Smartphones for seniors are designed to facilitate mobile phone use by older folks. What sets them apart from most standard smartphones is that they offer features that address issues such as poor eyesight, diminished hearing, arthritis and more.
To be sure, some standard smartphones have feature sets that also address the needs of seniors (Samsung’s ‘Easy Mode’ springs to mind). But for some seniors the typical smartphone setup and tendency toward app overload is simply too much. They crave clarity and simplicity above all else and there are, as you’ll see, companies ready to provide it for them.
If you are looking for a smartphone for yourself or an elderly relative you are certain to find one that suits your needs on our list of the 10 best smartphones for seniors.
1. ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M2)
The ASUS ZenFone offers several features that should appeal to seniors. Those include the bigger-than-average screen and day-long battery use on a single full charge. At the same time it’s sufficiently powerful to integrate with other smart objects, play internet video and enable whatever apps you have in mind.
What we like: We appreciate the generous battery life and the large 6.3 inch screen. The speaker is also loud enough to satisfy most. We also like the 128 GB of memory, the contemporary profile and the fact that it will handle all your emergency apps.
Flaws: While the big screen makes it easy to read, view photos and more it also means the phone is larger than most. This may be an issue for some.
2. Nokia 6.1
Nokia – once the dominant mobile phone maker – has seen its share of the market plummet in recent years. Nonetheless, they still manage to produce some interesting products. And if you are a senior looking for a smartphone to fulfill your unique requirements the 6.1 is worthy of your consideration.
What we like: We like the big, bright screen. We appreciate that the body is fashioned from a since piece of aluminum, making it very durable, and that the Gorilla Glass 3 is highly resistant to damage.
It’s also affordable, sharp-looking and and fully capable of streaming HD video from the net or handling stock trading apps without blinking an eye.
Flaws: Most people would conclude that the camera is not up to 2020 standards. It’s good. It’s just not leading edge stuff.
3. Samsung Galaxy S8 Smartphone
The Galaxy S8 from Samsung earns a place on our list for its outstanding battery life, large screen and Samsung’s rightfully lauded ‘Easy Mode’. When engaged Easy Mode reconfigures the screen with fewer, larger icons and larger fonts. A big plus for seniors with less than perfect eyesight.
What we like: We like that there’s plenty of memory. We also appreciate the water-resistant shell that can be submerged for up to half an hour. The camera, while not top-of-the-line is more than adequate for the casual user. Finally, Easy Mode is a real boon for seniors and the 30 hour battery life is a big plus.
Flaws: The battery can take its time to recharge. And there’s no wi-fi calling. Should that be important to you or the person you’re buying for.
4. Snapfon ezTwo Senior Cell Phone
The Snapfon ezTwo looks like it arrived via a wrinkle in the spacetime continuum. The makers of the ezTwo Senior Cell Phone looked to the past for inspiration and came up with a phone that’s easy to read, easy to hear, rugged and simple.
What we like: The phone is large enough to offer good sized, easy to read buttons. The fonts on the screen are also big and clear. The SOS button gets our attention for the right reasons and can be linked directly to local emergency services. The speaker is also plenty loud.
Flaws: Not a smartphone for surfing the net or taking photos. Also, the battery is nothing to write home about. And not everyone will embrace the retro look.
5. Motorola Moto G6 Play Factory Phone
Motorola is another once robust brand that has seen its market share reduced to virtual ash in recent years. Yet their Moto G6 Play Factory Phone offers a lot that will appeal to older folks who want smartphone styling alongside features that will facilitate easy use.
What we like: As many seniors love to chat on the phone it’s hard to beat a battery that lasts all day. The screen is also nice and large and provides edge to edge coverage. You shouldn’t have any trouble running multiple apps with the quad core processor and the 128 GB of memory means you’ll never run out of space for pics.
Flaws: Not as fast as advertised. The screen might be a bit small for some seniors.
6. Samsung Galaxy Note 9
Few are the young people who would equate the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 with senior citizens. But when it comes to buying a smartphone for their parents or grandparents the Note 9 should be on their list of phones to consider. If for no other reason than the company’s Easy Mode option that essentially eliminates barriers to use for seniors with diminished eyesight.
What we like: We love the 6.4 inch screen. Really allows you to see everything clearly when you employ Easy Mode. It also comes with a stylus you can use to navigate with and the all-day battery means the phone won’t go dead during dinner with friends.
Flaws: Definitely for seniors who are reasonably tech savvy and engaged and not those just looking for a phone to make the occasional call.
7. Jitterbug Smart2 No-Contract Smartphone
Jitterbug phones are designed specifically to address the needs of older users. The Smart2 offers familiar smartphone design cues while at the same time conceding that lots of seniors need bigger fonts and simpler navigation. The Smart2 provides just that and does so without forcing seniors to accept expensive service contracts.
What we like: We like that the screen is large and easy to read. We like that you can bypass the keyboard and do voice texting (great for those with arthritis). We appreciate the shortcut to the emergency response system. And the 13 mp camera while not leading-edge is pretty good.
Flaws: Customer support is not going to win any awards. Which is why this isn’t higher on the list.
8. Nokia 4.2 – Android One
Our second entry from Nokia is an affordable, easy to use smartphone that’s powerful enough to run whatever apps the user has in mind but not so complicated it will give them headaches. It puts Google Assistant front and center which makes it a good choice for those with arthritis or impaired vision.
What we like: We appreciate that this smartphone is actually affordable. And the fact that they’ve made Google Assistant such an upfront feature is a plus. The Adaptive Battery Mode enables you to glean optimal use from every charge. And the notification ring around the power button is handy for those with compromised hearing.
Flaws: You may run into compatibility issues with some apps. Also, the screen is pretty modest in size.
9. Jitterbug Flip
The Jitterbug Flip Phone is not a true smartphone, but a mobile phone with everything scaled up and simplified to promote ease of use. Which is why it’s not higher on our list. That said, it does what it does really well and it provides an easy way for seniors to call their friends or summon emergency services should they need them.
What we like: This is a simple device for those who want simple, dependable functionality from their mobile phone. Everything is super easy to read, the speaker is loud and clear and there are no contracts involved. It also has Jitterbug’s dedicated emergency call button.
Flaws: It’s not a contemporary looking phone. And it doesn’t offer contemporary features like internet access.
10. Samsung Galaxy Note 5
The Galaxy Note 5 and its stylus provide an attractive alternative to tapping out messages on a digital keyboard with your fingers. Especially if those fingers are beset by arthritis. The screen is also large, bright and clear and the camera is one of the best on our list. And, of course, Samsung’s Easy Mode is only a few taps away.
What we like: We like the big clear screen, 64 GB of storage, the quality camera and the uncluttered look. We also like the good to excellent battery life, the ability to run multiple apps at once and stylus, which makes a lot of apps much easier to navigate. And let’s not forget senior-friendly Easy Mode.
Flaws: Like the other true smartphones on our list it might be too much for those who just want a phone to make the occasional phone call.
Why Do Seniors Need a Different Kind of Smartphone?
First and foremost because most people’s eyesight diminishes as they age (1). As such, it’s helpful if the screen has large, easy to read fonts and buttons. Secondly, older folks didn’t have the advantage of growing up with high tech gadgets. For many of them the digital revolution didn’t occur until they were facing retirement. As such, they simply don’t have the same level of natural facility with digital tech most young people today do. (But before any whippersnappers reading this begin snickering about their elder’s lack of tech-savvy let’s remember that their generation sent men to the moon using slide rules (2) and pencils. So, a bit of respect please.) Third, most are not social media lions. Instead they enjoy actually talking to other people rather than relying on emojis to speak for them. So they don’t necessarily need a smartphone with robust social media capabilities.
How We Ranked
Everyone here does a good job keeping up with the latest advances in tech, so putting smartphones to the test was right up our alley. In order to ensure the credibility of our research, however, we made sure to reach out to seniors and ask what they wanted to see in a smartphone. The answers, while fairly predictable, were helpful nonetheless and we followed their guidance when compiling our list.
Ease of use was right up there at the top of their concerns. Most seniors aren’t all that impressed by smartphone screens crammed with gaming apps and apps related to services they’ll never use. They want clarity, both in the number and type of apps and in the way they’re presented.
Most of the seniors we polled also wanted to see nice clear buttons (on those phones that still have buttons, like flip phones), speakers loud enough to be heard and easy to read displays. Perhaps surprisingly many of our respondents also stated a clear preference for a high quality camera. Apparently they’re not fond of waiting for others to regale them with photos of the grandkids. They want their own damn photos. And who can blame them?
Battery life was another important issue. And emergency buttons that allow for quick contact with emergency services were also mentioned by a fair number of the seniors we talked to. Lastly, cost was a major factor. Since many seniors are living on fixed incomes and don’t have lots of money to invest in tech.
Smartphones for seniors typically have a larger screen. This makes them easier to read than the smartphones most other people use. The average smartphone screen these days can have dozens of icons crammed onto it, some of which are so small that even young people with excellent eyesight have a hard time making them out. Smartphones designed with seniors in mind have brighter screens than most with the icons on those screens both larger and placed further apart.
Smartphones for seniors usually emphasize voice activation. This enables the user to call someone without having to type in a name. Same goes for text messaging. This makes it much easier to contact people if the user has misplaced their glasses. To make a phone call they simply activate the mic (typically via the ‘Google Now’ app) and say who they want to call. Or they can say they want to call a specific number. Sending a message is pretty much the same thing. The user speaks into the phone via the appropriate app and says, for instance, “Text Chrissy. Are you coming for dinner?” Or whatever message they want to send.
Smartphones for seniors allow them to feel more connected to the larger world. Feelings of isolation are a common problem for seniors (3). As people age their family members and friends – in other words all the people they shared their formative experiences with – begin to die off. This creates a deep sense of isolation and feelings of loneliness. A smartphone can help a senior citizen stay connected to the people in his or her life and fend off those feelings of loneliness.
Smartphones for seniors make it easy for them to call a taxi. Anyone who has ever called for a taxi knows the dispatchers often talk fast and sometimes mumble. It can be difficult to know if they heard your address properly. Or, if they heard you at all. Today, however, we have a plethora of taxi-booking smartphone apps that make calling for a ride a walk in the park. In some cases it’s as easy as opening the app, pressing ‘order’ (or something equivalent) and waiting for the taxi to arrive. In most cases the app also lets the user see exactly where the cab is at any given time. So there’s no wondering if they’re on the way.
Smartphones for seniors sometimes come with real-world QWERTY keyboards. While all smartphones have virtual keyboards that appear on-screen when you need to type a message or search for something, not all seniors are comfortable with this kind of setup. They prefer the feel of the actual keys beneath their fingers. Some smartphones offer physical QWERTY keyboards as an option. Although it will typically cost a bit extra.
“But what about Blackberry?” you say “They still offer physical keyboards as a standard feature, don’t they?” As of this writing, yes. But in August of 2020 the last of the companies that produce the once-iconic brand will stop making them (4). Which essentially signals the end of the Blackberry.
Smartphones for seniors enable them to reach out via the internet. Okay, so it’s not the same as actually being out in the world, but the internet is nonetheless a vast landscape of information, entertainment and news. And it provides almost unlimited possibilities to interact with others via social media. Even those who haven’t drank the Facebook or Instagram Kool-Aid will find plenty of opportunities to comment on their favorite Youtube videos, for instance. Or chat with others in one of the countless online forums.
Smartphones for seniors help them stay in better physical shape. There are myriad apps out there that monitor most of a person’s vital bodily processes. This enables the user to see when something is benefitting them physically and when it is hurting them. Most of these apps create a link between the smartphone and some type of watch or bracelet that picks up on various physical signals and sends them to the phone for the user to see. This way they can devise an effective exercise program and monitor their progress.
Smartphones for seniors can be linked to other household items. This enables the user to take advantage of the ‘internet of things’ (5). The internet of things is comprised of billions of smart devices all over the world including garage doors, refrigerators, thermostats, dryers and much, much more. All of these things can be remotely operated via smartphone apps by their owners from anywhere, as long as they have an internet connection. Smartphones for seniors can thus be linked to various smart devices in their house. This way if they, for example, forgot to turn out the lights in the kitchen before they went to bed they can do so from their bed using their smartphone.
Smartphones for seniors sometimes have magnifying cameras. A magnifying camera is just that: a camera that magnifies whatever the user points it at so they can be sure they’re getting the picture they want. But beyond just ensuring that the user gets the photo they’re after it can also be used to magnify small print on menus, receipts, warranties and other items. Essentially providing a magnifying glass the user can take with them anywhere they go.
Smartphones for seniors offer the ability to sync with medical alert devices. This is a very attractive possibility that can spell the difference between life and death in some instances. Medical alert alert devices have come a long way in the past 40 years. Some of today’s most sophisticated can detect when a person falls and automatically alert caregivers or first responders. The Jitterbug, which we profile on our above list, has a built in medical alert button right on its face which, when pushed, sends an emergency message to the company’s medical alert call center who notify local emergency services.
Smartphones for seniors often have higher volume speakers. Because, just as vision tends to wane as we age, so too does hearing (6). There are a number of smartphones for seniors that offer higher volume speakers. There are also some standard smartphones whose volume settings are sufficiently robust that they make acceptable options for seniors suffering mild to moderate hearing loss. Some manufacturers also make smartphones designed to work with hearing aids.
Q: Why do seniors need smartphones?
A: Seniors need smartphones for the same reasons everyone else does. Because they are human beings who want, like and need to stay in touch with others. In fact, a reasonable case can be made that seniors have more compelling reasons than most other people to have a smartphone. After all, many people today only use these expensive trinkets to post to social media (7). Smartphones for seniors can sync with medical alert systems, act as magnifying glasses, help them stay in good shape and reduce feelings of isolation.
Q: Why can’t seniors use the same smartphones as everyone else?
A: Many can and do. For others though a small screen, low-volume speakers and app overload can be a problem. For them there are specially designed smartphones that optimize visibility, volume and organizational clarity. This makes it much easier to use the phone in a fun and productive fashion. In an age when accessibility is such a prominent concern there is no reason why smartphone manufacturers shouldn’t accommodate the specific needs of seniors. Especially given the fact that the number of elderly is projected to increase steadily in the years to come (8).
Q: Why do seniors prefer flip phones?
A: First of all, not all seniors do. Many are quite comfortable with the latest iPhone or Galaxy. But the ones that do show a preference for flip phones tend to enjoy their simple nature. These folks don’t want or need a phone for anything other than making and receiving calls. You know, those things a phone is supposed to do. They don’t spend time texting or posting photos to Instagram. Of course, if they wanted it, there are some flip phones that do offer internet access. Although it is usually very basic in nature.
Q: What is a ‘pay as you go’ contract?
A: For a variety of reasons many seniors prefer ‘pay as you go’ plans over lengthy service contracts. Pay as you go means there is no contract, simply a combination of minutes, data transfer limits and/or number of text messages a person can utilize for a set cost. Once they reach any of those limits they will need to pay more to keep using those services. Most mobile service providers offer pay as you go options. They can be attractive for those who don’t typically use their phone much.
Q: Is there such a thing as a ‘senior specific’ calling plan?
A: There is. And almost all major service providers offer some type of senior calling plan. Many of these plans include special features that, for instance, automatically alert emergency services or remind the person that it’s time to take medication. Sometimes the senior discounts are there, they’re just not readily apparent.
For instance, some providers do not offer a specific senior-only plan but they do offer a significant discount for users over 60 or 65. Which is, in effect, a senior specific calling plan. The difference is that if you don’t specifically ask for the discount you won’t get it.
Q: Is it a good idea for a senior to insure their smartphone?
A: It can be. But in most cases it depends on the type of smartphone involved. An argument could be made that most smartphone insurance policies are, let’s say, unnecessary. But given that conventional smartphones have large glass faces that can shatter if dropped it might be a good idea for a senior with such a phone to insure it.
Why? Because many seniors suffer from arthritis (9) which can make obtaining a firm hold on a smartphone challenging. Should they drop their phone and the face shatter it might cost them $200 or more to fix it. Dropping a smartphone might also affect functionality. Depending on which function or functions are affected the entire phone may need to be replaced.
Q: Should seniors use fingerprint recognition?
A: Almost everyone gets a bit forgetful when they get older (10). Therefore securing your smartphone with a fingerprint ID rather than a password can be a smart option for an older individual. No one wants a stranger to be rooting through their phone if they accidently leave it somewhere. To prevent that smartphones offer password protection.
But, as we mentioned, most older folks suffer some degree of memory loss. And so, trying to recall a password so they can open their phone and make a call can be a problem. Fingerprint recognition software solves this problem. To open their phone all they need do is press their thumb (or any finger they choose) against the screen and the phone is unlocked.
Q: Are seniors better off buying a refurbished smartphone?
A: That depends on a number of things. For instance, many seniors live on a fixed budget (11) that doesn’t allow a lot of room for technology purchases. For them, buying a refurbished smartphone at a hefty discount may well be the best course of action. Others want high functionality but, even so, don’t plan on using their smartphone very often. A refurbished phone may be a good choice for them as well.
Let’s not forget too that a quality refurbished phone is a good choice for just about anyone who wants to save a few bucks. People buy used cars all the time. Why not used smartphones? The most important thing when dealing with a refurbished smartphone is to ensure it is purchased from a reputable source.
Q: Will Medicare cover the cost of a smartphone?
A: Since some smartphones have dedicated features specifically designed to alert emergency services if necessary many seniors wonder if Medicare will cover the cost of such a phone. Unfortunately, Medicare will not reimburse for the cost of a smartphone. Medicare does, however, offer a free smartphone app that will tell you it won’t cover the cost of your smartphone (12). For the record that app will also provide lists of everything else Medicare will and won’t cover.
Q: How do I pick a smartphone for an elderly relative?
A: If you want to buy a smartphone for an elderly relative ask yourself a few questions first. Will they use it primarily to keep in touch with friends and family or for emergency purposes? Will they want to take photos and videos with their phone? Are they likely to want to interact on social media? Do they have difficulty hearing and/or seeing? The answers to these questions will enable you to narrow down the field of prospective smartphones and get just the right one.
Q: Should a senior buy a smartphone?
A: Some seniors won’t get a smartphone because they consider them too expensive. But considering the potential benefits they provide it is reasonable for a senior to at least look into owning one. Basic smartphones can be had for less than $100 after all. And high end refurbished models for only a couple of hundred. So the argument that they’re all too expensive doesn’t hold a lot of water.
There are also those seniors who are protective of their privacy and see smartphone features like GPS to be invasive. And they certainly have a point. But this and other features that compromise privacy can be disabled (13). Though doing so will make it impossible to use many emergency alert apps, call for cabs and more. The bottom line is that the potential upside of smartphone ownership for the elderly typically outweighs the potential downside by almost any reasonable measure.
When it comes to smartphones that are compatible with their needs seniors have more choices than ever these days. Some are standard smartphones that also happen to provide seniors with the features they want to see like louder speakers, magnifying cameras, nice clear displays and more. While others are designed specifically for seniors and feature just some basic call and text functions along with integrated emergency response apps and such.
Whatever your needs or the needs of your elderly relative, there is a smartphone available today that will fit the bill. Any of the devices on the above list will help enable a high quality of life for you or your loved one. And many also happen to be great values.
For cpoe.org’s #1 recommended smartphone for seniors, click here.