Smartphone for Seniors/Dummies




Introduction: Smartphone for Seniors/Dummies

About: Lazy Old Geek

So thisLAZY OLD GEEK (LOG) decided to get a smartphone. So being who I am, this involved some decision making and this Instructable explains some of my decisions, so maybe this could be called:
Smartphone for dummies, OLD, cheap, frugal, Lazy, aging, seniors.
But who would read it with a title like that.
So I am OLD, I remember using the rotary phones. (See picture) Simple to use and reliable. Almost everyone could use them.
Then there’s the wireless phone and cellphone (See picture). For making calls, still pretty simply. You just might have to push a button to make a call or hang up and you had to stay in range.
Then there’s the smartphone! Yikes, millions of manufactures, versions, features, options. So what is a smartphone? Wikipedia has a definition:

To me a smartphone is any cellphone that can do a lot more than just make calls.
NOTE: There are very few physical buttons. Significant later.

Okay, your first decision, should you wish to take this assignment is do you really want a smartphone. Here’s a good guide that may help you decide.

So, I’m a GEEK, I like tech so this was pretty easy decision. Yes, I wanted a smartphone.

Step 1: Apple Vs Android

IMHO, the second decision is do you want Apple (iphone) or Android.
Now this is a major decision that will affect the rest of your life. And like that illusive butterfly, it may change the future of the world. (Just kidding).

For those of you not in the know, this refers to the OS(operating system) of the smartphone. All Apple products use iOS (iphone operating system). Most other smartphones use Android which was basically originated by Google.
TECHNOBABBLE: Yes, I realize there are other OSs such as Blackberry and Microsoft. But not my problem.

Thoughts according to LOG(me)
Apple iOS is a proprietary OS owned and developed by Apple and available only on Apple mobile devices.
Well designed
User friendly
Apps(Applications) are vetted by Apple so likely to work
Devices are Apple so OS upgrades will have few problems

Limited hardware choices

Android is an open source OS originally developed by Google but can be used by anyone and is available on many devices from many manufacturers.
More hardware choices
Wider price range

OS upgrades controlled by smartphone manufacturer and possibly service provider so may be delayed or not available.
Apps(Applications) are not vetted, so inconsistent quality and may not work.

For myself, I did a cost-benefit analysis and decided an Android device was best for my needs.

Step 2: Data Plan or WiFi Only

Okay, ready to select a smartphone? Not yet.
The next decision is a soft one. You can usually change it later.
Most of the smarts in smartphone is connecting to the Internet.

So most smartphone users connect to a cellphone provider with a data plan. What that means is that the smartphone can connect to the Internet anytime it is in range of a (specified) cellphone tower. Of course you have to pay for this data plan monthly and it’s often part of a two year contract. And there may be a limit to the amount of data you can use per month.

Now most smartphones can also connect to the Internet with WiFi. You may already have WiFi in your home and WiFi is often available at workplaces. Free WiFi hotspots are often available in cafes, coffee houses, libraries. . .

Connecting to the Internet with WiFi doesn’t cost you extra.

Since I spend 95% of my time at home, I’ve elected to go with WiFi only for smartphone Internet and use my cell service for phone service only.
The advantage is I don’t have to pay for a data plan and possible contract.
Disadvantages: Some apps will not work well without a data plan.
I am thinking there’s a lot of store apps where you can scan a barcode or QR code and get more information.(See picture)
Some apps such as Google Maps can work offline but require the user to download maps before usage.
Public WiFi hotspots are often slow, most likely a lot slower than a cellphone 3G or 4G data connection.
Public WiFi hotspots aren’t very secure.

WARNING: I’ve heard that when you hook up a smartphone to certain providers, they automatically change you over to a data plan. Don’t know if this is true.
I am on a PayAsYouGo from T-Mobile and had no problem.

Step 3: Cellphone Provider

So now it’s time to select a smartphone? Wrong!
The next decision is selecting a cellphone provider. These are the big four.

The first reason is that you need a cellphone provider that has service where you live/work. Check the provider’s coverage map to see if service is available and how good it is.

The second reason is that a specific smartphone may not work with a specific provider. Here’s a good resource.
Once you select a provider, you need to know if they support GSM or CDMA.
HINT: Many/most smartphones will support either.
HINT: If you’re planning on travelling out of the USA, GSM is much more widely used than CDMA.

The third reason is to find a plan. Unfortunately, there are a plethora of options available that are different from each provider. It used to be the typical user would by a smartphone from a specific cellphone provider at a discounted price or free with a two year contract.
Most plans included unlimited talk and text.

But you usually have to determine how much data you will need each month. Many providers have calculators to estimate your data needs.
So if you go over your plan, some providers will charge you at a much higher rate. Some will just throttle back your speed.

You will often have the option of adding more devices, phones, tablets, etc.
You may have the option of no contract.
You may have the option of upgrading your smartphone before contract is up.

Decisions, decisions. I can't help you much with this one.

I selected a T-Mobile PayAsYouGo plan. I pay only for talk minutes as I need them. I'm sure I pay more per minute than heavier users but I'm not on the phone a lot and also don't pay for a data plan.

Step 4: Unlocked Cellphones

Okay, all set to select your smartphone? Hold on one second.

What is an unlocked cellphone? Most cellphones sold by cell providers are ‘locked’ to their own cell service. If you buy a smartphone from AT&T, it will only work with AT&T.
So an unlocked cellphone will work with any cell provider as long as it has supports the correct GSM or CDMA bands. (Most of the better smartphones support both GSM and CDMA).
This is usually not a big deal as most people will stick with one carrier. And you can usually find a procedure to unlock a phone.
WARNING: Though you may be able to unlock a phone and get it to work on a different cell provider, most cell providers have customized their software with specific features that aren’t compatible with a different cell provider. I know this from personal experience.

You might want an unlocked smartphone. These are available from websites like Amazon, ebay and in the case of the Nexus smartphones, Google.
'Locked' smartphones can be purchased from cell providers but also from Amazon, WalMart, etc, often at better prices.

Step 5: Smartphone for Seniors

There's a lot of Internet about Smartphones for seniors.

I was really intrigued with the Jitterbug Touch 2 smartphone.

Simple interface with a list of applications instead of icons.
Lots of medical support if needed.
Customizable plans
Basic: you can select talk minutes, text and data are also selectable
  GoPlans: Similar options more medical support.

CONS: Several reviews give the smartphone poor rating due to sometimes slow response and crashes.

Another is the Pantech Flex

This one also has a simplified interface but it can also be switched to a more traditional icon interface.
Good reviews
Cheap/free with contract
Poorly rated camera
Limited to AT&T

Both of these smartphones might be worth a look even for non-seniors.

Step 6: Selecting Your Smartphone

Okay, you probably gave up but it’s time to select your smartphone.
Must have features:
WiFi (imho)
Correct cell provider support (GSM, CDMA or both)
GPS (imho)

Some features you have to decide:
Screen size/resolution
RAM/Memory size
Battery life

NOTE: Like cell providers, most smartphone manufacturers modify the Android OS to add specific features. One disadvantage is that when Google releases a new version, the user has to wait for their manufacturer to release their own update.

I selected the Nexus 4 for the following reasons:
Price: It already had a good price for its features but was even better just before the release of Nexus 5.
Android: The Nexus 4 is sold by Google (though manufactured by LG) so it is basically a native Android OS with no special features. So updates are available sooner. I got Android 4.4 within a couple of days of its release.
Good reviews.
Features: WiFi 802.11n, quad core cpu, good 4.7” screen

I didn’t like that it doesn’t have 4G support but I’m only using WiFi and not using 4G anyway.

I purchased directly from Google.
Now there is an advantage of buying a phone through a service provider. Apparently, the service provider gets a subsidy on the phone so you’re overall cost may be less. I’m not sure if this is true.

Step 7: Problems

OPERATION: Most smartphones have three buttons, a power button, a volume up and a volume down button. Everything else is done on the touchscreen. Read the manual.

The first problem I had was that I needed a micro-SIM card and only had a regular SIM card.  Some flavor of SIM cards are required for GSM phones and typically provided by the cell provider. Generally you can transfer a SIM card from one phone to another.
There’s a lot of information on cutting a SIM card to make it a micro-SIM. I tried it, it worked in one cellphone but wouldn’t work with my Nexus 4.
Well, I called my local T-Mobile store. They wanted $35 for a micro-SIM.
So I went on the T-Mobile website and found one for $10 but on sale for $0.99. So I bought it. (I just looked today and it was free for the Holidays).

The second problem was trying to answer the phone. The first time I got a call, I was out walking with my dog and I tried to answer it but couldn’t figure out how to do it. Most smartphones are hard to see in sunlight and you only have a short time before it goes to Voice mail. Anyway, I had to look it up in the manual when I got home. Also I had to figure out how to call voice mail.

The third problem, I have an LG Bluetooth headset(see picture). This worked fine with Android 4.3 but when I installed 4.4, the minimum volume was too loud.
So I searched on the Internet and found many other people with the same problem. One had the same problem with a Nexus 5. Anyway, one user came up with a workaround by adding an equalizer and cranking everything way down.
Anyway, it was fixed a couple of days later when Google released 4.4.2.

General Problem Solving:
Your best solution may be using the manual that came with your smartphone. Some may be very limited or even non-existent.
You might be able to find a better manual on the manufacturers website or the cell providers website.
More problems can arise when your OS is upgraded. You can usually find a generic users guide for specific versions of you OS, e.g., Android 4.4.2 but, alas, those don’t cover manufacturer specific or cell provider specific modifications.
Specific Internet searches may be your best option.
Good Luck!

Then there are application problems. Application support varies but some apps have their own website. And specific Internet searches may be your best option.

Pre Nexus 4: I bought a Huawei smartphone (See picture) on ebay. It got some good reviews and I found a good price. Unfortunately, it was in Chinese. Well, I was finally able to change Android to English and was able to read a lot of the screens. But most of the apps were still Chinese and I couldn’t even access Google Play to download applications.
Well, I was finally able to ‘root’ the phone. This is like unlocking the Smartphone from a specific cellphone provider except this is getting to the root of Android so that you can modify the basics. So I started deleting Chinese stuff and made it totally unusable.
WARNING: Don’t try to root a smartphone unless you know what you are doing.

Step 8: Conclusions

I am happy with my Nexus 4 smartphone. Yes, I will always have problems. But I’ve also added some apps that I like and use.
I added a Flashlight app.
I added Runkeeper to keep track of walks with my dog.
I added WinAmp to listen to my music.
I added WheresMyDroid to find a misplaced/stolen phone.

Be the First to Share


    • Leather Challenge

      Leather Challenge
    • Remote Control Contest

      Remote Control Contest
    • Hot Glue Speed Challenge

      Hot Glue Speed Challenge



    1 year ago

    It might be time to update the contents. I am (Slight cough) older and the first problem I had was answering the phone, then I found out I had voice mail, I didn't know how to set that up either.

    I don't use data, I figure if I did I use more than I had and end up paying for it. I have my home computer so I don't need it. Or do I?

    What I need to know would be the absolute min must-have app's should I install and what would they be? Say do I need email? a bar code reader? a map that tells me where I am, should I get lost (I'm thinking that is not as far fetched as it might seem.) sort of like where is my phone, only where am I.

    I might get others, but there are so many, and often for the same thing. How does one pick?

    OH, I guess I should say that I got a Galaxy S9, cost more than I wanted to spend, but being 'used' it was still not obsolete.

    What about privacy issues? What happens if I don't read all the end-user agreement and legal stuff? Am I signing over my home? Do I have any real rights after agreeing to it?

    I do have a son who could have helped me, but he seems bent on me learning on my own. This after all the stuff I didn't do for him as a child.


    4 years ago

    Good information. Thanks for providing it. I just last week upgraded to a smartphone (LG G5). Now I need to learn smart use of my smart phone so I'm don't run up big bills or get pestered to death with ads and notifications.


    5 years ago

    Disappointed. I wanted to learn how to use my smartphone, not whether or not to buy one and how. Certainly entertaining about the Chinese. But not particularly useful. You said you didn't know how to take a call. Then you said to read the manual. I already read the manual. Now I've read you too. And I still don't know how to answer a call, or what an app is, or how to swipe it. Maybe it's time for an updated instructable.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Absolutely! I have a cheap but good Chinese phone, zero instructions, just want to know how best to use it - and I have the techie smarts! Useless blogg!


    Reply 5 years ago

    So the problem with answering simple questions like how to answer a call is that each smartphone is different and sometimes if you get software upgrade it will change again. Now with my current smartphone when I get a call a little symbol is flashing on the screen and to answer I swipe up. To swipe means to put your finger on the flashing symbol and move your finger up. Now I believe a slightly older version you had to swipe right.


    Probably one of the easiest ways to learn the basics is to ask a kid, child/grandchild, neighbor. They are usually pretty tech savy. Or if you have a relative or friend that has a smartphone.

    Another is to go back to where you bought it and ask them if they can show you the basics.

    If you want to do it yourself, first I would suggest you find out if you have an Apple/ iPhone or and Android.

    Then you can search for something like "iPhone answer call" or "Android answer a call."

    Good luck



    6 years ago

    I recommend Large Launcher, big font,button. It's really designed for seniors and children.

    You can download in Google play in the following link:


    Reply 6 years ago

    Never heard of it but it looks pretty good.



    6 years ago

    Have a look at this:

    Making the smartphone easy and accessible for all.


    6 years ago

    this was to the point and and very informative so perhaps i'm off to the the verizon store today to purchase my first smartphone probably an android versus apple (my youngest moved 1000+ miles away and wants me to get an iphone for face time hmmm :\) tmi i know i digress. thanks for the post

    Seasickseagull TO
    Seasickseagull TO

    6 years ago

    I enjoyed your lesson. I'm an ex-Blackberry user, and while I appreciate you don't want to go on about Blackberry (RIM), but, I think not giving them more then a mention, could be taken in the wrong context. I think Blackberrys REAL keyboard would be much easier to get used to as opposed to only a touch screen keyboard only. Many seniors have lost the feeling in their fingers, and sometimes can't feel when their fingers are touching the screen. With the keyboard on the Blackberry Devices which is almost miniature computer or laptop keyboard. If they can turn the Blackberry ship around (which looks like it might be just stating to happen now), then I will be saying goodbye to Android.

    FYI. My 93 year old mother just got her first Samsung Android Phone and a Samsung Tablet (note: to readers: If you are a senior please take someone with you the you trust)... If you are a child or grandchild etc. Please offer to go with them. My mother wasn't sold to much product, my brother had her on the company plan, and he wanted mom to gave the Sane as her sisters.).

    I'm sure your posting will be read my many seniors in the tears to come.




    6 years ago

    It's "elusive," not "illusive".


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    You're right. Being OLD it's hard for me to see the difference.



    8 years ago on Step 8

    I too have entered the realm of smartphones (first one) in old age. Learned a lot by making a few mistakes going to Radio Shack and letting them steer me into the two year sentence contract. Always remember, they are there to sell stuff that make them money. All in all I'm happy with it.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 8

    I try not to go into a store for a major purchase unless I already know what I want.

    A two year contract is probably fine for a lot of people. But I've heard that after the two years, you can usually find a better deal.

    Glad you're happy with your smartphone.


    Phil B
    Phil B

    8 years ago

    My wife and I got Apple iPhone 4S phones in our mid-60s. I was in love with a Samsung Galaxy III, but the sales guy said the iPhone is easier to learn and I could help my wife when she has struggles. We are doing well after a year of experience. I like the camera, the maps, the audio player for Podcasts, and instant access to information on the Internet. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on choosing a phone.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the info. It seems like most people who buy iPhones are happy with them.


    Phil B
    Phil B

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    There are some basic things, like using the calendar or synchronizing regularly with iTunes by cable connection to the computer, I would like my wife to learn. She objects. As long as I am around I am expected to do it for her. If I die first, she plans to live near our kids and get to them to do those things for her.

    I had been using a Palm handheld for several years. I have had to help others with their computers for several years. Making the move to a smart phone was. to a big jump for me.