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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Big Numbers And Easy Steps: Buying Granny A Cell Phone

Don't consign Granny to telegrams. Buy her a cell phone.
If your 84-year old mother is anything like mine, then she's not texting a whole lot. She's probably not surfing the Web, playing video games, tweeting, or updating her Facebook page either. So why does she need a smart phone or an expensive plan that locks her in until she's 87? Fact is, she doesn't. However, we need our senior loved ones to be able to reach us, especially in times of emergency. Some form of mobile communication is a must, and it's often the children that pay for it.

In researching this subject, I was not surprised to find that modern phones confuse the elderly. After all, this is the generation that could not figure out how to program their VCRs when they were still in their 40s. What an Octogenarian needs in a mobile device is simplicity, large numbers, and good volume. They need a Contacts menu with few steps; two clicks away from the loved one they want to reach.  And, they don't need a plan at all because they still use their house phones for everything (i.e. they need a prepaid plan).

Alcatel 382G. Big numbers but hard to find.
There are a few companies that offer "dumb" phones and prepaid options, hoping to cash in on this demographic.  Alcatel and Tracfone offer one of the most popular options, however, I could not easily find the 382G model that is supposed to be senior friendly. Tracfone is a virtual network that doesn't have any brick and mortar locations in Manhattan. They list CVS drug stores as one of the locations that carried their models, but the one I went to did not stock it. I'll admit, I have reservations about using a virtual network anyway. Tracfone does not have its own satellites and ground-based infrastructure, instead, they buy blocks of time off existing providers such as AT&T and Verizon. So hypothetically, let's say there's an emergency event like Sept. 11, or Hurricane Sandy, and the phone networks are struggling to meet increased demand--if I were Verizon, would I shut out my direct customers to provide capacity for a third-party provider? I would like to think not. And for that reason--and because it's vitally important that your elderly loved one be able to reach you in a crisis--I decided just to look into plans that have their own communications infrastructure, such as Verizon and AT&T.

Both these providers offer slightly more expensive services than the virtual networks, but I do believe in the old adage that one gets what one pays for. What surprised me though is how much cheaper AT&T's plan is compared with Verizon.

Prepaid Minutes

Both offer comparable plans in terms of prepaid pricing, but AT&T was more generous with regards to how they measure minutes and time used, and so they offered a slightly better value. They both had a $100 package with minutes that stay good for one entire year, but Verizon charges 25 cents a minute for usage and AT&T charges 20 cents a minute. So your $100 goes farther with AT&T. Both offered lower priced plans, but the minutes expire after three months. For grandma, who will likely use the phone sparingly, the year-long expiration is better. Get the plan early in the year, and that way you can have her use up unused blocks of time around Christmas talking to friends and family.

The Phones

Gusto 2
Nokia 100
Both companies offer one phone for prepaid service. AT&T has the Nokia 100 and Verizon offers the Gusto 2 by Samsung. Of the two, the Gusto 2 is better suited for grandma. 1) It's a flip phone, so all grandma has to do to activate it when someone calls is flip it open. Nokia needs you to press a button. 2) The buttons on the Gusto 2 are slightly larger and raised. Seniors are a more tactile people. They are the generation that started making calls by slipping their finger into that rotary disk and spinning it around nine times. Smart phones, with their smooth glass and virtual buttons are alien to them. They'd just as soon as touch patterns on their wall paper to make things happen in the kitchen. 3) Large displays. You can put grandma's own phone number on the display so that she doesn't have to memorize it, because I assure you, she never will. 4) Samsung is technologically ahead of the game when compared with Nokia. The display and sound quality on this phone is excellent. Nokia is not bad, but only Apple beats Samsung these days in this arena, and Apple is not making dumb phones. Both phones with their comparable plans offer the option to keep track of minutes used through their displays. With Verizon, a voice will actually tell you what your minutes are.

Extra Costs

AT&T beats Verizon hands down when it comes to additional charges. First off, they offer the Nokia 100 (about $30) for $20 less than the Samsung Gusto 2 (about $50 with discount). Verizon charges an annoying $35 "activation fee." Why?  I've bought your phone, which is more expensive than your competitor's and I've purchased minutes from you. Why then an activation fee? Believe me, I went back and forth on this with the manager at the Verizon store in lower Manhattan, and they will not budge. You're about to plop down $150 of business and threaten to walk away from the deal, but Verizon is willing to watch you walk out that door and take the $130 AT&T plan rather than give up that $35 activation fee. This may be a deal breaker for some, but if you have all your other services through one company, the impulse to stay with that company is strong, even when they are charging a ridiculous fee, and the thing is, the company knows it. As far as I can tell, that fee exists to ensure that Verizon Wireless' top executives can afford that third vacation home in the Caribbean. (I'm embarrassed to admit which plan I went with, and for me it came down to the phone and continuity with all my other devices, but I live vicariously through all you wonderful readers who walk away from the onerous activation fee.)

And that is all I have to say on this subject. Good luck to those of you who love your elderly relatives enough to find the best device for them. 

Additional Articles On Phones For Seniors

Ed Lazellari is a blogger and fiction writer. His novels Awakenings and The Lost Prince, part of the Guardians of Aandor series from Tor Books, are available at Barnes & Nobles and His short stories The Ogre Hunt and Paths Not Taken are available for free on his blog by clicking on these links. 



  1. Us cellular does have a 10cent plan but it is not country wide

  2. Nice article.
    But I didn't know cell phones were using satellites !! I guess I need to upgrade my iPhone !!

  3. Cells exist to pick up and distribute your phone's signal, but I'm pretty sure they are relayed through a satellite when talking long distances.

  4. So stunning! You have shared nice information which useful to senior citizens to choose senior mobile phone but I think you missed out one more senior mobile phone which is TTfone. My grand parents are using this mobile without any problem.

  5. The post is composed in exceptionally a decent way and it contains numerous helpful data for me.

  6. I can understand the need of big button mobile phone for elders. My grand mother frequently complain about the low volume of her cell phone. On her birthday I gift her easy to use mobile phone. I always prefer to gift something which someone really need and make his/her life more productive.