How to Choose the Right Mobile Phone
Simple Phones for Every Age
Everyone needs to be connected. Seniors, who may be isolated from their families or have specific health needs, shouldn’t be left out. While the smartphone industry, by and large, isn’t thinking about the particular needs of the senior market, if you pay attention you can find carriers, phones, and services that are tailored to folks who prefer a streamlined, easy-to-use, simple phone experience.
Being a senior citizen, in this case, isn’t about chronological age. It’s about a set of preferences, faculties, and, in some cases, lifestyle. Those in the “senior market” may have declining eyesight and hearing, may not feel like keeping up with the latest tech features, or may be on a limited income. There are 95-year-olds with laser-sharp vision who would rather just browse our list of best cell phones overall, and there are 50-year-olds who may benefit from the phones we outline here.
Our list includes some voice phones and some general-purpose smartphones. The Galaxy S20+, Galaxy Note 10/10+, iPhone 11, iPhone SE, Moto G7 Power, and Pixel 3a XL are all available unlocked, so they can be paired with any compatible carrier; the others are typically sold in carrier-specific versions.
Two wireless carriers specialize in the senior market: GreatCall, which markets its phones as Jitterbug, 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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GreatCall hasn’t updated its flip phone, the Jitterbug Flip, since 2016, and the company (now part of Best Buy) doesn’t give an impression of great vigor—its last press release was a year ago, and the company CEO hasn’t Tweeted since last November. In our annual Readers’ Choice poll, there are so few GreatCall users that the brand doesn’t even chart. We can no longer recommend GreatCall because we don’t have faith in the brand as a reliable business into the future.
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 seven years running, largely on the strength of its customer service rating. It sells several phones from our list.
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Alcatel Go Flip 3
Senior Phones on Standard Carriers
Many seniors want voice-only devices, and the major wireless carriers still have some simple phones. You need to be smart about which simple phones you pick up, though, because of major changes coming in the carriers’ networks. All four of the major carriers have focused their energies on building 4G LTE networks. Verizon will turn off its old 2G/3G network at the end of 2020, AT&T will turn its off at the end of 2021, 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, as well. 4G LTE basic phones have HD Voice, or high-quality voice calling, when calling other people on the same network (or between Verizon and AT&T). 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.
Seniors looking for smartphones may prefer large, affordable devices with lower-resolution screens, so icons and touch targets are larger and easier to hit. There, we like the Google Pixel 3a series and the Moto G7, which is available in various forms on various carriers. Those phones feature big screens, affordable prices, and solid battery life.
Samsung phones also have an Easy Mode with fewer obvious options, that’s available on handsets from the low-cost A01 up to the high-end Galaxy S20+ and Note 10. Folks who still remember using pen and paper will enjoy taking notes with the Note 10’s or Note 10+’s S Pen stylus. Samsung smartphones are available on every major carrier.
Apple iPhone 11
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. That may involve buying a used phone, for instance. There are not currently any good, unlocked voice phones that support 4G voice calling, but you can use smartphones on voice-only plans as well; they just won’t be able to reach the internet without Wi-Fi.
For advice on how to pick the right carrier for you, head over to our story on the Fastest Mobile Networks.
Apple iPhone SE (2020)
Small, one-hand-friendly form factor
Cons: No camera night mode
Bottom Line: The 2020 Apple iPhone SE is a petite powerhouse with no-compromise performance for hundreds of dollars less than other recent iPhones.
Google Pixel 3a XL
Pros: Fantastic camera.
Beautiful OLED display.
Long battery life.
Guaranteed software updates for three years.
Cons: No microSD slot or wireless charging.
Bottom Line: Inch-for-inch, the Google Pixel 3a XL offers the best bang for your buck among big-screen Android phones.
Samsung Galaxy S20+
Pros: Best 5G of any phone available today. Fast. Solid camera. Attractive design.
Cons: Expensive. In-display fingerprint sensor can be a bit picky. No headphone jack.
Bottom Line: The Samsung Galaxy S20+ is pricey, but it’s the first phone that’s a solid investment in the 5G future.
Alcatel Go Flip 3
Pros: Offers some smartphone features in a traditional flip form factor. Good reception and HD calling. You can dictate words rather than triple-tapping to type.
Cons: Poor cameras. No parental controls. No ringtones by caller.
Bottom Line: The Alcatel Go Flip 3 is the feature phone we’ve been waiting for, with just enough smart features to make it convenient to use.
Apple iPhone 11
Pros: Reasonable price.
New wide-angle camera option.
Fastest processor available.
Cons: No big increases in wireless performance.
Next year’s iPhone will likely mark a major change.
Bottom Line: The iPhone 11 offers solid camera performance and power to spare for a relatively reasonable price.
It isn’t exciting, but it’s a good replacement for older iPhones.
Kyocera DuraXV Extreme
Pros: Ultra-rugged build
Good call quality
Cons: Poor camera
No non-SMS messaging options
Bottom Line: Verizon’s best simple voice phone, the Kyocera DuraXV Extreme will carry you through the next few years with clear, loud calls.
Moto G Power
Pros: Solid performance for the price
Excellent battery life
Good audio and call quality
All networks bands for global usage
Cons: Mediocre camera performance
Bottom Line: Solid performance, multi-day battery life, and a gorgeous 6.4-inch display make the $249 Moto G Power the best budget-friendly phone you can buy right now.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10
Pros: Easy size to handle.
Long battery life.
High-quality performance all around.
Cons: Tall, narrow screen isn’t the best for sketching on.
Bottom Line: The reasonably sized Samsung Galaxy Note 10 is the answer for sketchers and note-takers who can’t quite handle the larger Note 10+.
Pros: Ultra-rugged build.
Excellent call quality.
Cons: Weak vibration feature.
Bottom Line: The Sonim XP3 is a terrific rugged flip phone for anyone who doesn’t want a smartphone.
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