Phones and apps made easy
The growth of the mobile phone industry has presented a real opportunity for designers of both hardware (the phone itself) and software (the applications) to cater specifically for older users, offering solutions to daily problems and opening doors to new possibilities.
In this article we look at simple mobile phones that give you the convenience of a mobile phone without any complex extra features, which you may not want. We also explore specialist phones designed specifically for people who have problems with memory, dexterity or sight, as well as apps that are useful in later life.
Simple mobile phones
Not everyone wants the latest smartphone that’s operated via a sleek touchscreen, and comes packed with apps and advanced technology. Some people may prefer a basic, easy-to-use phone that lets you keep in touch with friends and family with minimal fuss.
Simple mobile phones are no-nonsense handsets that are designed to give you all the essentials – calls, texts and voicemail – without any complicated extras. Although, some simple models offer a few extra features such as a basic camera and limited internet access.
They aren’t specially designed for people with reduced dexterity or poor vision, but they are generally easier to use than your average smartphone and usually offer better battery life. Most simple mobile phones are operated using a keypad and menu buttons, rather than a touchscreen.
Specialist and big button phones
One downside of simple mobile phones is that they’re often smaller, and can have cramped keypads that make it hard to press the right buttons every time. If this is a concern, there are various specialist mobile phones designed with large and well-spaced number keys on the handset, which can be useful for people with low vision or those with poor strength or dexterity in their hands.
Many specialist simple mobile phones come with useful extras such as an SOS or emergency function that calls pre-programmed numbers at the touch of a button, hearing-aid compatibility or a neck strap.
Doro is a popular brand that provides specialist mobile phones. They also offer specially adapted smartphone models with a simplified touchscreen interface.
Features to look for in an easy-to-use mobile phone
You may not find all these features in a single model, but think about what would be most helpful for you and choose a phone that provides everything you need.
- a simple layout, with clearly labelled buttons that are easy to see and press
- the option to display extra-large text
- hearing aid compatibility
- long battery life
- large screen
- talking keys that ‘speak’ the number out loud as you dial
- SOS button for use in an emergency
- GPS tracking so you can find your relative's location via an app or by text message
- customisable front panel so you can label buttons with chosen words, names or pictures
- call-blocking (via an approved-caller list).
Which type of simple phone do you need?
Which? Technology has more advice to help you decide what type of phone to choose. Which? members can also read expert reviews of many of the leading models on the market.
Smartphone memory and health apps
If you have a smartphone or tablet, you may already make use of the helpful accessibility features that are often available, such as text magnification, captions or voice control. Below, we list some additional kinds of apps that you may find useful.
Apps as memory aids and locator devices
Most people who own a smartphone are aware of the GPS (global positioning system) maps from Google and Apple, which can help you navigate your way when out and about. What's less well known is that, through GPS technology, smartphones and other gadgets can also act as locator devices and even summon help if someone falls.
If you suffer from memory lapses, you can set up reminders in your phone’s calendar to prompt you about planned events and appointments. There are also apps designed to help you remember to take specific medication. Most of these give you an audible or visual reminder once you've set the dosage times and the names of the medication.
There are obvious limitations in relying on a smartphone app in this way – if you mislay your phone, or your phone battery or signal isn't working, then neither will the memory aid.
Read more about memory aids in our article.
Apps for keeping in touch and staying active
There are various apps, such as Skype, WhatsApp and Viber that enable you to make free video and voice calls to people all over the world, using a wi-fi internet connection.
Which? Computing explains how to get started with WhatsApp.
There are also thousands of apps available that help to keep the brain active in later life. These range from digital versions of classic card games and puzzles to specially designed ‘brain-training’ exercises, and apps that help you meditate or relax.
The AcTo Dementia project is run by an independent team of researchers who highlight touchscreen apps that are accessible for people with dementia. You can find reviews and information about accessible touchscreen apps on its website.
Read more about keeping the brain active in later life:
Telecare systems make use of the latest technology to help people in later life continue to live independently at home.
Read about how personal alarms can help older people feel safer at home and remain independent for longer.
Find out how smart technology can be used to make your home more secure and help you stay independent for longer.