The Best Cell Phone for Seniors: Could It Be a Flip Phone?

The Best Cell Phone for Seniors: Could It Be a Flip Phone?

What makes the best cell phone for seniors? The answer will vary from person to person. After all, older adults aren't exactly a homogeneous group. Everyone has different needs, wishes, budgets, and abilities. Some seniors just want a basic flip phone to make occasional voice calls, while others prefer the more advanced capability of a smartphone.

Whichever camp you belong in, this article can help. It explains how to select a phone, wireless carrier, and service plan that meets your needs and fits your budget. (Did you know it might even be possible to get a cell phone for free?

Among seniors, mobile phone use is growing. In a 2018 survey, 94 percent of American adults between the ages of 50 and 64 said they owned a cell phone of some kind, as did 85 percent of the 65-plus crowd. What's more, almost half (46 percent) of adults over age 65 owned a smartphone in 2018, compared to just 18 percent in 2013.1, 2

So, what makes the best phone for seniors: a simple flip phone or a technologically advanced smartphone? Ultimately, every older adult must decide that for themselves. Fortunately, there are a range of options in both categories, as you will see below.

How to Choose a Cell Phone for Seniors

Wondering where to start? Here's a step-by-step process to help you find the phone that's right for you:

  1. Select a wireless carrier.

    It might seem odd, but before you choose an actual phone, you should consider what wireless carrier you will use. That's because some phones will only work on certain wireless networks. And since coverage varies between carriers, it's important to find one that offers good service in whatever areas you plan to use your phone: your home, the local mall, your children's homes, your vacation destinations, etc. Most carriers offer coverage maps on their websites and allow you to enter a zip code to see if they provide service in that area.

    The four major national U.S. carriers are Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint. There are also many mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) that don't actually own their own hardware but lease space on the networks of the four major carriers. For instance, GreatCall (maker of the senior-oriented Jitterbug cell phones) uses the Verizon network, while Consumer Cellular uses the AT&T and T-Mobile networks. MVNOs typically offer cheaper and more flexible plans than the major carriers, but they sometimes have restrictions on data speeds or phone choices.

    Ask around to see what carriers your neighbors, friends, or family members use. (Often, you can talk for free to people who use the same carrier as you.) And be sure to find out how they rate their experiences with a particular carrier's customer service.

    You should be aware that all of the major U.S. carriers are pushing customers toward their 4G LTE networks. Older technologies such as 2G and 3G are gradually being phased out. Verizon will retire its 3G network at the end of 2019, so at that point all Verizon customers will need to have LTE-enabled phones. AT&T has pledged to keep supporting 3G until the end of 2021, but new 3G devices cannot be activated on the AT&T network after December 31, 2018. T-Mobile and Sprint have not announced definite plans, but each intends to end support for 2G and 3G at some point in the next few years.

  2. Decide what features you want.

    Once you select a carrier, you need to choose a phone that is compatible with that carrier. Before you start shopping, make a list of what you need in a phone. Many seniors just want a simple, big-button cell phone for voice calls. Others are looking for an Internet-enabled device that will allow them to stream music and video-chat with their grandkids. If you're content with only making phone calls and maybe sending texts, a basic flip phone or block-style phone may be a good choice. (Some flip phones even have GPS to help you navigate.) But if you want to play a lot of games or take advantage of apps, you'll probably want a smartphone.

    Here are some features that may be important to you:

    • Large, bright display—Bigger screens are easier on aging eyes, but larger devices are more difficult to fit in a pocket. Overall phone size is a definite concern if you're hoping to use it one-handed. Also take note of the color quality of the phone's screen. (OLED screens show colors better than LCD screens.)
    • Durable construction—Some phones can withstand bumps and splashes better than others. Because of their closed design, flip phones offer good screen protection. Many phones are made of glass, which means they can get damaged if they get dropped. Investing in a good protective case can minimize the risk of damage to a glass phone.
    • Camera—A lot of people rely on their phone as their main camera, so if sharing pictures with loved ones is a priority for you, review the specs carefully. The megapixel count is one factor to consider, but you might also want to look for a bright aperture and image stabilization capability. Cameras on higher-end phones can even take decent pictures in low-light conditions.
    • Good quality speakers—You want to be able to clearly hear what callers are saying to you without being distracted by a lot of background noise. And here's something you should know: Phones that are rated as some combination of M3, M4, T3, or T4 meet the Federal Communications Commission's standards for hearing aid compatibility.
    • Voice command capability—Some phones allow you to use verbal commands to do things like make calls, send messages, or check voice mail. That can be a tremendous help for older adults with vision challenges.
    • Long-lasting battery—You don't want to worry about your phone running out of power when you're out and about. Many phones can go all day on a single charge, depending on how you use them. So take note of the battery life of whatever model you're considering.
    • Storage—Will you be taking or downloading lots of photos or videos? If so, you will want to look for a phone with a decent amount of internal storage. Many phones (but not iPhones) also include a microSD slot that allows for additional storage.
    • GPS capability—This can enable you to get turn-by-turn directions or allow the phone to be used as a tracking device.
    • Dedicated emergency help button— cell phones for elderly people include an SOS button that connects to trained monitoring professionals who can provide assistance in emergencies.
  3. Try a trial run.

    If possible, go to a physical store and get your hands on the device you're interested in to be sure it will meet your needs. Check that it does what you want it to do. Make sure the ringer is loud enough, the display is bright enough, and the buttons are large enough. In most cases, you will have a 14- to 30-day period after purchase during which you can return a phone if it doesn't prove to be what you need.

6 Simple Flip Phones and Block-Style Phones

It might come as a surprise that even with all of today's advanced technology, you can still buy a flip phone. Many seniors appreciate the simplicity and lower cost of these types of devices. And they are more widely available than you might think: You can purchase flip phones at Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon, and other major retailers, as well as from the wireless carriers themselves. Typically, a flip phone costs $50 to $100 and up. Some older adults prefer simple block-style phones, which are rectangular blocks that have a small screen and physical keyboard but, unlike flip phones, have no hinged lid.

Here are examples of each phone type that you may want to consider:

  1. Jitterbug Flip

    The Jitterbug cell phone is a basic flip phone with large buttons that was designed specifically for older adults. Many people consider it to be the best flip phone for seniors. It's made of plastic and features a simple menu, backlit keypad, easy-to-read text, excellent battery life, and very loud speakers that are compatible with hearing aids. It also includes a camera with flash (with enough space for about 1,000 photos) as well as a reading magnifier. Voice dialing is not available, however.

    A one-touch 5Star emergency response button connects to an operator who can track the caller via GPS and summon help, but this service requires a monthly fee. The 5Star button even has a different feel than the others, so you can locate it by touch alone. For an additional cost, you can take advantage of services like automated medication reminders and 24/7 access to healthcare professionals.

    At full retail price, the Jitterbug Flip cell phone costs $99.99, plus a $35 activation fee and the cost of a monthly plan. Jitterbug uses the GreatCall (i.e., Verizon) cell phone network, which is known for good nationwide coverage.

  2. Doro PhoneEasy 626

    The Doro PhoneEasy is another flip phone for elderly users who value simplicity. It's a basic cell phone for seniors that is meant mainly for making calls and sending texts. It offers excellent call quality, a bright display, and large, widely spaced, backlit buttons, including separate buttons to activate the built-in camera and check texts. It has little internal storage, but it does have a microSD slot (which the Jitterbug Flip does not). It even comes with a hook and lanyard, so it can be worn around your neck, and it includes Bluetooth for hands-free use.

    The PhoneEasy also includes a dedicated alert button that calls your pre-programmed emergency contact, but only when it is pressed three consecutive times. (That might be a bit unwieldy, but it does mean you'll be less likely to activate it by accident.)

    The PhoneEasy's battery life isn't as good as the Flip's, but its price isn't as high, either: It costs $50 from Consumer Cellular, and activation is free. Consumer Cellular is partnered with the AARP; cell phones for seniors who are AARP members on Consumer Cellular plans qualify for a five-percent discount on monthly services.

  3. Alcatel GO FLIP

    The GO FLIP is one of the most inexpensive cell phones for seniors T-Mobile and Sprint offer. It has big, raised keys with large-print numbers, good call quality, and decent noise cancellation. (Plus, it works with hearing aids.) It also features a built-in camera and video player. The speakerphone is not especially loud, and the phone does not support voice dialing, but it offers good battery life and can be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Its biggest selling point is the fact that it is one of the few sub-$100 phones that will work on the 4G LTE networks that all wireless carriers are adopting.

  4. Kyocera Cadence LTE

    The Cadence is a solid choice among Verizon cell phones for seniors. That's because it offers good call quality, solid construction, well-spaced buttons, voice dialing, a high-contrast display, and an exterior OLED screen that shows the date, time, and caller ID details without having to flip the phone open. It also features very good battery life and 16 GB of internal storage (plus a microSD slot). Overall, it's a good basic phone that delivers reliable reception and works on Verizon's 4G network. It retails for $120.

  5. LG Exalt LTE

    With a three-inch screen, the LG Exalt LTE from Verizon offers one of the biggest displays you can get in a flip phone. It also features large buttons, decent call quality, good battery life, and text-to-speech functionality. The built-in camera even takes HD video. However, there is no outer screen for caller ID, which means you have to open the phone to see who's calling. (But you can customize the ring tone for different callers.) At $144, the Exalt LTE costs a bit more than the Kyocera Cadence. However, this phone is capable of global roaming, whereas the Cadence will not work outside of North America.

  6. Snapfon ezTWO 3G

    Looking for a voice phone under $100 that works with a range of virtual carriers as well as on T-Mobile and AT&T? Cell phones for seniors don't come much simpler than the Snapfon ezTWO 3G. It's a block-style phone rather than a flip phone, which means it does not have a lid that closes over the screen.

    And it may well be the best basic cell phone that functions much the way phones did 30 years ago: All you need to do is dial the phone number and press the Call key. The ezTWO 3G has good volume, large rubbery buttons, and an extremely simple user interface. There is no voice command capability, and you can't send or receive texts, but the phone does include senior-friendly features like a dedicated SOS button and an option to have the keypad speak the numbers as you press them. It's also hearing aid-compatible.

5 of the Best Smartphones for Seniors

Some older adults are eager to enjoy the benefits of smartphone technology but are confused or overwhelmed by all the bells and whistles that come with such devices. The good news is that smartphones can actually be easy phones for seniors to use. Check out these examples:

  1. Jitterbug Smart

    GreatCall focuses on making simple cell phones for seniors, and the Jitterbug Smart is among the best in that regard. It's a simplified Android smartphone that features a 5.5-inch screen with a bright display, big icons arranged in a simple list, and extra-large text. Calls come through clearly and loudly; the phone also supports voice-to-text capability and is rated for use with hearing aids.

    Plus, a 5Star emergency button appears at the bottom of the screen at all times when the phone is on. Pressing the 5Star button connects you with a trained agent who can confirm your location and send help if required. Additional apps are available that allow you to receive medication reminders and get health advice from a network of medical professionals (but you pay a fee for such calls).

    The Jitterbug Smart costs $149.99 at full price. It runs on GreatCall's network, which uses Verizon's hardware.

  2. ZTE Blade Z Max

    With its sharp six-inch LCD screen that is a boon to aging eyes, the ZTE Blade Z Max makes a great senior cell phone. Its large size means you will likely have to hold it with two hands, but it features a textured plastic backing that provides good grip. It offers excellent battery life as well as an eight-megapixel front-facing camera and dual rear cameras, which is surprising for a phone that costs less than $140. It supports voice over LTE, the earpiece volume is reasonably loud, and the phone can be used with hearing aids. The ZTE Blade Z Max is available from virtual carrier MetroPCS, which is owned by T-Mobile.

  3. Motorola Moto E4

    The Moto E4 offers outstanding value for seniors on a budget. It's a sturdy, lightweight plastic smartphone that even has a water-repellant coating. It features a crisp five-inch HD display, reasonable call quality, and both front and rear-facing cameras. The battery lasts an exceptionally long time and can be removed, so you can replace it if necessary. The fingerprint sensor allows you to unlock the phone with a simple touch.

    You can purchase an unlocked version of the Moto E4 for $129.99, and it will work on any U.S. wireless network. Slightly less expensive versions are available directly through the wireless carriers, but they will be locked to those carriers for a certain period of time.

  4. Samsung Galaxy J3

    This low-cost Samsung smartphone (which is widely available in both locked and unlocked versions) is compatible with 4G networks and features a five-inch screen that offers clear rendering and good outdoor visibility. Calls come through clearly even when there is noise around, and the phone is rated for use with hearing aids. The Galaxy J3 comes with a long-lasting battery, 16 GB of internal storage, and a slot for a microSD card. The front and rear cameras are nothing special, but they take fairly decent pictures when lighting conditions are good. The phone can even film in full HD.

    Here's an added bonus: Samsung phones offer an optional Easy Mode that, when activated, simplifies the layout and enlarges the icons on the home screen. This can be very helpful for older adults who are new to smartphones.

  5. iPhone 7

    The iPhone 7 is one of the best older cell phones on the market today. Apple's user-friendly interface is renowned for being easy to learn, and the operating system includes a number of accessibility features that make it ideal for seniors. Plus, since Apple maintains tight control of its hardware and software, its phones receive timely updates and are generally more secure than those made by other manufacturers.

    The iPhone 7 boasts a bright and colorful 4.7-inch LCD screen, dual speakers, and either 32 GB or 128 GB of storage, depending on the specific model you get. (Remember that iPhones do not accept microSD cards.) The front and rear cameras take high-quality pictures even in low light and offer very good optical image stabilization. The phone can even withstand being submerged in shallow water for 30 minutes.

    The iPhone 7 has been surpassed by newer models, but that also means it has come down in price. Used models can be had for $300 to $400. You can choose either an unlocked version or carrier-specific version.

Apps That Simplify Smartphones for Seniors

A senior phone is any phone that comes with features designed to appeal to older users. The good news is that you can make any Android smartphone (which includes most phones other than iPhones) more senior-friendly with the help of specialized apps, called launchers. Here are a few examples you may find useful:

  1. Large Launcher

    As you might expect, Large Launcher enlarges the phone's icons and text to make them easier to see. Apps are also arranged in color-coded outlined blocks that make them easy to distinguish from each other. Plus, you can change the name of the apps to make them more meaningful to you.

    • Price—free
  2. Wiser

    Wiser transforms the interface of the phone to make navigation simpler. The home screen features only six large, colorful buttons for the most commonly used functions, such as the phone dialer (which has oversized number buttons), text messenger, applications, and camera. A large blinking arrow indicates when a new notification arrives to ensure that you don't miss a call or text.

    • Price—free
  3. BIG Launcher

    This app simplifies the phone's user interface by changing the icons into enlarged, high-contrast blocks and arranging commonly used features on the home screen, including an SOS button that connects to your pre-programmed emergency contacts. Unlike Wiser, BIG Launcher allows you to customize the screen to match your needs. You can even hide apps you don't use to keep things as simple as possible.

    • Price—$10
  4. Necta

    This is another app that replaces the phone's standard interface with enlarged buttons that are easy to read. Necta offers custom, streamlined apps for the text messenger, phone dialer, gallery, and camera. It also includes an SOS app that you can activate either by tapping the button or waving a hand slowly across the screen three times. The two-tone color scheme gives the interface a clean look; however, it doesn't provide much contrast, which may be an issue for some users with low vision.

    • Price—free for a trial period; $6.99 for full version
  5. Grand Launcher

    Grand Launcher changes the home screen into a simple interface with big buttons that link to the phone dialer, text messenger, photos, and flashlight. Notifications appear as large red circles against the dark blue background. One unique feature is that the launcher offers an on-screen keyboard that has letters arranged in alphabetical order (though you can switch to a traditional QWERTY keyboard if you prefer). It also includes a voice assistant function that will verbally announce what button your finger is on.

Cellular Plans for Seniors

Most standard cell phone plans from the major carriers are postpaid plans, meaning you receive a bill at the end of the month. Increasingly, these are unlimited-use plans. Postpaid plans tend to come with additional perks like high-resolution video streaming or free HBO subscriptions. The major carriers also allow you to bundle the purchase of a phone and finance it via a series of monthly payments—but if you cancel your service with them, you typically have to pay off the remaining balance on the phone.

Phones that are purchased in full up front, without being tied to a long-term contract, are known as prepaid cell phones. For seniors who value flexibility, prepaid phones can be a good choice. They allow you to switch carriers whenever you like, since you're not committed to a contract. Prepaid plans involve purchasing credit ahead of time, which enables you to control your spending, since you only pay for what you use. However, when you use up your prepaid credit, your service stops until you top up your account, which can be a problem if you suddenly need to make an urgent call. Also, customers on prepaid plans are sometimes de-prioritized, meaning they may experience slower service when wireless networks have heavy traffic.

When choosing a cell phone plan, think about how often you call people, how much texting you plan to do, and how much data you think you will use (if any).

There are a number of cell phone plans that offer good value for seniors. Here are a few worth checking out:

  • AT&T $2 Daily Plan—With this simple plan, you pay $2 for each day you use your phone. On those days, you can take advantage of unlimited talking and texting within the U.S.
  • T-Mobile Pay as You Go—This basic prepaid plan lets you use any combination of text messages or calling minutes that adds up to 30, all for $3 per month. If you need more, you can add service at a rate of $0.10 per minute or message.
  • GreatCall—Plans for the Jitterbug phones cost $14.99 per month for 200 minutes. GreatCall allows you to build your own plan by selecting the number of minutes, number of texts, and amount of data you need. (Data only applies to the Jitterbug Smart.) An unlimited talk and text plan, which includes 100 MB of data, is available for $49.99 per month. You can also select a health and safety package ranging from $19.99 to $34.99 per month; doing so qualifies you for discounts on the minute and text portions of your plan.
  • Consumer Cellular—You can get 250 minutes of talk time (with no texting or data) for $15 per month, or unlimited minutes for $20 per month. You can also add data plans, which include unlimited texting. These start at $5 a month for 250 MB of data and go all the way up to $40 per month for 10 GB. Consumer Cellular aims its services at the senior market and is known for excellent customer service; it has even been known to allow customers to change plans mid-month if they find that they aren't going to use everything they paid for. AARP members qualify for a five-percent discount on monthly services.
  • T-Mobile ONE Unlimited 55+—With the T-Mobile senior plan, if you're over 55 and are willing to sign up for automatic payments, you can get unlimited text, talk, and data on two lines for $70 per month (or one line for $50 per month), including all taxes and fees. This offer is valid for both new and existing customers. However, you won't get the free Netflix perk that is bundled into T-Mobile's regular packages.
  • Sprint Unlimited 55+—Sprint's senior plan is virtually identical to T-Mobile's: You get unlimited talk, text, and data on two lines for $70 per month (plus taxes and fees), assuming you're over 55 and enrolled in autopay. That saves you $30 per month over Sprint's regular unlimited plan. Unlike T-Mobile's offer, Sprint's is only available to new customers. The company also says it will de-prioritize plan users during times of network congestion.
  • Verizon Go Unlimited for 55+—Available only to customers age 55 or older who live in Florida, Missouri, and Illinois, Verizon's plan provides unlimited talk, text, and data on two lines for $80 per month or one line for $60 per month, plus taxes and fees. (Those rates assume you're using autopay.) Verizon reserves the right to slow data speeds for users of this plan when its network gets busy.

How to Get Free Cell Phones for Seniors

Low-income Americans can be eligible for free cell phones and free (or discounted) service plans through a government program called Lifeline. The program is designed to ensure that financially challenged individuals are able to stay in touch with family members, employers, and emergency services.

You may qualify for the Lifeline program if your income is less than 135 percent of the federal poverty level or if you receive benefits from any of the following programs:

  • Medicaid
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8)
  • Food stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Veterans Pension and Survivor Benefit Programs
  • Tribal-specific assistance programs

You may also qualify if you participate in certain assistance programs that are specific to your state. Eligibility requirements differ slightly from state to state, so check to see what the rules are in your area.

To apply, contact a wireless company that offers Lifeline. Note that only one member of a household can receive the Lifeline benefit, and you must provide proof of eligibility each year in order to stay enrolled.

Get Connected

Whether you want a simple flip phone for voice calls or a high-tech smartphone with advanced features, there are options for every age and preference. Use the information provided above to find the best solution for you.

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