Picking the right smartphone can be tedious, and a sometimes overwhelming task. There are scores of phones to choose from at any given moment, and many of them look the same, but differ in terms of storage and performance. If you’re not a tech-savvy grandparent, or you’re shopping for a grandparent that doesn’t know or care about the differences between iOS and Android, simplicity is probably what you want the most out of a modern smartphone.
Sure, the iPhone only has a few physical buttons, but upon startup, the sheer number of icons on the home screen can be intimidating. Similarly, while you can go into the settings and customize various aspects of the device to suit anyone’s needs, navigating the back end can be frustrating when it’s unfamiliar.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves any more than we already have. For those grandparents that aren’t in touch with their tech side, what smartphone should they get if they only need one to stay in touch with family, a handful of friends, and to send pictures of your dog to your grandchildren? How much are you willing to spend on a phone for grandma and grandpa? Do they need data? Are they aware of what data is and what it’s for? These are all valid questions and concerns, but we have you covered. Don’t like sifting through phones, and comparing wireless carriers and phone plans? We’ve already done the work for you. Below, you can find the best phones not just for the tech-illiterate senior citizen, but also the best mobile plans and cell phones for seniors that know what’s what. Heads up: They’re surprisingly similar to the best phones and plans for everyone else.
Best smartphones and plans for non-techie grandparents
If you’re not worried about having the latest-and-greatest smartphone or prefer functionality over features, you can’t go wrong with a prepaid phone. In most cases, you can still get an attractive phone, but the benefit to prepaid phones is that they’re often more affordable than going the pay-per-month route.
For starters, there’s very little chance of being hit with unexpected charges or having to deal with overages, since you pay upfront for the prepaid phone and minutes. If you’re only using the phone to call and text loved ones occasionally, you shouldn’t use more minutes than you actually have at your disposal. In the event you do run out of minutes, however, you can buy prepaid/refill cards, which are readily available at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and a number of other retailers and websites, including AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint. Watch out, though — if you don’t buy more minutes before your current plan runs out, you can end up paying a higher rate or get hit with overage charges — conditions vary from carrier to carrier.
Here are some prepaid phones from each of the four big carriers, all of which come with the necessary prepaid cards to get you going.
ZTE Cymbal Z-320 ($29+)
best mobile plans and cell phones for seniors zte
Let’s break the traditional mold right out of the gate with the ZTE Cymbal from T-Mobile, a phone that looks nothing like a modern smartphone. Instead, it’s a flip-phone that has no touchscreen or digital assistant, but does offer the basics, such as the ability to make calls, send texts, and take pictures. If you’re more into functionality than other aspects, like aesthetics, the ZTE Cymbal is a good way to go if you’re looking for a straightforward phone for a grandparent.
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Motorola Moto E4 ($70)
Moto E4 sitting face up next to notebook, glasses
The Moto E4’s more usual RRP of $130 had previously put it out of our range for a good, but cheap, prepaid smartphone. However, deals from Target and Best Buy that dropped the price to $70 make this a great bargain for any grandparent. The Moto E4 was one of our favorite budget phones of 2017, offering good power, a decent camera, and great battery life, packed within a small body, and running Android 7.1.1 Nougat. It’s not going to win any awards for the most powerful phone out there, but if a reliable pocket-pal is all that is needed, then it’s hard to turn down the Motorola Moto E4. If the 5-inch screen seems a little on the small side, there’s also the larger Moto E4 Plus — and that comes with an even better battery.
ZTE Blade Vantage ($40+)
ZTE is another brand offering solid, reliable phones at bargain prices. The Blade Vantage is a decent little phone that won’t break the bank, and if you’re looking for something that just works, this could be perfect. With 16GB of storage, there is plenty of room for photos and videos. The 2GB of RAM keeps the 5-inch screen running smoothly and can handle a good few tasks. There is an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera along with a 2-megapixel front-facing shooter for selfies. It also has access to the Google Play Store, and while some apps may be out of the technical reach of some golden oldies, there is a massive collection of apps that could still be useful just running in the background. It’s locked to Verizon and restricted to CDMA networks only, but if that isn’t a problem, then this ZTE phone is a bargain.
LG Optimus Zone 3 ($30+)
The Optimus Zone 3 isn’t the most futuristic-looking phone, but that’s okay because that’s not why it’s here. The Zone 3 is here because it has a lot in common with the previous two phones, and even though it doesn’t do anything particularly better than either, you can look at it as another option that can hold its own. It has a 4.5-inch display, front and rear-facing cameras, and battery life that allows for up to 11 hours of constant use. The internal storage of 8GB wouldn’t be enough for most people, but it might be enough for grandma or grandpa. If not, it still supports MicroSD cards up to 32GB, which should end up being more than enough space.
Other alternatives for non-techie grandparents
Getting a prepaid phone from a major carrier isn’t your only option, however, as there are multiple companies out there that dedicate themselves to giving seniors more convenient ways of buying phones, plans, and refill cards. Places like Greatcall and TracFone are a few of the services that make shopping for a phone less of a hassle, and their plans are easy to sift through and compare to one another. Greatcall, specifically, has the Jitterbug smartphone and Jitterbug flip phone, both of which are designed to be simple to use and navigate thanks to their large buttons, screens, and unique emergency buttons.
Best basic pay as you go plans
Average Price Talk Text Data AT&T (GoPhone) $45/month ($40 with AutoPay) Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited up to first 6GB, then throttled to 128Kbps T-Mobile $43/month $3 for any combination of 30 minutes of talk or 30 texts ($0.10 per additional minute or text) $3 for any combination of 30 minutes of talk or 30 texts ($0.10 per additional minute or text) $10 for up to 1GB of 4G LTE per week Republic Wireless $15/month Unlimited Unlimited Extra $5 per GB of data Greatcall (Jitterbug Flip Phone) $18/month 200 mins 300 texts None Best smartphones and plans for tech-savvy grandparents
Grandparents who know smartphones and don’t want to deal with prepaid devices will find themselves in a similar situation to most other people who want the latest-and-greatest phones. We recently broke down the plans offered by Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon to give people a better understanding of what’s available to them. Each of the big four offer plans with unlimited data, text, and talk time. If you’re a grandparent that chews through data, one of those plans is what you want.
But that’s only one aspect of this — the other is finding the right phone to go with it. And depending on what you want, you may be stuck with one or two carrier options.
iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, and LG
galaxy s9 and S9 Plus hands-on review both chair
If you want an iPhone, be it the iPhone X, iPhone 8, or iPhone SE, you can go to any of the major U.S. carriers, which have them for varying prices. The same goes for the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S8, and the LG G6 and V30. Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy phones are some of the most popular devices in the world, so it’d be odd if you couldn’t get them anywhere.
The iPhone may be particularly tempting to get if you already have an iPad, or have some familiarity with one, since the iPad and iPhone share the same operating system and general layout. Plus, its accessibility options allow you to tweak a number of vision, hearing, and speech settings to suit your needs. There’s also a Hearing Aid Mode designed to improve audio quality. Samsung Galaxy smartphones have their advantages in ease of use as well. The apt-titled Easy Mode alters the layout of the home screen, so there are fewer app pages to swipe through and bigger icons.
Moto Z2 Force and Google Pixel 2
Julian Chokkattu / Digital Trends
If you’re in the market for something that doesn’t have as much brand recognition in the mobile market but is still just as good as what Apple and Samsung are putting out, look into the Moto Z2 Force from Motorola and the Google Pixel 2. The Pixel 2 is made and designed by Google, and it can certainly hold its own against the competition, with super-smooth performance and a camera that’s capable of almost replacing a dedicated camera. What sets the Moto Z2 — both the Play and Force models — apart from other phones are the variety of Moto Mods people can buy to augment their phones and enhance their capabilities. These include everything from the JBL SoundBoost Speaker, to the Insta-Share Projector, to the Hasselblad True Zoom camera lens.
Best monthly contract options
Sometimes paying a set price every month is just easier. Here are some of the best deals that you can set and forget.
Special senior citizen plans and offers
While the above are our own picks for phones you should look at, AT&T and Verizon have plans specifically made with seniors in mind. However, you may be better off going with one of the above phones, or one of the alternative options we detail below. Verizon’s Nationwide 65 Plus Plans, for example, has a lot of overage charges applied to talk, text, and data. Phones used as part of AT&T’s Senior Nation Plan are not capable of receiving texts. At $30 a month, the simple act of receiving texts seems like something that should be included, unless you just want a phone to talk to people and have no interest in typing. It also should be noted that AT&T’s Senior Nation Plan requires the account owner to be older than 65. T-Mobile’s One Unlimited 55+ plan is the exception to the rule, having no real restrictions for the price.
Sprint doesn’t have plans dedicated to seniors but does offer a pair of phones made for those that have sight, speech, hearing, or mobility impairments. The Kyocera Verve is a slider-style phone compatible with a wide range of hearing aids, with In Case of Emergency and 911 shortcuts. The Alcatel OneTouch Retro is a flip phone that also supports hearing aids, and can verbally describe the web browser and user interface, and read aloud menus, text messages, and notifications.
Each of the big four carriers also offers discounts to military veterans — and in AT&T’s case, the spouses of veterans. Verizon offers a 15 percent discount on your monthly service; AT&T gives you up to 15-percent off the monthly service charge on qualified plans; Sprint has a tiered system of discounts; and T-Mobile, if you’re part of its Advantage Program, also has discounts ready for veterans.
At the end of it all though, whether you’re shopping for a grandparent or you are a grandparent, there are plenty of phones out there for you. If you want something basic that won’t break the bank or empty your wallet, prepaid phones are better than ever, and places such as Greatcall and Seniors Wireless provide even more pay-as-you-go options. But if you’re someone who knows your way around 21st-century tech, at least as well as the average person, there are definitely enough devices to satisfy your technology-heavy lifestyle and needs.