Help me choose a no-contract dumbphone for my mom.
December 12, 2012 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Looking for prepaid phone recommendations for an older person in the US. No smartphone, no texting, just very occasional outgoing voice calls.

My 80 year-old mom dutifully carries her mobile phone every time she leaves the house – even when she goes out to get the mail – just in case. She never takes incoming calls on it, it's just for outgoing calls in unusual circumstances, like the phone going out or trouble with the car. Or, of course, an emergency. She uses it for maybe 20 minutes a year.

She's currently paying something like $50 a month for a contract and her phone is held together with tape. I'd like to replace it with something more affordable, like a pre-pay or pay-as-you-go phone that's not confusing to an older, technological resistant older person.

Ideal specifications, in order of importance.
- Good reception. She's in a rural area and Verizon and AT&T networks seem to get passable reception there. Others are spotty.
- Sturdy.
- Long battery life.
- Simple to use.
- And of course an easy to use/affordable pay-as-you-go plan.
- Her vision is fine, so a small screen isn't a problem, but her hands don't work well, so big buttons would be a plus.

It doesn't need internet, texting, GPS, cameras, or anything else added to phones since 2000.
posted by Ookseer to Technology (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you looked at Page Plus Cellular? You can spend $80 to buy 2,000 voice minutes that last a year, and they piggyback onto Verizon's network so reception should be fine. (I've never had any reception problems with them.) They do have plans that offer texting and/or internet (and in any case she'd be able to use her minutes for either of those if she wanted to), but you should be able to get a simple, cheap non-smartphone activated on the network pretty easily.

However, it might take some effort if you decide to get her set up on the network (the $80 2,000-minute option is only available via dealers, iirc, and you do have to make a couple calls to get everything sorted). If you'd like more info, Memail me!
posted by littlegreen at 12:03 PM on December 12, 2012

I think the cheapest pay as you plan with Virgin Mobile is $20 every 90 days, with a variety of $10 phones available. So if their coverage map covers you mom it is a good option.
posted by COD at 12:04 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Made especially for older folks. Simple, prepaid and big buttons.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:10 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding PagePlus, which is what I set my mom up with. Works on the Verizon network. Buy a cheap used Verizon phone on eBay (<$20), and the minimum cost for the service is $30/year ($10 every 120 days).
posted by jon1270 at 12:23 PM on December 12, 2012

Virgin Mobile uses the Sprint Network towers (and does roaming differently than Sprint so the coverage is not quite as good overall.) I don't think it's a good choice here.

In my experience Page Plus has good coverage but the customer service can be tricky, especially if you are using a used Verizon phone rather than one of the models they offer. (I had a problem with text messages which was happening on their end and had to fight them tooth and nail because they insisted it could be a hardware issue with my phone. Then again--I only needed the customer service for my weird text message issue, everything else was fine.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:39 PM on December 12, 2012

My in-laws have a TracFone.
posted by Doohickie at 12:40 PM on December 12, 2012

Seconding Tracfone. I spent about $145.00 to buy a phone and a prepaid year with double minutes. I had a 10% discount, so it was about $160.00 without the discount. There were something like two months and twenty minutes of service that came with the phone. Thus it cost me under $11.00/month for the first 14 months service. I had minutes left at the end. It is awesome because the screen tells you how many minutes and service days are left at all times.

This was a few years ago. Prices may have changed. I did it so I would have zero phone bills for a year at a time when I expected to be really strapped. I am a big fan of Tracfone. I have had a couple of other prepaid phones since. They did not win me over.
posted by Michele in California at 1:31 PM on December 12, 2012

Third Tracfone. Be sure to spring for the extra that allows you to use minutes for the longest period possible as refilling can be a bit of a drag. Just a couple of years ago the website worked with limited browsers and getting someone on the phone was frustrating. Ironically, they had very bad phone service. Still, with all this, Tracfone best meets your list of requirements of the three we've tried, Jitterbug not being among them. In fact, I have a flip Tracfone I can send you if you PM me. We actually have two of the same model, so you'd have spare parts in case you want to use only one. We switched to another service because we love the iPhone.
posted by R2WeTwo at 2:05 PM on December 12, 2012

I will add that I researched several no contract carriers before buying my first Tracfone. One of my goals was to be free of monthly payments. Some no contract phones expire if you do not reload before thirty days are up. I did not want to be on a short leash like that. I wanted to buy it and forget about it for months at a time. It was the cheapest, most convenient phone I could find for basic "dumbphone" service, which was all I wanted.

I will add I have eyesight issues. I had no problem the phone in that regard. Last time I looked, I think they had a model marketed as "for seniors", with large print and similar features.
posted by Michele in California at 2:32 PM on December 12, 2012

I don't know what their coverage is like where you need it, but I second the Jitterbug recommendation from above. I bought my mil a refurb on ebay and she loves it.
posted by jvilter at 4:00 PM on December 12, 2012

Tracfone. Coverage should be great. If calls are short and few, then purchasing refill cards either in store or online at the lowest pricepoint will give her additional months of airtime as well. Minutes roll over indefinitely. You could easily add time to her phone yourself, if you wanted to do so.

It's just not something to be used in place of a landline.
posted by infinite joy at 9:38 PM on December 12, 2012

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