The rapidly evolving world of cell phone technology is keeping most of our world connected. Text messaging, handheld social media access, phone calls, and video chats open up a world of possibilities and ways to stay connected for all users, but especially seniors, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While older adults aged 65 and older were a little slower to adopt widespread use of cell phones, more than 85 percent are now connected with a cell phone.1 A Pew Research study found that 46 percent of senior citizens have made the jump to smartphones, while an additional 40 percent are at least using a traditional cellular phone. It’s clear that many seniors are using cell phones these days, but you might be wondering, why do seniors need a cell phone? Phones offer a wide range of benefits to older adults, from staying connected to calling for help during an emergency to keeping track of important appointments and refilling prescriptions. Below are just a few of the ways that cell phones can benefit those in their golden years:
How cell phones help senior citizens day-to-day:
- Stay connected with friends and family.
- Take and share photos with family members.
- Keep track of health information and share it with providers.
- Enjoy entertainment by streaming movies, shows, games, and other video content.
- Manage devices like hearing aids or thermostats through mobile apps
- Set reminders, calendar alerts, and alarms to stay on top of important events and doctor’s appointments
Other benefits of using a cell phone:
- Improved mental health through social interaction.
- More awareness and control over personal health through apps that track fitness and health conditions.
- Better brain health by keeping the mind active to prevent dementia onset.
- Live independently longer by using fall alerts, programmed reminders, and push-button emergency calling.
Things to Consider Before Purchasing a Cell Phone
There is a wide variety of cell phones, plans, and features available to seniors. Just because a cell phone can offer benefits to most older adults, does not mean that every senior needs all of the available features. Here are some important topics to consider before committing to a phone.
What type of phones are there?
Cell phones come in three basic types. A smartphone is essentially a handheld computer that fits in your pocket and can make phone calls. A brick style phone which has limited technology features comparable to a slimmed-down version of a smartphone. And, yes, a traditional flip phone which is as close as you can get to a plain old phone in the world of cellular technology. You’ll need to decide what level of technology best fits your needs and which design you like best.
Do I need a smartphone?
While you might feel pressured to get a smartphone like an iPhone just because everyone else seems to have one, it's important to consider if you really need and want one. Between a higher price for the device and month-to-month costs for data plans, smartphones are a more expensive option than traditional flip or basic cell phones. As a senior, the type of phone you need depends on how you plan to use it, along with your budget. If video chatting, watching shows on your phone, and looking at pictures on Facebook is important to you, then yes, we’d recommend a smartphone! If you just want to make calls and send texts to stay connected or you’re on a tight budget, you’ll likely be better off with a simple flip phone.
Android or Apple?
Let’s say you decide to go the smartphone route. You’ll then need to decide if you want to go with one of the major smartphone providers: Apple or Android. These terms refer to the operating system that the phone uses. Apple has an occult following with the iPhone, and if you are already accustomed to their technology or your family uses Apple, then it may be the best choice for you. However, Android is generally considered more user-friendly.2 Several Android devices even have an “easy mode” that makes them simpler to use for less tech-savvy individuals.
Aside from Android and Apple, some companies also offer more simple and affordable smartphone options designed specifically for seniors. We’ll get into some of our favorites a little later on!
What type of phone plan is best?
Most cell phone companies offer different versions of pay-as-you-go, month-to-month, and contract-based phone plans. Sometimes the commitment of a contract can earn you additional discounts, but they are less flexible. Other times you can save more money on a pay-as-you-go plan; it just depends on the carrier and type of promotions that they run!
When choosing a plan, you’ll also want to consider how many minutes of talk, the number of texts, and how much data you plan to use when comparing plans. If you’re more of an advanced user or you’re getting a smartphone, you may want an unlimited data plan to enjoy all that the phone has to offer. On the other hand, if you just want to be able to make a few calls and send the occasional text, you’ll be better off with a simpler text and talk plan.
Senior-Friendly Cell Phone Features
From flip phones that are compatible with hearing aids to smartphones that have features specifically designed for older users, those in their golden years have a unique set of needs that phones can address. The available features vary from one phone model to the next, and sometimes even between carriers.
Some helpful features to look for include:
- Large keypad for older hands
- Brighter screen for those who are visually-impaired or struggle to see
- Louder speakers for those with hearing loss
- Magnifier tool in the phone’s camera to zoom in on small print or menus at a restaurant
- Easy to navigate home screen for seniors who want to keep things simple
- Bluetooth technology for connecting to Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids
- Hearing aid compatibility on flip phones, so the user doesn’t get feedback from their hearing aids
- One-touch emergency calls so you can call for help after a fall or another health incident
How Much do Senior Cell Phones Cost?
Today, the cost of a cell phone varies widely depending on how many features they have and the provider. Flip phones are reasonably priced, typically ranging from $30 to $100 depending on the carrier. A brick phone can be purchased for $100-$200. Smartphones are normally the most expensive of the bunch, starting at a few hundred dollars, though they can go up to well over $1000 depending on the model and features. With all those options, you’re sure to find a phone that fits both your budget and lifestyle.
Many carriers like carriers like Verizon and AT&T make expensive phones more affordable by offering monthly payment plans, so you can pay off your phone over time instead of forking out all the money upfront. Users can add anywhere from $5 – $25 per month on their monthly bill to cover the cost of the device. If you decide to go this route, just make sure you know exactly what you’re signing up for. Some providers simply rent the phone to you for the monthly payment, so you’ll have to return the device after a certain period of time.
The Best Phones for Senior Citizens
If you decide that a cell phone is right for you, we’ve outlined a few of our top picks for senior-friendly cell phones to help narrow down your search.
GreatCall’s Lively Flip: For seniors who want to stick to the basics, like make phone calls and send texts, Lively Flip is a simple flip phone option. It features a large-faced keypad, bright screen, and powerful speakers to accommodate older eyes and ears. The Lively Flip also has a Bluetooth interface that is good for Bluetooth-enabled hearing aid devices or headphones. It also has a simplified menu, magnifier tool, and 5Star Emergency Response button. One of Lively’s features that’s unique among standard flip phones is the built-in Amazon Alexa assistant. With just the sound of your voice you can ask Alexa to make calls, write texts, set reminders, and much more. This is great for seniors who struggle with typing on a keypad or have difficulty reading fonts on a small phone screen.
GreatCall’s Jitterbug Smart2: The Jitterbug Smart2 is a smartphone with a large screen and a simple, list-based menu. It has front-facing speakers which make it easier to hear, and it is equipped with 5Star Emergency Response. The Jitterbug Smart2 is voice-enabled and features mobile internet access, so it’s great for those who want to use their phone to check social media or online shop. This is one of the more affordable, simple, senior-friendly smartphones on the market, retailing for $149.99, so it’s great for those who just want to dip their toe in the water with a smartphone.
Snapfon ezTWO: The Snapfon ezTWO is a brick-style phone with a large-text screen display and easy to push buttons. It features an SOS button that will easily connect to an operator-based system to assist with emergencies. This phone is also hearing aid compatible and voice-command enabled. At just $29.99, it’s one of the most affordable cell phone options around.
Consumer Cellular Link: The Consumer Cellular Link is a flip phone with a traditional 12-key keypad. It has an extra bright main display and a secondary display. This flip phone is Bluetooth-enabled and can pair with hearing aid devices. This is another inexpensive option at just $30.
iPhone 8: For seniors looking for a full-featured smartphone, the iPhone 8 offers a large, vibrant LCD display. If your friends and family are already on iOS devices, this phone will make video chatting a breeze. Plus, you can download additional apps to help with magnifying and health tracking from the Apple app store. It also has a touch lock button, so the phone can only be unlocked with your unique fingerprint for added security. Because this isn’t the latest iPhone model, it won’t be as pricey, but it’s recent enough that you’ll have most of the latest and greatest features.
Best Cell Phone Carriers for Seniors
Now that we’ve covered some of our top cell phone picks for seniors, let’s take a look at our favorite cell phone carriers that offer deals for seniors on talk, text, and data plans.
T-Mobile: For seniors who want an affordable unlimited plan, T-Mobile offers widespread 5G coverage across the United States and three senior-friendly unlimited options. These plans offer a great discount when compared to T-Mobile’s traditional unlimited plans, along with great perks like free hotspot data and in-flight WiFi for seniors who still enjoy traveling.
GreatCall: GreatCall is a company that specializes in cell phones for seniors. They offer the widest variety of senior plans ranging from 250 minutes of talk, text, and data up to unlimited. As a senior-specific carrier, GreatCall also offers three Health and Safety packages that come with a wide range of medical alert features. If you’re looking for a phone that doubles as a medical alert system, GreatCall is the way to go.
Consumer Cellular: From flip phones to smartphones, Consumer Cellular has senior-friendly options in each phone category. The company even has a unique tablet that doubles as a phone, which is great for seniors who want a larger screen and easy-to-grip device to use around the house. Consumer Cellular offers a wide range of affordable talk, text, and data plans as well.
AT&T: One of the nation’s two largest cell phone providers, AT&T has a full lineup of the latest smartphones, along with basic cell phones, and a comprehensive 5G cellular network. AT&T offers a bare-bones senior plan, called AT&T Senior Nation, that’s perfect for seniors who only want to use their phone to make calls. AT&T also offers a discounted unlimited plan for seniors; however, it’s currently only available to Florida residents.
Verizon: The second of the nation’s two largest cell phone carriers, Verizon, offers a comparative device lineup and coverage area to AT&T. Verizon’s 55+ Senior Phone Plan offers unlimited talk, text, and data, though it is restricted to residents in Florida as well. The carrier also offers plenty of other affordable plans that can work for seniors in other areas, though they don’t offer a senior-specific discount.