Most of my friends are techies, when we talk about mobile phones we tend to discuss the latest models and the feature war between device and operating system manufacturers as Stephen Fry does in his blog but every conversation with people new to easy to use phones has a magical moment. It happens about three minutes in and is the instant when they think of someone for whom a big button mobile phone would change their life.

Icons can make phones complicate

Icons are not automatically easy to understand

“That’s just the thing for my Nan”, they say. Or if they don’t say it, they think it. Unfortunately it’s not what their grandmother thinks. Ask any 18 year old what they think of their mobile phone and they will smile and gush enthusiasm. Ask any 81 year old and they will frown and complain. “I can’t hear it”, “it’s too complicated”, “it’s ok for young people”, “the controls are fiddly”. They feel about mobile phones the way men feel about those strange washing instructions icons on jumpers. Something they ought to worry about but can’t be bothered.

So why should you buy her something she patently doesn’t want? It’s because you were right in your initial thoughts: it is just the thing for your Nan it would be transformational. As liberating for her as your first mobile was for you.

But it has to be the right phone for her, give an older person a phone where they can read the screen, where they can see the buttons and which they can hear and the reaction is wonderful. One of life’s pleasures is calling a person you care for, for the first time when they are using a phone that works with their hearing aid. From miles away you can hear the smile on their face.

Although you won’t find them in many shops there is a wide variety of phones aimed at seniors. They are all big button phones but each has a particular forte and getting the requirements right is the first step to happy octogenarian phone ownership.

The first thing to worry about is shape. While smartphones all look pretty much like either a Blackberry or iPhone, there is an old-fashioned choice for easy use mobile phones. That is bar or clam. Some people find a clam awkward to open and think of it as a frippery. A phone should look like a phone. A bar has the advantage that you can see the screen when it’s ringing and press hang up if you don’t want to talk to the person. It can also have buttons with better travel than a design where the buttons are covered. I looked at the advantages of bars in an earlier posting.

A clam does a number of other things better. Prime amongst them is that it makes answering and hanging up a call an easy and satisfying, and that you can have a bigger screen on a smaller phone but there are a lot of other pros and cons which I have also explored in more detail.

When you’ve made your decision on the shape of the phone, the thing the phone industry has angst-ridden discussions over using the term form-factor, you need to look at which one of the phones best suits their need.

The best selling handset for older people is the Doro 410. A phone that singlehandly established the clam as the

The Dro 410 has clear easy to press buttons and a bright screen

The Doro 410 shows how a clam allows space for big buttons, with good spacing, and a big screen

dominant form factor. The great thing about the Doro is that the menu system is editable. You can’t expect your nan to do this for herself but you can sit down with her and ask what features she wants. You can individually switch off the calculator, text messages, games and calendar, and make the phone do as little or much as she feels comfortable. The handset that excels in the audio department is the Geemarc CL8400, this doesn’t have the editable menus but is very much louder, it has an especially loud ring and a torch that flashes when it rings.

The Geemarc CL8400 has excellent audio

While all the Fuss Free Phones have an emergency button the Geemarc has a slider which is harder to trigger by mistake and easier to switch off if you trigger it by mistake.

With bar phones an interesting new entrant is the Panasonic KX-TU301. This has an excellent screen and says the numbers out loud when you dial which makes it particularly good for people with impaired eyesight.

If, however, your Nan doesn’t understand why she wants a mobile phone in the first place get her a Beafon S700. This is both a home phone and a mobile. You plug it into the landline and insert a SIM. It works just like a domestic cordless. The only difference is that when you make a call it asks if you want to use the landline (DECT) or mobile (GSM), line. She’ll get used to it as a home phone and then not only will it be simple for her to take it out when she thinks it might be a good idea, it has a torch, Bluetooth – so it works in the car and hearing aid support which is unusual in a home phone and a good reason for her to use it in place of her existing cordless.

A DECT base station is an added incentive to charge and use the Beafon S700

Your Nan might be expecting something nice and knitted, with obscure washing instructions, for Christmas, but if you spend some time with her, teaching her how it works you might just have turned her into a technophile by New Years Day.

 

Simon RockmanWin a day driving e-types and other classic cars