively large and the single list menus are easy to navigate.
GreatCall’s phones boast long battery life and all the features seniors are likely to use most such as talking, texting, Internet browsing, photos, and sending emails. Other perks of these senior-friendly phones include voice dialing, a flashlight, a magnifier and award willing safety and health apps. GreatCall also offers exclusive 5-Star urgent response buttons on the keypad, so seniors can get immediate help in case of an emergency. The company also offers a Lively Wearable Watch that serves as an urgent response device and a traditional style medical alert device that connects to your smartphone and provide GPS location information.
Consumer Cellular continually maintains an A rating with the Better Business Bureau since 1999 and has won five J.D. Power awards for having the “Highest in Customer Service Among Non-Contract Value Wireless Providers.” With basic and smartphone models ranging in price from $50 to $500, Consumer Cellular definitely is a top choice for those on a budget. No contracts to tie you in, an array of phones with large touch screens, easy Internet access and plans as low as $15 per month for seniors are certainly standout features.
Consumer Cellular has recently launched the Grandpad, a senior-friendly device that lets one enjoy the features of a phone such as video chatting, watching movies, surfing the web or reading on a much larger screen. Seniors who are AARP members will also be eligible for additional discounts with Consumer Cellular including 30 percent off certain accessories and 5 percent of monthly usage charges and fees.
Verizon Wireless boasts having one of the largest and most reliable networks in the nation, but they really have yet to go out of their way to really cater to seniors. However, they are gaining traction in this area and have begun offering two different senior plans with one geared towards those 55 and up and the other is specifically for seniors aged 65 and up. These plans feature all the goodies that their traditional Go Unlimited Plan offers, but it is offered at a discount for those who qualify. Verizon customers under this plan can expect 4G speeds, unlimited talk and text, Verizon Up Rewards points and will enjoy the benefits of having an unlimited mobile hotspot.
For the past two decades, T-Mobile has been providing solid cellular service on a nationwide level, making them one of the most reliable networks and phone providers for seniors. Like competitors, they offer an Unlimited 55+ plan at a discounted price that will fit most seniors budgets. Because this plan will work with any compatible phone on the network, new customers to T-Mobile can often bring their own phone rather than having to purchase a new one. However, seniors may opt to take this opportunity to get a new phone at a great rate, so they can enjoy more apps and features. T-Mobile offers both monthly plans under contract agreements and month-to-month pay as you go options for greater convenience.
AT&T is officially the largest network in the nation and stakes a claim on being the most reliable cell phone service provider as well, announcing on their advertisements that they boast the fewest dropped calls. Unlike some of their competitors, AT&T offers some fantastic deals for elderly customers including their Senior Nation Plan. Seniors essentially need to choose a plan that features the amount of talk time and data that they will use each month to get the best deal.
There is one that offers 200 anytime minutes, unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes, and 500 night and weekend minutes free of roaming and long distance charges—all for just $29.99 per month. AT&T offers veteran’s discounts in addition to AARP member perks such as saving 10 percent off wireless qualifying plans and 15 percent off eligible accessories. For seniors looking to bundle with other AT&T services such as security, Internet and home services may find buying a cell phone through this company to be a great way to simplify bills.
Sprint has been in business for more than a century and enjoys the status of being one of the leading cellular phone providers in the nation. Known for reliable service, reasonable rates and dependable customer assistance, Sprint has some great plans and phone options for seniors. Like others, Sprint has an Unlimited 55+ plan that costs on $35-$45 per line, with the lower amount being reserved for customers with two or more lines connected to their plan. While coverage can be somewhat spotty in very rural areas, most customers enjoy fast services through Sprint’s LTE Advanced Network. If you are looking for affordable phones and great senior rates, consider Sprint to be a top choice.
Seniors and Cell Phones
Cellular phones are great tools that give aging loved ones the freedom and independence to live at home—even alone—with a sense of safety and security while knowing the ones they love and emergency assistance is just a phone call away. Seniors will never feel lonely and will have an array of opportunities to stay engaged with the world through smartphone apps, video chatting and other features common to modern cell phones. Help yourself or a loved one maintain self-sufficiency and enjoy a more fulfilling lifestyle with a senior-friendly cell phone.