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The best mobile plans and smartphones for seniors

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 the sheer number of icons on the home screen can be intimidating upon startup. 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. For those grandparents that aren’t in touch with their tech side, what smartphone should they get? 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 for the tech-illiterate senior citizen and 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. You can still get an attractive phone in most cases, but the benefit to prepaid phones is that they’re often more affordable than going the pay-per-month route.

There’s very little chance of being hit with unexpected charges or having to deal with overages, for starters, 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 several 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.

Nokia 4.2 ($115)

Nokia 4.2 Review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

If you’re looking for a reliable smartphone that your loved one won’t have to upgrade or replace for years, the Nokia 4.2 is ideal. This little number comes with 4G LTE, a built-in fingerprint scanner, Qualcomm Snapdragon 439 processor, Android 9.0 Pie, and a 5.71-inch screen, all for a fraction of what an iPhone or Samsung would typically cost you. Best of all, the phone is compatible with several popular pay-as-you-go plans, including Simple Mobile, Cricket Wireless, and Tracphone, making it easy to manage your minutes. While this option won’t work with CDMA carriers like Verizon and Sprint, GSM providers like T-Mobile work very well.

AT&T Prepaid Samsung Galaxy A11 ($150)

With an impressive 6.4-inch screen, a battery that will last all day, and triple rear cameras (2-megapixel, 13MP, and 5MP), your Instagram-loving grandparent can take all the HD photos they desire without stopping for a recharge. Should the base 32GB of storage not be sufficient for their needs, you can pop in a MicroSD card and add extra storage. The process of setting up the Samsung Galaxy A11 is about as quick and painless as possible, with easy-to-follow instructions and images for references to get up and running in no time.

Motorola Moto G Stylus ($300)

Matthew Smith / Digital Trends

On top of the convenience of a regular smartphone, the Motorola Moto G Stylus provides your loved one with the ability to sketch freehand, jot down important information or exercise fine motor controls on their device. The two-day battery life will ensure that they can stay in touch with friends and family. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor provides lightning-fast speed and responsiveness, and the 48MP camera with auto-focus means incredible high-quality photos and videos on demand. Even better, the Motorola Moto G Stylus is compatible with Sprint and other prepaid programs, ensuring that unexpected bills don’t become an issue.

iPhone SE (2020) ($399)

iPhone SE 2020 Screen Front
iPhone SE (2020) Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

The iPhone SE (2020) is a wonderful option for the more technologically adept senior who likes their Apple tech without excessive weight or an onerous price tag. It’s an exceptional phone, with an excellent camera and good all-day battery life, but its usefulness doesn’t end there. The phone features several useful accessibility options, including voice-over text, a fingerprint scanner, increased sensitivity to touch, modifiable text sizes, and home screen streamlining. It is worth noting that the relatively small 4.7-inch screen may present issues for those with hand mobility issues like tendinitis, carpal tunnel, and claw hand.

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 do 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 Smart 2 smartphone and Jitterbug Lively 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 (UnlimitedPlus) $25/month w/$300 upfront Unlimited Unlimited 8GB
T-Mobile $15/month Unlimited Unlimited 2GB
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
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

If you want an iPhone, be it the iPhone 12, iPhone 11, or iPhone SE (2020), you can go to any major U.S. carriers, which have them for varying prices. The same goes for the Samsung Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S10. 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 many 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 home screen’s layout, so fewer app pages can swipe through and bigger icons.

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.

Price Talk/Text Data
AT&T (Unlimited Choice) $65/month Unlimited Unlimited
Sprint (Unlimited Freedom Plan) $60/month Unlimited Unlimited
T-Mobile (One Unlimited 55+ Plan) $55/month (AutoPay) Unlimited Unlimited
Verizon (Unlimited) $70/month Unlimited Unlimited

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. 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 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 supports hearing aids and can verbally describe the web browser and user interface and read-aloud menus, text messages, and notifications.

Veteran offers

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% 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.

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