Ask LH: What’s A Good Choice Of Smart Phone For A Senior Citizen?

Ask LH: What’s A Good Choice Of Smart Phone For A Senior Citizen?

Hi Lifehacker, as a pensioner in his seventies, I have pointedly ignored the “smart phone” craze and have stuck to text-and-calls only phones. I have since decided I would like to upgrade but don’t know where to start! What would be your recommendation for the best smart phone for non-techie oldies? Thanks, Upgrade Time

MP3 picture from Shutterstock

Dear UT,

To get the best functionality at the lowest price, we’d go for a previous-generation Android phone with a four-to-five inch display. These models provide a large screen for easier navigation and will be able to handle a range of important tasks including internet browsing, online banking and email.

Another advantage of Android is the higher likelihood that your relatives will own one: this means they’ll be able to get it up and running with all the programs you need. They can also change the display settings so that the text and icons are enlarged.

There are several brands to choose from in this space, but they all provide a similar experience. Our personal pick would be the Motorola Moto E. This model comes with great features for the asking price, including an inbuilt 5-megapixel camera and a 4.3-inch qHD LCD screen that’s bright and easy to read. It’s also splash-proof and has decent battery life.

On the downside, it only comes with 4GB of internal storage which will limit the amount of apps, games, photos and music you can store at the same time. With that said, you can always buy a Micro SD slot if you decide you want to boost the phone’s memory.

The Motorola Moto E has a recommended retail price of $170. We realise that’s quite a chunk of money for someone on a pension, but it’s certainly better than paying upwards of $1000, which is what a top-of-the-range model would cost you. You can get an even better price if you shop online: Kogan, for example, is selling it brand-new for $129. If you’re uncomfortable with online shopping, ask a relative to buy it for you and reimburse them.

Once you’ve purchased your new smartphone, you’ll need to connect it to a telecommunications network to make phone calls and use the internet. Choose a prepaid plan rather than a contract as you’ll save more money and will be free to cancel at any time. You can find plenty of information on the best mobile plans via our Prepaid tag. Good luck!


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  • My mother in law had not touched a PC/smartphone or used the internet until 2012. We bought her an iPad and it opened up her world. An iPhone shortly followed. Unless its cost prohibitive I would suggest an iPhone. Why? Because you can send them to an apple genius if your too busy to walk them through the iPhone and its inherently user friendly. For people like low tech experience a fast response for every action is needed to give confidence when touching things on the screen. Too much delay and they will be double tapping or getting frustrated.

    • This , The exact same situation with my mum. Ios destroys android for old people usability. It’s basically the same idea as giving a kid fisherprice. big bright clearly labelled buttons that do exactly what you think they should. Personally I still haven’t found a mobile OS that I’ve really taken a liking to yet after using all 3 of the major ones at one point or another. As it is atm I prefer ios, I realise that android is less locked down but honestly its still too locked down for something that’s meant to be open, and windows phone is way too lacking in the apps department. So in the end it really comes down to Ios and android and are both pretty locked down, But in the end ios has better games.

  • A Motorola Moto E: Its cheap, easy to use, and no one will want to steal it from them.

  • My nan is pretty happy with her Samsung Galaxy S5. In theory it’s absolute overkill for what she does and I find it hard to resist going down to the Telstra store and abusing the prick who put her on a $85 per month contract, but it’s big, it scales well and it’s relatively easy to use since I can slap pretty much everything on the one screen. It’s not the most affordable option but Samsung do a pretty wide range of phones that are basically the same as far as day to day use is concerned (the more expensive ones have higher spec parts, but power really doesn’t matter much with these things). They’re not the cheapest but they’re a major brand that you shouldn’t have any trouble getting help with or finding accessories for.
    Personally I find it’s not so much the phone as how you teach people to use it. My nan is very good in that she doesn’t have much confidence in her tech abilities/memory so if I tell her how to do something she writes it down in her own words. She doesn’t want to bother me over and over, so instead of asking twice she reads her own instructions and tries to figure it out herself. It doesn’t always go perfectly but I’ve never had to explain how to do a common task more than twice.
    It also doesn’t hurt that her sister is younger and always sending her text messages and pictures. Sending a few text messages per day really gets her used to the basics like unlocking her phone, scrolling, selecting icons, etc. The touch screen should have been intimidating but she made the transition to a smartphone really easily because she was using it so much.
    Another key factor is that back in the 90’s I got used to the idea that she doesn’t actually use all the features of her phone. I’d show her how to set set speed dials and she’d learn, but she didn’t actually need to know it. Her smartphone does a ton of stuff, but she’s never going to use the calculator, she doesn’t need her e-mails at her finger tips 24/7, Facebook is happy to stay as a computer thing. I could teach her all that stuff, but rather than bombarding her with that I teach her how to put her contacts in, how to call someone and how to send an SMS. A week later I throw in a few things she enjoys like taking/sending pictures/videos, how to use the camera flash as a torch, how to check the weather.

    So yeah, that’s a really long way of saying don’t get caught up in what your new phone can do. These things can be used for a near infinite amount of tasks but you’re not buying one because you have a near infinite amount of incomplete tasks. The people you see tapping away at their phone non-stop? Odds are they barely understand a fraction of what their phone does, but it doesn’t matter because they know how to do the bits they use. You don’t need to learn it all at once either.
    Just learn to make it do everything your current non-smartphone phone can do and then move on from there. Once you can unlock it, make a call, send a SMS and look through your contacts you’re in the clear. Everything from that point on is a bonus. If you decide you want to use it for something else take your time. Make a point of using those features every day for a week or two after you’ve learned them to really drill them in deep. Eventually it’ll be like driving a manual transmission. You won’t know how to fix it if it breaks but you’ll be able to change gears without even thinking about it.

    [Edit: Also worth taking into consideration is why you want it. You may find yourself happier with an internet enabled tablet and a regular phone. At the very least it narrows down the field. If you don’t think you’ll ever use the camera then you can knock off the bulk of the expensive options. Not into MP3s and movies? You might not need the SD card options.]

  • My mother uses a windows phone and recently she broke it so she replaced it with another one.

    Windows Phone is easier to use than android and has most apps a senior could want. The phones are cheap too, easily available under $200.

    Compared to Android phones at the same price, Windows Phones have more memory, still take micro SD cards for memory expansion and if you already use windows 8 on a computer, you can synchronize your e-mail and contacts very easily.

    • I’ve had my mum using a Lumia for a few years but she really doesn’t do much more than basic calls and messages. It’s a nice, neat little phone and they’re pretty cheap and easy to replace. The other day I brought her a new one and it was pretty much just ‘swap the SIM and SD cards, run through the wizard, connect it to WiFi and done’. The only reason she can tell it’s a new phone is because I forgot to hook it up to her hands free in the car. Although I will admit as much as I love the Lumia range I hate the accessory compatibility. I had to run around the city all afternoon to find a single case that would take the new phone.
      I think once Windows 10 hits the OS relationship will be a pretty big advantage for the phones. Windows XP/7 are nothing like Windows Phones but if you know how to use Windows 8/10 you can use a Windows Phone or tablet like a natural right out the box.

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