Senior citizens have overwhelmingly turned the corner from confusing mobile devices to accepting and using the technology.
About 61% of people 65 and older use a mobile device, according to a Pew Research Study in 2021. That’s a nearly 10% increase from 2012.
In the era of adaptive technology, seniors also get the added benefit of special features, like a cell phone with large buttons for aging eyes or weakening hand-eye coordination.
The overwhelming part is now the abundance of senior-adapted devices like big-button cell phones.
- What Is the Easiest Cell Phone for Seniors?
- Features to Look for in Phones with Big Buttons for the Elderly
- 6 of the Best Big-Button Cell Phones for Seniors
- Before You Buy: Senior Safety Device Details
- Why Are Senior Phones So Different?
- Will My Phone Work After 3G Shutdown?
What Is the Easiest Cell Phone for Seniors?
All the rankings and reviews possible won’t make a difference if a phone isn’t customized for the person using it the most.
Simply finding a list of big-button phones for the elderly doesn’t mean it will be the best option for your senior loved one.
- Health Issues Related to Hands: Painful arthritis can impact a person’s ability to press hard on firmer big buttons. Shaky hands could require the “biggest” cell phone with big buttons option. Extremely dry or calloused fingers could make using a touchscreen challenging, a phenomenon known as Zombie Fingers.
- Meet Their Needs: Most just want to use the phone feature and won’t be texting or playing Candy Crush. Meet them where they are instead of getting a phone with confusing bells and whistles.
- Patience: Let’s be honest, you didn’t know how to operate that iPhone when you first got it, so allow a senior grace to get used to the new phone. Offer kind help without eye rolls or hefty sighs. The more comfortable they are with the device, the more value they will get out of it.
Features to Look for in Phones with Big Buttons for the Elderly
It helps to start with what the senior wants or needs out of a phone instead of listing off device options. Having a tech-savvy friend or relative helps find the right phone.
- Eyesight: The best big-button mobile phone for the elderly will include easy-to-read numbers with proper lighting contrast. The blurring aspects of Glaucoma could require a voice-activated feature.
- Hearing: Amplified audio or hands-free speakers can help the dreaded “Can you hear me now?” Also, consider if the device pairs with a hearing aid.
- Touch Screen: Seniors won’t use technology that becomes frustrating, so discuss if a traditional touchpad or modern touchscreen would be most beneficial. Let a senior test your tablet or iPhone to see how they navigate that feature.
- SOS: Seniors who live alone or have serious health issues need one-button dialing to get help.
Mostly, they need someone who speaks conversationally about technology. Bringing up megapixels or talking about an unlocked phone might sound like gibberish to a senior.
6 of the Best Big-Button Cell Phones for Seniors
Let’s take a look at some cell phones for seniors that are compatible with the needs of older people. We’ve found six excellent options to consider.
RAX Mobility offers several version of a phone suited for seniors, but the flagship is the Memory Cell Phone designed specifically for those with Dementia, Alzheimer’s and other limiting health issues.
The phone tosses the traditional keypad for photo photos with up to 30 contacts. Voice and video calls are possible. There is just one screen and no confusion rabbit holes of menus.
A fast 911 dial button can be supplemented with a $9.99 monthly fee for RAZ Emergency Service.
This allows a dispatcher to verify the legitimacy of the call while notifying emergency contacts and then provide responders with health and location information the senior might not be able to vocalize.
Caregivers and relatives can also remotely manage the service. This phone won the 2022 AARP Innovation Labs Connect & Thrive Competition.
- It works with AT&T, T-Mobile, and other major providers. The only non-compliant services are Spring and Verizon.
- Screen is “Always On” for easier use.
- Allows for Quiet Hours to be set with restrictions on who can call the senior or who the senior can call.
The $309 price tag could be a deterrent, but there’s no additional data plan outside of the major carrier.
You won’t find a much simpler phone than this one available on a cellular network while still offering basic features for senior citizens.
An SOS button on the front is clearly marked and dials five pre-set emergency numbers when pressed for more than three seconds. It also has a flashlight and two chargers, corded or docking. It also has a one-touch speakerphone option.
- Large, colorful buttons stand out for easy viewing.
- It can be in standby mode for four days without charging
- Includes an FM radio
- The device can only be used with specific pre-paid plans and brand-new SIM cards.
The Jitterbug claim that this is the “simplest smartphone ever” is spot on. Talk, text, video chat, or take photos in a watered-down version of complex iPhones and Androids.
Custom controls allow the user to choose from a list of font sizes and hold down a screen to supersize text. The main menu is clear and easy to understand.
The phone comes from the Lively brand, which caters to seniors through adaptions, ease of use, and dedicated customer service. Seniors must understand the data usage and cost difference between phone calls, texts, photos, and internet browsing.
- Includes an option for Health & Safety package (additional cost) with an urgent response, mobile urgent care calls not connected to health insurance, and rideshare options through Lyft.
- The smartphone and services are specifically designed for seniors or the disabled.
- The talk-back option reads text on the screen out loud.
- Tiers of plans are helpful but can confuse seniors who don’t understand technology. You must choose a calling and data plan (each an additional cost) and opt into the $24.99 or $34.99 Health and Safety Plan for maximum benefits.
This simple flip phone can reap all the benefits of the Lively brand, including the same tiers of packages as the smartphone.
The larger buttons and simplified menu help aging eyes, and the device can also turn into a magnifying glass while reading books or magazines.
The customer service experience starts with the phone set-up, avoiding thick manuals and small-print instructions. This basic flip phone also has some pre-installed games for dexterity and cognition.
- It can be paired with Alexa, a rare treat in the senior flip phone industry.
- Lively provides free how-to videos online, helping lessen the learning curve.
- No contracts, pay-as-you-go plans.
- The marketing of the Urgent Response button is misleading since it’s not a standard feature. While it’s a great benefit, it only works with a Health and Safety Plan, which should be clearly noted but is not.
The Jethro brand is dedicated to making simple phones for seniors, so every feature is geared toward ease of use and reliability. The large button and screen display (2.8 inches) makes viewing and using the phone easier.
It’s compatible with hearing aids and has an SOS button free of charge. Pre-paid plans are mandatory, so you control how much you spend and when.
- It comes with a $45 90-day phone plan.
- The device is safe for the elderly and children to use.
- A larger screen than similarly-priced senior devices.
- Connecting to the internet, GPS or app stores is not an option.
The phone’s simplicity makes it stand out while still not skimping on included safety features. It’s easy enough for a grandparent or grandchild to use and comes with a dock for easy charging.
The big buttons are clearly marked. An SOS button on the back of the phone attaches to five emergency contacts, and you can add up to five spam numbers to the block list.
- The SOS button is on the back of the phone to avoid accidental dials on the keypad.
- It comes with enhanced speakers for clearer conversations at higher volumes.
- The menu setup is fairly simple compared to some other senior phones.
- Once again, this phone is only compatible with certain pre-paid plans and cannot be added to an existing family plan.
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Before You Buy: Senior Safety Device Details
Shopping for a senior cell phone requires reading the fine print because it’s not as easy as ordering a new iPhone or Android.
Here are a few things to pay attention to when shopping.
- UNLOCKED: When a phone is listed as Unlocked, it means it is no longer (or was ever) connected to a specific carrier. You will have more options than buying an iPhone at an AT&T store and having to use AT&T.
- PRE-PAID PLANS: The phones need to be unlocked since they have to pair with a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). Most (if not all) senior-focused phones will require you to buy the phone outright and then get a pre-paid plan that is specific for each phone. For example, it might be AT&T compatible BUT only with a RedPocket SIM card. You can’t add a phone to a family plan using these phones.
- SIM CARD: Speaking of SIM cards, you should add that cost on top of the price tag, because these phones don’t come with their own SIM. Once again, that’s because you will choose the SIM card based on the pre-paid carrier you use.
- TYPES OF PLANS: Seniors need to understand the difference between a phone/texting plan, a data plan, and additional safety plans. Some providers offer a free SOS or emergency call feature, while other require a subscription to a plan for that feature (and other safety features).
- TEXTING: Texting on these devices is mostly done vis SMS, which is a text-only message no more than 160 characters. This feature is covered under the main pone plan where you choose minutes or unlimited service. If a phone has an MMS option, that’s when you can send a picture or video with text. MMS messages will be part of a data plan, not the phone plan. This could lead to messages not being sent or pricey overage costs if there isn’t an adequate data plan.
Why Are Senior Phones So Different?
Senior phones are designed for simplicity and to accommodate health issues.
A senior who just wants to transition from the soon-to-be-extinct landline might just want to be able to talk on the phone and a caregiver or relative might insist on easy to use safety features.
Companies like Lively create a whole brand about senior safety and healthcare, providing doctors or nurses around the clock for calls or emergency services to help get care fast on a harder-to-trace cell phone call.
This niche market also accommodates cost-efficiency for those living on a fixed income while allowing contract-free plans. The phones and plans are usually less expensive than the more modern models.
The downside is that you miss out on the main providers, like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile’s senior discount plans and “add a free phone” opportunities.
You can consider a more mainstream phone with an “Easy Mode” that offers larger buttons and fewer options.
MORE: Look into the federal Lifeline Program for low-income seniors to explore a discount option when making a cell phone choice. It is guaranteed through at least
Will My Phone Work After 3G Shutdown?
All major carriers have shutdown 3G service to make way for 5G expansion. When shopping for a senior cell phone, it’s imperative to avoid any 3G models.
They won’t work.
4G LTE and VoLTE are still options, as the devices will defer to 4G if 5G isn’t available. You can’t turn a 3G phone or SIM card into a 4G or 5G model.
Finding the best big-button phone for seniors should go beyond just the size of the buttons.
Expect to pay extra for SIM cards, and you’ll need a pre-paid plan in most cases. Avoid 3G phones or SIM cards, as they’re now obsolete, but 4G and 5G will still work.
Most importantly, seniors will likely need assistance setting up the emergency and one-button contact list. The best gift you can give a senior is a simple device catering to their specific health needs while keeping them in contact with loved ones.