Grandpa Needs a New Cell Phone

We look at the best of the senior-friendly phones now available.

By Melissa J. Perenson

Smartphones have a lot of appeal to seniors—think Facetime with the grandkids—but they’re not the best choice for everyone. In fact, many older users struggle with the devices' size, complexity, and touchscreen. That's why we’ve scoured the cell phone universe to find the best cell phones for seniors.

Many seniors prefer the straightforward simplicity of old-school feature phones. As one senior told us, “Before, I had a dumb phone, and I felt smart. Now, I have a smartphone and I feel dumb.” In looking for suitable feature phones and smartphones, we focused on one that made calling easy.

Jitterbug Flip

GreatCall’s Jitterbug was one of the first phones that specifically targeted the senior market. The latest version—which has a bright 3.2-inch screen—takes into account that seniors appreciate big, clearly labeled buttons and large type fonts. The Jitterbug Flip provides simple labels for all of its options, including yes and no navigation buttons and a spkr button (for speakerphone). The one nod to modern times is a built-in 2-megapixel camera with flash. This phone supports hearing aids, and has a built-in flashlight, too.

Jitterbug FlipThe $100 Jitterbug Flip only works with GreatCall’s phone service—so if you’re on a money-saving family plan with your kids or spouse, you won’t be able to use the phone. The monthly rates are reasonably competitive, starting at $15 for 200 minutes, and topping out at $50 for unlimited talk and text. One unique benefit: Jitterbug Flip has a large button at the bottom of the phone for use with GreatCall’s FiveStar emergency service ($25 minimum, plus whatever phone usage package you choose).

Jitterbug Smart

At $150, the Jitterbug Smart is GreatCall’s simplified answer to the complexities of smartphones. This smartphone has a custom Android skin with large, clearly labeled text buttons that put the phone’s primary purposes—phone, voicemail, email, text, and FiveStar emergency service (available if you subscribe)—right up front, so the user doesn't have to dig around in menus to activate a primary option.

Jitterbug SmartIt The Jitterbug Smart has a spacious 5.5-inch display, which gives the interface room to breath, and a 5-megapixel camera for taking photos that will be easy to view later on that screen. You can easily add apps of your choice beneath the Android skin because the phone comes preloaded with the Google Play store and other Google services. The phone's main limitation is that it work only on the GreatCall phone service, which is relatively expensive when you factor in the data plan (2.5GB costs an additional $30 monthly).

Snapfon EZTwo

The $80 Snapfon EZTwo is a great unlocked option for anyone who already have and want to stick with GSM cell phone service (translation: Sprint and Verizon users continue to be out of luck). Snapfon designed this 3G phone with seniors in mind. Its candybar style makes the buttons wholly accessible at all times, for easy access. The buttons are big, clearly labeled, and well defined, which makes them easy to use.

The EZTwo's 2.4-inch screen is bright, and uses gigantic 28-point type—not the biggest ever, but big enough for comfortable reading with imperfect eyesight. A programmable one-touch button on the back lets you set up five emergency numbers for quick calling or texting; and if you subscribe to SeniorTech’s cell phone service (at $15 a month), you can add its 24-hour emergency service. The extra-cost case is grippy, and the phone is large enough to hold without fumbling, yet compact enough to be wearable around your neck on a lanyard. Another unique feature: It can dictate the numbers you've pressed as you dial, so you can confirm that you pressed the buttons you meant to. Like the Jitterbug, this phone is hearing-aid compatible. One drawback: At just 0.3 megapixel, the built-in camera won't take meaningful snaps.

Jethro SC628

The $60 Jethro SC628 likewise has an easy-access candybar design, with large buttons. Although its  buttons are little less defined than those on the EZTwo, the Jethro has a smooth elegance reminiscent of phone styles from more than a decade ago.

Jethro SC628The SC628 is a 3G unlocked phone, with an SOS button on the back for calling up to four emergency contacts. Its menus are clearly presented, with large numbers on the phone's 2.3-inch display. This is another model with hearing-aid compatibility, as well as two memory buttons for one-touch dialing. Its rear-facing camera won't rival the iPhone 7's, but it does offer 2-megapixel captures; and the screen can handle playing back video.

Any Samsung Smartphone

We’ve already noted the challenges of using a standard Android phone. But Samsung has long recognized that not everyone will find its TouchUX interface intuitive. Enter Samsung Easy Mode—a feature buried in the settings under Personalization that lets you change the interface to one with larger icons, buttons, and text.

Samsung Easy Mode on a Galaxy Note 4The result is a home screen that is more intuitive and easier to navigate for users with sight or motor issues. Unfortunately, this veneer disappears as soon as you open an app other than a native Samsung app enabled for this feature. So you might get larger text on the Samsung calendar, but not on Google Calendar, for example.

As a final note, for elderly users, we suggest buying a rugged case to fortify the phone against drops and to make the phone easier to hold.