For many of us, smartphones with all their bells and whistles are a crucial part of our lives. But what if you just want a mobile for yourself or family member (young or old) that's easy to use, makes it simple to keep in contact, and lets you make a quick call in times of stress?
There are several options available when looking for a mobile device for users with deteriorating eyesight, hearing or dexterity. You may also be surprised at the ability of some of the more popular smartphones to provide useful assistance to seniors.
Want to know how we get our review results? Check out how we test mobiles for seniors.
What to look for
Beware of the 2G phone
The first question to ask when buying a simple talk and text phone: Is it a 3G mobile? There may still be phones sold in some outlets that only support the 2G or GSM network and will not work in Australia on any carrier.
Once you have confirmed that the phone is a 3G phone, the next question to ask: Does it work on the 850MHz or 900MHz band or both? The ideal handset should work on both to ensure you get the widest reception possible. Support for 2100MHz on the 3G band is still handy but not as useful as all 3G mobiles that you buy in Australia will need to support either 850MHz or 900MHz. Telstra works predominantly on the 850MHz band. Vodafone is now 900MHz on its 3G band as is Optus.
The locked mobile
Over the years, many CHOICE readers have asked: Why do phone networks lock my phone and how can I unlock it? This was a very important issue several years ago as Telstra, Vodafone and Optus locked many of their post-paid (when you are on a monthly plan) mobiles and most of their pre-paid (when you pay as you use) mobiles.
Firstly, let's get the iPhone instructions out of the way. If you bought an iPhone 5 or newer, your phone will be unlocked and can be used on any network. If you own an iPhone 4/4S and use iOS 7 or newer, your phone will be unlocked and can be used on any network. If you have a hand-me-down iPhone 3G/3GS and don't want to use iOS 7 (because it performs really slowly on iOS7) then perform a restore in iTunes (if you're not sure how to do this, check with a friend or family member who enjoys doing 'tech' stuff) and you can use your phone on another carrier but not necessarily on any carrier because the iPhone 3G/3GS supports either 850MHz (Telstra and Vodafone) or 900MHz (Optus and increasingly Vodafone towers), not both.
For more on unlocking your old phone or getting your pre-paid mobile unlocked, check out the support pages for Optus, Telstra and Vodafone.
This function can send a predetermined message for help.
Emergency call key
Lets you contact a predetermined number or numbers. To use the Emergency Call key, you must first activate the function and store the emergency numbers you wish to call.
Headphone connection type
A phone with a standard headphone jack lets you use headphones, which may be preferred by people who have limited hearing.
This feature allows you to view photos and/or listen to sound sent to your phone. While you may not be able to take video or photos, at least being able to receive them can provide important connection with family and friends.
The microphone (M) rating and T-coil (T) rating determine how well your hearing aid will work with your mobile phone. If you use your hearing aid in microphone mode, look for a phone with an M3 or M4 rating. If you prefer telecoil coupling, look for a phone with T3 or T4 rating. A sum of six (M3/T3) or greater indicates that the telephone would probably provide good performance with that hearing aid. Read more about hearing aids and mobile phones.
Desktop charging cradle
A dedicated charger removes the need to insert a cable and physically plug in the phone for charging. This can also make it easy to find for charging, compared to a cable that easily goes missing or can be used with other devices.
Dedicated speed-dial buttons
This feature, usually available on mobiles with a number keypad rather than a touch screen, can be handy when you need to call a few people often. The number in our report indicates the number of buttons on the phone that can be programmed to call user-generated phone numbers.
Maximum ringtone and speakerphone volume
This provides an indication as to how well someone with limited hearing can effectively use the phone either when held to the ear or when the phone is used hands-free in speakerphone mode.
The specific absorption rate (SAR) indicates the amount of energy per kilogram of body weight absorbed when using the phone as claimed by the manufacturer. Any phone available to y in Australia will be below government limits. Although evidence relating to exposure to electromagnetic fields remains inconclusive, you may want to choose a model with a lower SAR value if this is a concern to you.
Hearing aids and mobile phones
Not all mobiles are compatible with hearing aids but most of the latest smartphones are. You should check first that the phone at least has a rating of M3/T3.
The T refers to how well the phone deals with a hearing aid that has a telecoil (also called an induction hearing aid). A telecoil is a device in some hearing aids that lets the wearer circumvent the speaker in the mobile and receive sound straight into the hearing aid. Some audio devices also have this so people can listen to their own music in as pure a form as possible.
The M rating is more of an indicator of how well the phone deals with a hearing aid in general. An M3 rating is a claim that the mobile's components won't produce much interference when you hold the phone to your ear.