Dear Lifehacker, My parents could really use an upgrade in the mobile phone department because they're still using dumbphones. Is there a particular smartphone that's better for non-tech savvy users? Sincerely, Luddite Phone
Dear LP, Getting a non-tech savvy person into a smartphone isn't an easy task. While it's partially about finding a good fit on a usability level, it's also just about figuring out which features really matter to that person. While you have a lot of options out there, we'll stick to the big three here: Android, iPhone and Windows Phone.
Make Sure They Actually Want a Smartphone
It might sound silly to those of us who have had smartphones for a while, but the fact is not everyone wants one. Nor does everyone need one. In fact, for a lot of people, a dumbphone is still the best option.
A bunch of reasons exist for this. For one, smartphones are usually more expensive, because they come with a data plan that adds to the bill. As CNET points out, the bill alone is worth considering, and it's a dealbreaker for many:
The bottom line is that iPhones and really any smartphone are expensive devices to own. So unless your parents plan to use the features of these device, it's probably a waste of money. A less-expensive option for them would be to get a pay-as-you-go service on a basic feature phone and then buy a small tablet like the iPad Mini, the Nexus 7 Android tablet, or a Kindle Fire, which can be used on Wi-Fi networks for free. This way they can access the Internet and all kinds of apps, but they won't have to pay for the expensive data services associated with owning a smartphone.
There's also the simple fact that less tech-savvy people are less interested in technology. This means things like games, fancy apps or email with push notifications just don't matter to them. While it's great that the iPhone is easy to use, the fact that it has 900,000 apps means nothing to most people.
First, think about whether a smartphone is needed at all. If so, then it's time to decide which smartphone will work best. If not, then it's probably best to just save the cash and stick with the dumbphone.
Pick the Right Phone
The best smartphone for people who aren't great with technology is really going to depend on a lot of factors.
For Those Who Want Email and Web Browsing: Windows Phone
As we've noted before, the Windows Phone is a really good option for people looking for what essentially amounts to a dumbphone that can also surf the web, check email and navigate you around town. The interface is easy to use at a glance, and someone coming from a dumbphone is not going to struggle too much.
The nice thing about the Windows Phone is that it's a really good mix of the better features of the iPhone and Android. It has the ease of use of the iPhone, where anyone can pick it up and use it, but Windows Phones also have a bunch of model options, so they can find a bigger screen or nice hardware. Essentially, a Windows phone is a win-win for anyone who doesn't really care that much about apps or features.
For Those Who Want Apps: The iPhone
The iPhone is nearly as simple as the Windows Phone, but it also comes packed with a gigantic app store. The iTunes App Store is a huge selling point for techies and non-techies alike. If they're looking to download that new app they heard about from their friends, play the latest games and so on, then the iPhone does it better than anyone else.
On top of that, the iPhone 5 is also Wirecutter's pick for best mobile phone. Even if you're not a techie, most people understand how to use an iPhone in a couple of minutes. It might take a little work to get things like email, the calendar and contacts set up initially, but they won't have to worry about it once it's working.
The iPhone also hooks into Apple's operating system and iTunes really well, so if you're already using a Mac (or iTunes at the very least), an iPhone is dead-simple to set up and start using right away. They will also have access to Apple's Genius Bar for any help they need, which might at least partially cut down on the tech support calls you have to deal with.
For Those Who Require Advanced Features: Android
We'll be honest: despite our love for Android, it's at the bottom of our list for the non-geeks among us. It's a little bit harder to use, every handset is a little bit different, and you're going to be on the hook for all that tech support. However, if your parents are extremely entrenched in the Google universe or require certain advanced features the iPhone doesn't have, then obviously Android's your best bet. However, you'll probably find those features are the exact features non tech-savvy people don't need.
That said, Android has come a long way in recent years, and manufacturers like Samsung are really trying to make their phones appealing to more than just the geek crowd. If you're thinking about Android, maybe take them to the store and let them try it out first. It might be a fine choice — it's just a little riskier, since Android is a bit more complicated than Windows Phone or the iPhone. That's not necessarily a bad thing, of course — it's what tech geeks like us love about it — but it might be a little overwhelming to the non tech-savvy crowd. (From my personal experience, my dad, who's a smart enough guy but not remotely interested in tech, struggled to really appreciate anything about the Android phone he had for work).
So, what's the bottom line? It really depends. As a universal recommendation, Windows Phone is definitely the easiest to use and has the right amount of features to make it useful without being overwhelming.
Of course, the iPhone and Android both have plenty of strengths, so it's worth popping into a store with your parents and messing around with different phones for a little while before making that choice. You also want to consider one very simple thing: which phone do you know best? You're likely on tech support duty, so you'll want to pick the phone you can provide support for. If that's not possible, then consider the smartphone that most of their friends have, because that means they will always have someone around to help with questions.
While you're there, don't forget that hardware is important too. Anyone upgrading from an indestructible brick of a Nokia dumbphone to an easy-to-destroy smartphone is probably a little hesitant. It might also be one of those instances where a smartphone case is a good idea.
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