And an App That Makes Any Phone Easier to Use
People have grown to depend on their smartphones for a variety of elaborate and impressive uses. But what if you want a smartphone to be as simple as possible for common functions, such as making and receiving phone calls, text messages and e-mails…and accessing the Internet?
There are free apps that can convert an existing smartphone into a simple-to-use one—and a variety of new smartphones that offer bigger icons and text, along with features that make them less confusing and easier to navigate. Here are the best options now…
Simplify Your Phone
If you already have a smartphone but find it confusing to use or difficult to see, you can install a launcher app—a software application that transforms the appearance and functionality of most smartphones. For example, on the home screen, you can get big, well-labeled buttons for commonly used features such as phone calls, text messaging, contact lists and picture taking, along with an SOS button that—with one tap of the screen—can call your emergency contacts and pinpoint your location to them on their smartphones. Most launcher apps can be customized to prioritize features that you want on your home screen. If you change your mind, you can switch back to the phone’s original appearance and functionality by adjusting its settings.
For Android phones, free launcher apps include the Simple Senior Phone (SeniorsPhone.mobi) and Necta Launcher (Launcher.Necta.us). Or for a onetime $10 fee, there’s the Big Launcher (BigLauncher.com ), which is particularly helpful to visually impaired people because of the extra-large font sizes and different screen-color themes that make the screen easier to read.
For an iPhone with iOS 6.0 or later, you can use the free Silverline Mobile (Silverline.mobi) launcher app.
Simple New Smartphones
If you want to purchase a simple smartphone, here are models that stand out…
Jitterbug Touch3. Offered by GreatCall Wireless, the Touch3 has a four-inch, high-definition touch screen and enhanced features that make it better than the previous GreatCall model. It starts with a simplified, large-font menu on the home page that lets you access often-used features such as the phone, messages, the camera, photos, e-mail and the Internet, along with one-touch access to your contacts and favorite apps.
It also offers a variety of optional health and safety features that appeal to many seniors, such as MedCoach, which reminds you to take medications and refill prescriptions, and Urgent Care, which provides unlimited access to registered nurses and board-certified doctors, day or night, to answer your health questions. At the touch of a button, its 5Star medical-alert service lets you speak to a live emergency-alert agent around the clock. These trained agents have your health and personal information and contact information for your loved ones and nearby emergency services. Agents will confirm your location via GPS tracking technology and dispatch help as needed.
Available at GreatCall.com, the Touch3 sells for $150 with a onetime $35 activation fee and does not require a contract. Calling plans cost $15 per month for 200 minutes and up to $50 per month for unlimited talk and text. Data plans run from $2.50 for 40 megabytes (MB) up to $30 per month for 2.5 gigabytes (GB). The optional health-and-safety package costs an additional $20 to $35 per month.
Samsung Galaxy Note5. If you want a bigger smartphone that makes it even easier to see the functions, the new Note5 is a popular mainstream Android phone that has a huge 5.7-inch, high-definition touch-screen display. The unique “Easy” mode in the phone’s Settings boosts the size of the app icons and font size throughout the device and scales down the phone’s home-screen layout to provide only essential features, which makes for easier, straightforward navigation.
With Easy mode turned on, your home screen will display only the time, date and local weather, and six functions you use the most, such as the phone, camera, messages, Internet, music and pictures. To access your 12 most important contacts, you simply swipe the home screen to the right…and to access your 12 favorites apps, swipe to the left.
The Note5 also offers the S Voice application that lets you navigate the phone by voice…and large fonts, screen magnification and text-to-speech options for users with weak vision. It also comes with a stylus that lets you jot down a quick note or number on the screen even when the screen is off.
The Note5 is available with 32 or 64 GB of storage capacity from the major carriers (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile) and some smaller carriers for $670 to $740 (32 GB) or $770 to $840 (64 GB) without a contract. Monthly service plans for talk, text and data start around $50. The phone may be offered at a lower price if you are willing to sign a contract.
Apple iPhone 6 Plus or 6s Plus. With a spacious 5.5-inch, high-definition touch-screen display, both the iPhone 6 Plus and newer 6s Plus offer a variety of features for customization that makes these phones less intimidating for tech novices. By going to the Accessibility menu in the Settings menu under General, not only can you make the text larger and bolder, which is a standard feature on most smartphones, you also can make the navigation controls more prominent by turning on the Button Shapes feature. And you can increase the size of the app icons by activating the Display Zoom feature in the Display & Brightness section of the main Settings menu.
If you have impaired vision or hearing or problems with dexterity, there’s a variety of other helpful accessibility features such as the Zoom screen magnifier…VoiceOver screen reader…closed captions…LED flash to signal the arrival of a text message or call…phone noise cancellation that reduces ambient background noise for better hearing when on a call…and the improved Siri personal assistant that lets you navigate the phone with your voice and can remind you to perform certain tasks based on the time and your location. To make the home screen less cluttered, you can move the icons of your favorite apps to the home page and stack the rest in a folder in the corner.
The 6 Plus is available through most wireless providers for $649 without a contract for the 16 GB version or $749 for the 64 GB version. The 6s Plus costs $749 for 16 GB, $849 for 64 GB and $949 for 128 GB. Monthly service plans for talk, text and data start at around $50. The phones may be available at lower prices if you are willing to sign a contract.
When a Less-Smart Phone Is Enough
If a smartphone is more than you need, consider a basic cell phone. These are used primarily for making and receiving phone calls and sending and receiving text messages—they have no e-mail or Internet capabilities. They come with big buttons, menus that are easy to navigate, SOS emergency buttons and enhanced sound—and they are compatible with hearing aids. Here are three of the best…
Jitterbug5. Offered by GreatCall (GreatCall.com), this is a custom-designed Samsung flip-phone that offers a backlit keypad with big buttons, large text on a brightly colored screen and “YES” and “NO” buttons to navigate the phone’s menu of options without confusing icons. It also offers voice dialing, a powerful speakerphone, a built-in camera, GPS technology that can locate the device and the optional health and safety features that are offered with the Jitterbug Touch3 such as MedCoach, 5Star medical alert and Urgent Care (see above).
The Jitterbug5 sells for $99 with a onetime $35 activation fee, no-contract and calling plans that range from $15 to $40 per month. The health and safety package options cost $20 to $35 per month, and text options range between $3 and $15 per month.
Doro PhoneEasy 626. Sold through Consumer Cellular (ConsumerCellular.com), this black, silver or burgundy flip-phone offers a backlit keypad with raised black buttons on a white background that makes it easy to see and operate.
It also has a big color display screen that offers large text with different color themes—including white text on a black screen or yellow text on a blue screen—that can be easy to read for those with vision problems.
Other handy features include two speed-dial buttons, shortcut buttons to texting and the camera, a powerful two-way speakerphone, video-recording capabilities and an ICE (in case of emergency) button on the back of the phone that will automatically dial one preprogrammed number. It also uses GPS technology, so if you call 911, it may be able to pinpoint your location. This phone sells for $45 with service plans that range between $10 and $50 per month and no contract.
Snapfon ezTWO. Made and sold by SeniorTech (Snapfon.com), this simple budget-friendly phone is free other than a onetime $35 phone-activation fee. Service plans range from $10 to $30 per month with no contract. If you don’t want the Snapfon service plan, you can choose AT&T or T-Mobile service instead and pay $80 for the phone.
This open-faced rectangular phone has big raised buttons, a color screen, enhanced volume with a speaker phone and a speaking keypad that tells you the number you just pushed. A big red SOS emergency alert button on the back of the phone can sound a sirenlike alert when pushed and held down for five seconds (that feature can be disabled). The phone then sends a text message to as many as five emergency contacts and calls those contacts (one of which could be 911) in order until the call is answered.
Or, for an additional $15 per month, you can subscribe to the “sosPlus” mobile monitoring service, which will connect you to a call center manned by trained agents who have access to your health and personal information and the contact information of your loved ones and nearby emergency services.