Big Button Cellphones
February 27, 2005 7:33 PM   Subscribe

My parents want to convert from landline to cellphones. They are 84 and 76 years old, and their top priority when choosing a phone are buttons that are big enough for them and a display that is large enough to see (large print screens?). Other features are not important to them. What cellphones should they get?
posted by neuroshred to Technology (19 answers total)
AFAIK, the one feature that should be important isn't available on cellphones. If anything bad should happen when they aren't together and one of them needs to call 911, the police are not able to tell where the call is coming from.
posted by horsemuth at 8:15 PM on February 27, 2005

I don't have any recommendations, but here are some links that you may find helpful(?)

Don't know where to get them from though.
posted by TheIrreverend at 8:26 PM on February 27, 2005

There's a very short thread from a ways back that has a few suggestions on a similar topic, endgadget among them.
posted by jessamyn at 8:30 PM on February 27, 2005

horsemuth, one of my workmates just dumped his landline in favour of cellphones for him and his college bound kids. I had asked him about that too and he showed me some evidence that new cellphones have gps enabled (which can be turned off for us privacy freaks) that the police can use to determine the location of the cell phone. Here's an article that seems to verify it.
posted by substrate at 8:33 PM on February 27, 2005

It might be worth picking up your own phone (landline or cell) and calling the CNIB or similar organizations.
posted by duck at 8:38 PM on February 27, 2005

If anything bad should happen when they aren't together and one of them needs to call 911, the police are not able to tell where the call is coming from.

That assumes that they're somehow able to push 9-1-1 (or a speed button) but not talk (or accurately describe their location). For most 911 calls on cellphones, this isn't the case.

More importantly, the FCC has mandated that new technologies be implemented so that 911 call centers can identify where a cellphone (wireless) phone call is coming from, and a lot of localities already have implemented this in full or part. The FCC calls this Enhanded 911. A November 2003 report from the GAO on the status of this implementation ("uneven") can be found here (text file); (pdf is here); this provides very good background information.
posted by WestCoaster at 8:48 PM on February 27, 2005

Probably not quite what you're after, but the American Foundation for the Blind does a number of cell phone reviews for visually impaired users.

When my 89 year old grandmother needed a cell phone for a few weeks, we ended up giving her an old, barebones Nokia that we had lying around the house - any somewhat new phone we found was just too small. It was a really simple to operate phone and the buttons were large enough for her (I believe she went over the alotted number of minutes). I think the backlight on the display was broken or really weak, though, because the display's contrast was kind of poor.
posted by milkrate at 9:03 PM on February 27, 2005

Talking phone. (me, I'm skeptical)

Motorola Startac T720, though all of the Startac keypads I've seen have nicely spaced keys, as opposed to Nokias tendency to make plastic overlays with almost no space between keys.

LG Phone similar to Startac.

I might try and find a carrier who supports older models. They tend to have larger keypads, and less strange options to scroll through, like AOL, organizers, applications, etc..

Nokia used to make great stuff. You can still get support for the 61xx series on a lot of networks. The battery life isn't so hot, but they're just about perfect, and they're VERY loud.

In respect to their display, if you're in a major city, you might be able to get it tricked out with some extra lighting on the screen. I know I can in NYC.

Nokia is making "puzzle-phones" these days.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 10:43 PM on February 27, 2005

A phone for old people (and me) should have:
  • Big lighted buttons that you can feel and hear when they work. Each button or control knob should do just one thing (no shifts/controls/etc.). A big "Answer" button. A big "Hang Up" button. The ring tone volume control should be a rotating knob with a click for all the way off.
  • A big lighted display for numbers or names (no graphics).
  • A remote-programmable menu of numbers (so children can program numbers into it for their parents).
  • A find-me code -- if someone with the right code (probably the person's child) calls and gets no answer, there should be a way to call again that overrides local settings and turns the ringer on loud, maybe with flashes and vibrations (and signal flares and smoke bombs and dog whistles...).
  • A handset with an obvious top and bottom, an earphone and microphone.
  • Simple docking to a charger -- it should almost fall into place and display a big green light when you set it on the docking station. Maybe it should hang up like an old-style phone on an old-style hook.
  • Almost zero obvious "features" -- if it does more than what a 1970s wall phone could do, old people probably don't care. But it should have fairly invisible features like a remote-programmable menu of commonly called numbers, a 911 button that also simultaneously alerts one or two other numbers such as the kids or neighbors, a way to locate the caller, a motion detector (phone's moving but no answer?), and maybe a wireless interface to medical devices.
I don't see a good option in any of the linked phones. I bet a company could make such phones for almost nothing (no graphics, no camera, etc.) and give them to old people, and then make lots of money on calls to and from children and grandchildren and brothers and sisters, plus maybe a cut of insurance money in exchange for monitoring services, etc.
posted by pracowity at 3:09 AM on February 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've been arguing for about three/four years about ergonomic devices for the geratric. Stuff like Alarm clocks and cell phone that deal with the unique technical/visual/feedback features.

The handset - large buttons, a big call and hang up button. The color of the display ought to change when the battery is getting low (from green to orange). The battery should have obscenely long life...but I'd make the phone larger too. A physical on/off switch that is a slider.
posted by filmgeek at 3:17 AM on February 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

substrate, WestCoaster,
Thanks for the info. I seem to remember hearing something on our local news, but wasn't sure how readily available it was. I think the easiest way to be sure would be to call the police non-emergency number and ask the dispatcher.
posted by horsemuth at 4:54 AM on February 28, 2005

I've been arguing for about three/four years about ergonomic devices for the geratric. Stuff like Alarm clocks and cell phone that deal with the unique technical/visual/feedback features.

Yeah, I've been phantasizing about that myself. I think there's a huge market out there just waiting to be tapped. Not only phones, but all sorts of electronic gear -- CD players, televisions, remote controls, computers ... My dad had very poor eyesight, and he used all sorts of tricks (like yellow paint) to mark those tiny buttons on his stereo, microwave etc.
And can you believe the typical Windows setup? Most old folks are simply too overwhelmed with all these icons and buttons and blowing them up to three times their size doesn't necessarily make things easier.
posted by sour cream at 6:54 AM on February 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

As of 2005 all new cell phones (as opposed to a certain percentage of units sold, which was the case as the law was phased in between 2003 and now) must have GPS and it cannot be disabled for 911 calls (though there will be an option somewhere to disable it during all other calls).
posted by IshmaelGraves at 7:17 AM on February 28, 2005

I got my mom, who is a woeful technophobe, the Nokia Communicator, and she loves it. Like most nokia phones simple calling and texting is simple, and it has an excellent speaker.

If they think the internal parts are too complicated the front fascia has a very basic number pad set up for ease of use.
posted by kev23f at 7:29 AM on February 28, 2005

All you looking for geriatric phones, you know what the real answer is, don't you?

Petition fisher price to make a WORKING telephone.

I'm being serious here, that's about as much phone as my dad can handle, and he only retired a year ago. Our present phone has a "hold" button, like almost all telephones nowadays, and he can't even figure out how to use that.

Don't expect high-tech companies to start making low-tech. Even if they choose to the results are almost surely going to be sub-par.
posted by shepd at 9:02 AM on February 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

Are they sure this is a good idea? My brother got my 77 year old (admittedly technophobic) mother a cel phone and she completely refuses to touch it. She tried once or twice but it was beyond her and so she gave up. Now my brother is out a lot of money. Are your parents already using cel phones a lot and are they comfortable with them? Because if they're not, I'd be tempted to recommend something cheap and prepaid, like Tracfone (these are also really simple phones.) If they take well to it, then they can switch later.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:23 AM on February 28, 2005

I did a bit more googling, found this FCC page. It does a good job of explaining that different carriers are implementing enhanced 911 in different ways, suggests who to contact to get more information, and concludes:

your wireless carrier and your phone are only half the equation. Your state and local government also must devote the resources to upgrade your state's 911 call centers.

Regarding IsmaelGraves posting that all new cell phones must have GPS, this is the kind of statement for which a link to an authoritative Web page is extremely useful. I found nothing that supports this statement, and several things that imply that some carriers have chosen the GPS (that is, handset) solution for E911 complaince and some carriers have chosen a network solution (which would not require a GPS chip).

Bottom line, as previously noted: if this is a deal-breaker, find out from your local 911 folks (a) how far they are on implementing Phase II requirements of Enhanced 911, and (b) whether they get better 911 location information from some carriers than from others.
posted by WestCoaster at 10:44 AM on February 28, 2005

To answer your first question: lots of phones have large-print screens as options within their settings. You can turn it on and that's that. My LG VX6000 has numbers so big when I dial that I'm almost embarrassed--perfect for your parents' older eyes. The buttons, alas, are normal for a cell phone, but you get the idea.
posted by werty at 2:13 PM on February 28, 2005

Something like this for kids - the Firefly by SunCom - might work. It has no keypad, preprogrammed emergency numbers and bright keys. Might not work to switch to that *from* landlines, but might be a good add-on for some folks.
posted by fionab at 10:11 AM on March 10, 2005

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