If you need some help choosing your next mobile phone, you’re in the right place. With so many options to choose from it can be overwhelming, so we’ve put together a guide on the things to keep in mind when buying a new mobile phone for seniors.
In this article:
Smartphone vs dumbphone
Yes, they really are called dumbphones. They're the basic mobile phones that were available before smartphones entered the market; they make and receive calls and texts but don’t connect to the internet.
If you’re looking for a phone that can do more than just calls and texts, a smartphone is probably the way to go. Its online capability means you can do things like send and receive emails on your phone, scan QR codes, and use apps to get directions, just to name a few.
Mobile phone features to look out for
The image quality of smartphone cameras gets better with every release, but their specs do vary, so if taking quality pictures and videos is important to you then you may want to spend a bit more on a later model smartphone with higher specs.
Find out more about how to use the camera on your iPhone or Android phone to do things like edit photos and use your favourite photo as your background image or wallpaper.
Phone storage capacity
Your smartphone needs internal space to store data such as your photos, videos, apps and other things to help your phone run. Smartphone storage is measured in gigabytes, or GB (pronounced “gigs”), and the higher the storage, the more expensive the phone.
Find out how much storage you currently have on your smartphone to give you an indication of whether you need more or less storage in your new phone. You can check on your iPhone by going to the Apple support page , or for Android phones, go to Settings and type 'storage' in the Android search bar.
There are also cloud storage apps for when you need extra storage or back up for your photos, videos and documents. You can find out more about cloud storage subscriptions that come with your Apple iPhone or Android phone in our free short courses.
Our smartphones do so much more than just stay in touch with others. They help us to find out what time the next bus arrives, get from point A to B, and even pay for things. Which is why a long battery life is an important feature to look out for. Before you buy, it’s worth researching the battery life of different phones to see how long they last before they need to be charged.
A large screen can make things easier to see, especially if you use your phone to browse the internet. But a large screen generally means a bigger phone, so you also need to consider how heavy it is and how it’ll fit in your pocket or bag. The best thing to do is visit a store to test a selection of phones in person and get a feel for what works best for you.
Accessibility features make your phone easier to use. While some of the big brand phones have built-in accessibility features to do things like increase the text size on your screen and convert voice to text, you can also find mobile phones designed for seniors. They include helpful features such as:
- SOS button. Specially designed phones with an easy to access SOS button you can press to send an SMS or call your saved emergency contact(s).
- Hearing aid compatibility. Hearing aid compatible (HAC) phones have an M or T rating of 1 to 4. The higher the number the less interference you can expect when using your phone. The M rating refers to how well the phone works with hearing aids that use the Microphone setting, while the T rating refers to the Telecoil setting. You should look for a minimum M3 or T3 rating which is what most phones have.
- Charging cradle. Perfect for people with dexterity issues as the phone sits in a cradle to charge that's always plugged into a power outlet, just like a cordless home phone.
- Extra loud ringtone and speakerphone volume.
- Big buttons to make the numbers easier to read.
Find out more about the built-in accessibility features in iPhones and Android phones in our free short courses.
You can also find out more about the Emergency SOS feature on your iPhone on Apple’s support website and Google's how to get help during an emergency with your Android phone .
4G or 5G compatible
When you're not connected to your home Wi-Fi your smartphone connects to the internet via a mobile network called 3G, 4G or 5G. The ‘G’ stands for ‘generation’, so 3G stands for ‘third generation’, 4G is ‘fourth generation’, and so on. The higher the number the faster and newer the network.
Telcos are switching off their 3G mobile network to make way for newer technology. So, if you’re looking for a new phone that will last you a few years, it needs to be compatible with the 4G or 5G network.
If you have an older phone that works with the 3G network, it’s best to check with your current telco provider to see when / if they are closing down their network. For example, Telstra is switching off its 3G network from 30 June 2024, while Vodafone is shutting it down in December 2023.
You can find which network your phone connects to by looking at the top of your phone’s screen next to the battery symbol (it appears when you’re not connected to Wi-Fi).
Should I buy a mobile phone outright or on a plan?
Buying a mobile phone outright means you pay the full one-off cost of the handset so you have the freedom to choose from a wide range of providers for your data, calls and texts, known as SIM-only or BYO (bring your own) plans.
The other option is to sign up to a contract which lets you pay off a handset over a fixed term (normally 12, 24 or 36 months) on top of your data, calls and texts.
If you can afford to pay for a phone outright, it can keep your mobile plan costs down as there are very competitive BYO phone or SIM-only plans available.
You can compare how much it will cost you to buy a phone outright versus on a plan by calculating the total cost for both scenarios over the length of the contract.
As an example, let’s say you find a phone for $80 per month on a 24-month contract. The same phone is available for $700 when you buy it outright and you find a BYO phone plan for $20 per month for your data, calls and texts. Both plans have similar data allowance. In this scenario, buying the phone outright saves you $740.
Option A (plan): $80 per month x 24 months = $1,920.
Option B (outright): $700 for the phone + ($20 per month BYO plan x 24 months) = $1,180.
If you need help choosing a mobile phone plan, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) website has a helpful guide. You can also use comparison websites like WhistleOut and Finder to compare phone plans.
Unlocked vs locked mobile phones – what’s the difference?
A locked phone will only work on the network it’s tied to, like Telstra, Optus or Vodafone, whereas unlocked phones give you the freedom to use any telco provider. That means, for example, if you buy a locked phone to Telstra you’ll need to sign up to a Telstra phone plan. Places like supermarkets and Australia Post carry a range of unlocked and locked phones, so it’s best to check before you buy.
iPhone vs Android
Today's newer smartphones run on one of two operating systems: iOS (iPhone) or Android. iOS is made by Apple and only runs on Apple devices, whereas the Android operating system is made by Google and runs on a range of phones including Samsung, Google Pixel and Oppo.
If you own other devices like a tablet or laptop that run on either system, it can make things easier to stick to the same system for your smartphone. Not only will you be more familiar with the features, but the devices generally do a better job of ‘talking to each other’.
It’s also a good idea to talk to family and friends about their experience with their phone and visit a store so you can test a few models out for yourself.
Top tip: reset your old mobile phone
Before you get rid of your old mobile phone, it’s best to reset it to erase all your data and settings. That way your phone thinks it’s a new phone again which is especially important if you plan to pass the phone on to someone else. You should also do a reset if you’ve been given a pre-owned mobile phone so the previous owner's data is wiped. Here's how you can reset your iPhone or Android phone.