Low-tech mobile phones designed for older citizens

Low-tech mobile phones are helping to keep older Australians – and those who are less tech-savvy – connected and safer from scammers.

Mobile phones have become an integral part of life but, for some, just getting your head around how to turn the damned thing on can be a challenge.

It’s a pressing problem, as many older Australians live alone and have specific health needs. COVID lockdowns have only aggravated this problem.

This is where phones designed specifically for seniors can be a lifesaver. Rather than being aimed at a specific age group, these phones are streamlined devices designed for those with a range of physical abilities.

Read: Can your mobile phone get a virus? Watch out for these signs

For example, many have a large, bright display for those with poor eyesight and are cheaper than standard models. Others feature simpler software for those who are less tech-savvy.

What to look for in a mobile phone for an older person depends entirely on preferences, level of physical ability and level of technical knowledge.

BigPurplePhone
The BigPurplePhone (BPP) is an Australian-designed smartphone specifically designed for seniors who struggle with technology.

It operates on a secure ‘family and friends’ network to keep out scammers and features large buttons with oversized digits that respond to taps and not just touch.

It also has an ’emergency call’ button that dials 000 directly and notifies family, has phone contacts labelled with pictures, an instant video call feature and a voice to text function.

Read: How your phone is harming your health

At $700, it’s not the cheapest phone on the market, and there is also a $70 per month fee for accessing the private friends and family network.

The phone is the brainchild of NSW couple James and Libby Henderson and was developed after they were separated from Libby’s 85-year-old mother, Janette, during the pandemic. 

“I thought there must be an easier way [to stay in touch],” says Ms Henderson.

“Especially for video chat. But when I looked at what phones were available here in Australia, they were all quite complicated, so that was the catalyst that inspired us to create the BPP.

“Before the BPP, my mum was getting 16 text messages a day from spam numbers and she didn’t know how to block them and the phone protects her from unknowingly clicking on a scam link and getting into trouble.”

Read: Is your phone really listening to your conversations?

Swissvoice C50
The Swissvoice C50 is billed as a ‘semi-smartphone’ designed specifically for seniors. It uses a simplified version of the Android operating system that streamlines some of the communication features elderly people can find difficult.

The large display features basic buttons for calls, messages and photos as well as large icons indicating ring volume and battery level.

Crucially, the Swissvoice C50 can be monitored remotely by caregivers or family members through an online app. All functionality of the phone can then be operated through the app if the senior is having trouble getting the phone to work. You can even remotely turn on the video-call feature to monitor what’s happening in the physical environment around the phone.

At $600, it is cheaper than other models but still quite pricey. Still, these models are less expensive than many standard flagship phones.

Sonim XP3plus
The Sonim XP3plus is not specifically designed for seniors, but it’s one many seniors will like. A modern voice-and-text-only – or ‘dumb’ – phone, the XP3plus uses an old-school flip shell design, with physical tactile buttons and no touchscreen.

There aren’t many non-internet mobile phone models left, and the XP3plus adds only the most essential modern touches to the classic design.

Most voice-only phones today rely on the older 3G voice network, which will soon be taken out of service. The Sonim XP3plus is compatible with the 3G, 4G and the latest 5G voice networks.

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