Simplified Smartphone Options for Tech-Shy Seniors

03/03/2015 10:13 am ET | Updated May 03, 2015


Dear Savvy Senior,
I'm interested in getting my 72-year-old mother a smartphone, but want to get one that's very easy for her to use. What can you recommend?

--Shopping Around

Dear Shopping,
There are several different ways you can go about getting your mom a simplified smartphone that's easy for her to use. Depending on how much you're willing to spend, here are some different options to consider.

Simplify a Used Phone
The cheapest way to set your mom up with an easy-to-use, uncomplicated smartphone is to get her a second-hand android phone, and install a senior-friendly "launcher app" on it, which is a user interface software application.

This type of launcher will turn the appearance and performance of most android smartphone into a simplified phone with big understandable icons for commonly used features (phone, text messaging, camera, contacts, etc.) and no excess clutter. Most launchers can also be customized to fit your mom's needs and preferences.

There are a variety of launcher apps available today that provide this type of technology and are completely free to use. Some popular options include, Necta Launcher, Wiser, Seniors Phone, Fontrillo and Big Launcher, which also offers an upgraded version for $9.

Or, if you have an old Apple iPhone that you'd like to convert, check out Silverline Mobile that converts both Apple and androids for free.

Purchase a New Phone
If you're interested in purchasing your mom a new smartphone, you have options here too. For starters, you could purchase her a smartphone that's specifically designed for seniors, like GreatCall's Touch3 that costs $150 with no contract. This is an android phone, made by Samsung, that has a 4-inch touchscreen and provides a simple menu list to often-used features like the phone, text messages, camera, pictures, email and Internet, along with your contacts and apps.

It also offers a variety of health and safety features like the "5Star app" that would let your mom speak to a certified agent 24/7 that could identify her location and get her the help she needs. "Urgent Care," which provides access to registered nurses and doctors for advice and diagnoses. And "MedCoach," which sends medication reminders.

Another way you could go is to purchase her a standard/mainstream smartphone that provides a built-in "Easy Mode" or "Simple" feature in the phone's settings. This will let you convert the phone into a much simpler mode of operation, that provides larger, well labeled icons, to only commonly-used functions like the phone, camera, messaging, Internet, pictures, contacts and her favorite apps.

Smartphones that offer the "Easy Mode" or "Simple" feature include the Samsung Galaxy phones, which are available through most cell phone carriers at prices typically ranging between $400 and $850 without a contract. Or, for a more budget-friendly option, the Huawei Vision 2 and Huawei Ascend Mate 2, which you can buy as an unlocked phone or through Consumer Cellular for $80 or $225 without a contract. Consumer Cellular is a top-rated no-contract service provider that also offers discounts to AARP members.

A nice advantage of getting your mom a mainstream phone is that if she masters the Easy/Simple mode (or gets bored with it), and is ready to expand her skills, you can always switch the phone back to the standard operation mode exposing her to more options. You can also add any number of health and safety features to her phone, like what the Touch3 offers, by downloading their apps at

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.