Everyone needs to be connected. Seniors, who may be isolated from their families or have specific health needs, shouldn’t be left out. The smartphone industry, by and large, isn’t thinking about the particular needs of the senior market, but if you pay attention you can find carriers and phones that will give you a streamlined and accommodating phone experience.
Being in what phone manufacturers think of as the “senior market” isn’t about chronological age so much as faculties, preferences, and lifestyle. Many of these phones accommodate reduced eyesight and hearing and are priced affordably. Others have high-end features designed to make your life easier.
Our list includes some voice phones and some general-purpose smartphones. Most of the phones on this list are available unlocked, so they can be paired with any compatible carrier; the others are typically sold in carrier-specific versions.
Where Did All the Voice Phones Go?
We regularly get emails from readers who are frustrated because they want simple, high-quality voice phones, and they don’t feel like there are enough options.
They’re right. The hardware demands of 4G LTE voice calling mean inexpensive voice phones are slower and less reliable than they used to be. We tested several recently, and the one we most recommend, the Sunbeam F1, costs $195. Other high-quality voice phones from Sonim and Kyocera tend to be in the $200–300 range. The Nokia 225 4G, a cheaper option, is small and reliable and costs only $49.99, but it only works well on T-Mobile’s network. Voice phones under $100 are generally a thoroughly mediocre experience.
There are a bunch of flip phones kicking around the cell phone aisle at Walgreens and Walmart from carrier brands like Tracfone and Net10. We don’t review them, but some appear to be older, decent-quality LG models. If your budget is tight, try one of those. Avoid phones where the carrier appears to be the phone maker, which are generally rebadged phones from low-rent manufacturers.
Features to Look For
On large, affordable devices with lower-resolution screens, icons and touch targets are larger and easier to hit. On that front, we like the 2020 version of the Moto G Power, which is available in various forms on various carriers. It has a big screen, a good price, and solid battery life. A flagship phone can also be a good choice for a big screen, especially if you want to use it for looking at photos and videos.
If the default abundance of options on a smartphone feels too cluttered or confusing, try Samsung’s Easy mode. It’s available on handsets from the low-cost A21 up to the high-end Galaxy S21 series.
Fans of pen and paper will enjoy using Samsung’s S Pen stylus on the S21 Ultra or the company’s Galaxy Note phones. You can also use a third-party stylus on many iPhones.
Finally, if you’re depending on a tech-savvy person in your life for smartphone tech support, you may want to get an iPhone if they have an iPhone, and an Android phone if they have an Android phone. The two phone operating systems are very different, and someone who’s used to one may not be able to answer questions about the other. There are a lot of iPhones out there; here’s how to choose the best iPhone for you.
Two wireless carriers specialize in the senior market: GreatCall and Consumer Cellular. GreatCall uses the Verizon network, and Consumer Cellular uses the AT&T and T-Mobile networks. Of the two, GreatCall has more specialized features for those who need health monitoring: an urgent response button, 24/7 access to nurses, and connected medical alert devices.
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Now owned by Best Buy, GreatCall recently updated its flip phone. The new model, the Lively Flip, supports Alexa voice commands and has a special set of services for seniors. It lets you order Lyft rides by speaking to an operator rather than using an app, it has a panic button, and it lets younger relatives monitor the use of that panic button to make sure whomever pressed it is safe. We haven’t reviewed it, so we don’t have conclusions or recommendations about it.
On the other hand, we recommend Consumer Cellular highly. Consumer Cellular has a marketing arrangement with AARP and doesn’t offer specialized services, but has received high marks in the past for customer service. The carrier has won our Readers’ Choice award several years running, largely on the strength of its customer service rating. It sells several phones from our list.
Senior Phones on Standard Carriers
Many seniors are more comfortable with older phones, but some older phones will stop working soon. You need to make sure your phone supports 4G LTE networks, which will remain active until at least 2030. Verizon intends to shut down its 3G network at the end of 2022. AT&T will turn its 2G/3G off in February 2022, and T-Mobile will likely follow suit. So go with a voice phone that supports voice over 4G LTE, also known as VoLTE.
There are other benefits to 4G as well. 4G LTE basic phones have HD Voice, or high-quality voice calling, when calling other people on HD Voice-capable mobile phones. Those higher-quality calls can be easier on old ears. As for 5G, you won’t need to worry about it for years as long as you have a capable 4G LTE phone.
The major carriers have senior discount plans for smartphone users. T-Mobile has special plans for people over age 55 with deep discounts. AT&T and Verizon have much more limited offers, only available to people who live in Florida.
Prepaid Carriers for Senior Phones
Seniors on fixed incomes may want to check out our story on The Best Cheap Phone Plans, which features a lot of low-cost virtual carriers—prepaid carriers that use the major carriers’ networks, but tend to charge a lot less per month for basic service than the major carriers do. If you’re looking for limited, voice-only plans, you can get them on a range of carrier networks for around $10 per month.
Those plans usually require that you bring your own unlocked, compatible phone. The Nokia 225 4G (for T-Mobile–based networks) and the Sunbeam F1 (for Verizon-based networks) are our top choices for simple unlocked phones.
Finally, see the best phones we’ve reviewed overall if you’re looking to get a broader idea of the market in general.