What is the best phone for an active, mobile senior?
March 10, 2012 2:29 PM   Subscribe

What is the best phone for an active, mobile senior? My mom is 75 and is on the phone all the time when she is at home. What would be the best cell phone for her so that she can keep in touch with people when she's on the go?

My mom is really active. She is on the phone all the time and out of the house doing things almost every day. Because she is out of the house so often and her plans have a habit of changing it would be a really good idea for her to have and use a cell phone.

One of the organizations she volunteers for gave her a cell phone (a Samsung featurephone) but she can't use it because doing anything (like looking up a phone number) requires using a really unintuitive menu system. Any time I've had to call her on her phone it was turned off because she doesn't use it anyway. So it is really a waste of a phone for her.

My solution to this would be to get her a better phone, but which one?

I have a Blackberry and for making calls it is great, I can just start entering someone's name on the keypad and it will give me their number. It easily syncs with my gmail contact list and calendar and the battery life is pretty good. I think a phone like this would be much more useful for her than her current one, and as a result it wouldn't be turned off all the time like her current one. My concerns with the blackberry are that the keys are kind of small, and while they are nicely textured and illuminated, the tiny keys may be frustrating for her. Also the screen is small so she would not get much use of it for email. Finally, if she wants to do anything off of the home screen then she will get lost in the sea of small icons for everything else.

The other option is something with a big screen, either an iphone or android. The big screen should make it easy for her to see what's on it, and provided she doesn't download too many apps the homescreen will be relatively uncluttered. Do either iOS or android have a mode for people with weaker eyesight? (ie bigger text and buttons). If either offers turn by turn GPS with voice navigation that would be good too as it would help when she drives somewhere unfamiliar (which right now she gets really apprehensive about).

Another advantage of getting her a new phone is that her current digital camera is pretty old (3.2 megapixels!) and I figure that any new phone she got would have a much better camera, and she would have it with her all the time. I was going to buy her a new camera, but I'm thinking that a modern phone would be even better.

She's been using a computer for the last 10 years or so and is fine with email, document creation in OpenOffice (LibreOffice now) and general internet stuff like searching and using facebook. The computer she's using is running Ubuntu, but there's a windows computer in the house if necessary for the phone.

I'd be covering the monthly phone/data plan as well so there wouldn't be any additional expenses for her. You can still tell me this is a bad idea, but not for that reason.

posted by any portmanteau in a storm to Technology (18 answers total)
The Pantech Ease?

My wife is somewhat of a luddite but loves this phone. It has two modes. . simple and simpler, so you can switch back on forth.

Just calls and texts and maybe a few pics.
posted by Danf at 2:44 PM on March 10, 2012

Is there any reason you can't take her shopping and have her pick the one she likes best?
posted by Wordwoman at 2:44 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

iPhone? My wife has several issues with phones including eyesight, poor grip and fingers that don't always work properly. She gets on well with this as with a rubber case it is easy to grip and does not obscure the screen, the "buttons" are big enough to see and hit. And a big bonus is she has not asked me "How do I do this?". The range of androids was not about when we got it though so one of those may be more useful.
posted by episodic at 2:54 PM on March 10, 2012

With my mom (early 70s) we went in the opposite direction and got the most basic phone with no extra bells or whistles. She uses something similar to this, and she also usually has her little datebook & phone book in her purse, so that's how she finds the numbers she wants to dial. My mom is also very handy with a computer, but with the phone it was just totally clear that she was never going to get into using apps or entering all of her datebook or contact info. It's too small, it's too modern, and frankly at this point she's about done learning new technology. YMMV.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:55 PM on March 10, 2012

For the cellphone averse people I know, what works best is a *simple* and foolproof phone that lets you do three things easily (i.e., using physical buttons on the keypad which are dedicated to these purposes; no need to walk through menus or enter phone mode):

1. initiate a call easily
2. answer easily when someone is calling you - Note, this is why someone might routinely keep their phone off: it's mortifying to have your phone ring loudly and you are frantically fiddling with it to remember how to answer.
3. hang up easily

Also nice:
4. look up numbers by scrolling through a list of numbers someone has manually entered, using fixed buttons (again, no menu to go through to get to the phone book). This way you can enter the numbers she wants to have in there, and she can keep a paper list in a little address book in her pocketbook for others. (But honestly, the paper list method might be simpler - one less thing to learn.)

It is a minor hassle to learn to do new things. A phone that can do 1000 things, but which does not have a dedicated button in a predictable location for "pick up the phone" or "hang up", is an additional hassle she doesn't need.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:12 PM on March 10, 2012

Three points against getting an iPhone, based on watching my mom, who's 78, using mine.

One, she was sort of flummoxed by the touch-screen for a long time. She's fine with computers and "traditional" cell phones (and has tiny little fingers), but it was not intuitive for her at all. She's gotten more used to it now, but I still sometimes have to dial for her, or she'll press something and not be able to get back to the main screen without me.

Two, the battery life sucks. Maybe the new ones are better, I don't know. But I like knowing that my mom's current little crappy Samsung* at least can last for a day or two without charging, just in case. I'd get nervous if she and my dad went somewhere with a phone that might die after a few hours of use.

Three, iTunes. I gave her my old iPod and she loves listening to it, but she would totally forget how to synch it, update it, or do anything with iTunes in general if she had to. She's very smart and uses her computer for all the usual things, but it would not be worth the PITA it would be for her to have to hook up her phone to it.

*Not recommending that either, really - I can barely figure out the menu on that thing!
posted by DestinationUnknown at 3:26 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I got my technophobe Gram (same age as your mom) a Jitterbug phone. Yes, pricey for the minutes, but the phone is super easy to use and the customer service has been great each time we have called.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 3:51 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think any smart phone is a good choice, especially if you are concerned about pictures / picture quality. You can set the text size for most apps with either android or iphone, although android phones in general are more customizable. Also, if she can use facebook, she certainly is not in the target market for "old person phones" such as jitterbug. I know lots of older people (60+) who have recently gotten smart phones and grown to love them immediately after a day or two of bugging their kids about how to use stuff.
posted by shownomercy at 4:31 PM on March 10, 2012

I'd suggest the HTC Titan. It's not the most advanced phone, nor the fastest, but it has a few advantages:

* HUGE screen. There's a review somewhere that specifically said "first smartphone we would get for our grandparents". Also review note that typing is much much easier and more accurate than other phones, specfiically because each keyboard key on the screen is quite large and it's hard to make a mistake.

* Windows Phone 7 OS. The interface on this thing is amazing, and it's all huge. large tiles to press, beautiful clear fonts, lots of space, it's the only smartphone OS that's easy to read (my vision sucks and I have pretty strong glasses so this is always of note to me)

I have a extensive family with plenty of technophobic aunties and grandparents.... and now almost all of them have a smartphone - mostly androids with a few iphones. It's super surprising to go to a family dinner and see them showing each other photos and talking about facebook :P

Yea there is a learning curve, but smartphones are so functional and lets them do so many things, I've found they are willing to try. My 85 year old grandmother, who barely can turn on the TV, has no problem navigating photos on the iphone. It's a new world out there, and smartphones are finally easy and simple enough to give them a window into it :)
posted by rmathew1 at 6:22 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you should take her to a phone store and have her try different types so you get a better sense of what she likes- she might really want a physical dialpad, she might be confused by getting a touch screen to work, etc. I feel like there is a really stark divide in older people where half of them are more computer-savvy than supposed "digital natives" either out of sheer gumption or the motivation of things like Skyping with grandchildren and half of them JUST WANT A TELEPHONE LIKE I ALWAYS HAD DANGNABBIT.

If your mom still likes her landline and finds the Samsung she has annoying, she might be a member of the second group who wants a clamshell, thankyouverymuch.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:24 PM on March 10, 2012

You may also want to look at the Samsung she's been given and see if you can change any menu options to make it easier for her to use. For example, mine has options to list the menu by icons only or by smaller icons with words associated with them. (Think detested 'new' Gmail interphase of icons only verses old Gmail with simple goddammed words.) You might be able to set it up to be more usable.

As you might be able to determine from my tiny screed above, I too vote for buttons over touch screen.

Also, ASK what she wants for a camera. She might not want her phone to be a camera, especially if that adds confusing menu options.
posted by maryr at 8:14 PM on March 10, 2012

What about John's phone?
posted by lvanshima at 9:33 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

My 82 year old Nan just replaced her 5 year old Nokia flip phone with an iPhone. It is possibly one of the best things she has done, even though most of us were skeptical at first.

1. With the text size on large she can actually read her Contacts list and not rely on her list of numbers stuck to the back of the phone (she could no longer read the text on her Nokia screen easily. Too small for her 82 yo eyes).

2. iOS is intuitive and once you clear all the needless stuff off the home screen, very easy to navigate. She doesn't care about angry birds, but live that she just gas to touch the icon to do something

3. iOS is so ubiquitous that she can ask almost anybody for help if she gets stuck.

The biggest part of it is that she no longer has to navigate menus to use the phone. Unlock, press contacts, select contact. In the last week, she has mastered text messaging. She was so incredibly proud of herself.
posted by cholly at 1:59 AM on March 11, 2012

I pressed post before I had the chance to add that my Nan can't use a computer. But iPhone is still a great thing for her.
posted by cholly at 3:01 AM on March 11, 2012

Some of my elder friends are really good at reading and following instructions on new tech, and some of them aren't, just like everybody else. I think if you are going to set her up with a smartphone, you should block out an afternoon and really go over it in detail.

Call her several times so that she gets used to the answer routine, and doesn't get alarmed when it goes off. Haptic response also freaks many of them out, and takes some getting used to. They think they are getting electrocuted when it touches back.

I curb my frustration by remembering that it took me a good solid week to get proficient on my whiz-bang Android, and I still have to look some things up.

Also have a quiet, progressive ring tone for her so that it doesn't sound like a fire alarm in her purse while she's shopping. That unsettles my mom worse than anything else.

Now I get calls about, "How do I upload an incoming text message attachment to my Facebook account?"
posted by halfbuckaroo at 6:36 AM on March 11, 2012

I rock exclusively Android. Don't get her an Android phone.

I'd recommend the iPhone, honestly.

The main reason is that the iPhone actually has very decent accessibility for people with poor eyesight. In fact, I believe that the iPhone can be navigated (nearly?) entirely by sound and tactile feedback--but, I've never owned one to play with that feature, so check for yourself first.

The only real problem I have with the iPhone and the tech-unsavvy is iTunes. Which blows donkey nuts, and the concept of having to hook up your phone to the computer on occasion doesn't seem at all reasonable to lots of folks.
posted by Netzapper at 9:01 AM on March 11, 2012

I use Siri on my iPhone all the time to call people instead of looking up contacts. "Call Mary at home" is much easier than dialing the number or looking through your contacts. "Remind me to take medication at 2 pm" is very useful as well.

In the Accessibility menu, you can choose a font size (up to 56 pt, which is HUGE) and you can zoom by tapping. You can also have the text read to you.

My mom is only 60 but she loves hers. Like others said, iTunes is rather flummoxing, though.
posted by desjardins at 12:23 PM on March 11, 2012

My dad got one of the huge screen androids and is happy with it. He almost never uses the keyboard. He uses voice control and dictation. So the lack of physical keyboard isn't an issue.

If money is an issue is get the largest screen android on Virgin Mobile, which has great plans. If not, I'd go for the iPhone (4S so she can use Siri). Unless she's already really integrated and fluent with the google ecosystem and then I might go for an android anyway.
posted by Salamandrous at 1:39 PM on March 11, 2012

« Older How can I care for a broken finger?   |   What to consider before zapping a depressed brain? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.