Picking the right smartphone can be a tedious, and 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, how much do you want to spend on a smartphone, if you only need one to stay in touch with family, a handful of friends, and to send pictures of your dog to your grandchildren? Or 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 that 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+)
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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Samsung Galaxy J1 ($50+)
For something that resembles a more modern cell phone, we have the Samsung Galaxy J1 from Verizon. It comes with a 4.3-inch screen, a 5-megapixel rear camera, and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera — in case you have, or are, a senior whose selfie game is on point. Being an Android phone, a wide variety of apps are available through the Google Play Store, and it doesn’t take technical know-how to find apps such as Netflix, YouTube, and the like.
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LG Tribute HD ($50+)
The LG Tribute may cost a little more new than the aforementioned Galaxy J1, but for the additional $30, you get a better 5-inch display, a more effective pair of cameras (8-megapixel rear, 5-megapixel front), and all the power and features afforded by Android 6.0 Marshmallow. The smartphone’s 2,100mAh battery allows for 15 hours of talk time, and the 16GB of storage with MicroSD card support means you’ll have a decent amount of space for housing personal videos and photos. But if you’re not worried about used phones, you can pick this up pre-owned from Amazon for the same price as the Galaxy J1.
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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.
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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 such as Seniors Wireless, 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
|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|
|Seniors Wireless (Simplicity Plan)||$20/60 Days ($10/month)||400 mins for talk, text, and internet||400 mins for talk, text, and internet||400 mins for talk, text, and internet|
|Greatcall (Jitterbug Flip Phone)||$18/month||200 mins||300 texts||None|