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Mobiles for seniors – calls, text and WhatsApp

Product review

When a mobile phone company specialising in technology for older users got in touch with us about our Christmas gift list, we set what we thought would be an impossible task. Yet Emporium had a potential solution.

Our a real-life challenge

A friend’s mother has moved into extended care accommodation where there are no landline phones. She is adamant that in the interests of making life simpler, she does not want a mobile phone, and has always shunned the smartphone she owns.

While this is obviously her choice to make, it does cause difficulties for family. They can’t let her know when they’re coming to visit. They can’t contact her to ask what shopping she wants. She is also living out of the loop, only hearing about family news and seeing photos when family arrived with their phones. This was a shame as she was interested in the activities of her grandchildren and great grandchildren – including one baby she has yet to meet. It’s a family that shares updates, questions and answers, images and videos on WhatsApp, and she wasn’t seeing any of this.

So we thought it would be great to find a simple phone that offered calls, texts – and WhatsApp.

Our potential solution

Emporium offered us the TOUCHsmart.2. It’s somewhere between a smartphone and a flip/clam phone. There’s no internet, and WhatsApp is the only ‘extra’ app that it comes with, keeping things simple.

The device actually has a dedicated button that opens WhatsApp. It also features two screens – one on the outside for viewing notifications without having to flip the device open, and a touchscreen as the main screen. This main screen enables users to scroll through WhatsApp chats. Emporium says WhatsApp isn’t really built to be controlled with just buttons, which is how many senior-friendly phones work, so the company claims its approach is  more appealing.

Our experience

As the phone is contract-free, we searched out a cheap SIM deal to get started.

We like plenty of features of this phone that would be helpful in our scenario. As a clam phone, it looks more like a landline phone than many flat smartphones, and the fact that it can live in a cradle encourages that familiar feeling. The cradle is actually an alternative way to charge the phone, so as long as it is plugged in and turned on, the owner doesn’t have to worry about USB cables and phone chargers. Once the phone is sitting correctly on the cradle and the cradle is turned on, the battery charging icon is clearly visible on the front screen, so you know it’s working.

Initially the phone would need to be set up by one who understands these things, but after that the owner shouldn’t need to worry too much. They are notified when updates need installing, but that could probably wait for a relative to manage on a visit. For mobiles and landlines we’ve set up for an elder in the past, we’ve created a short, large-print laminated instruction sheet that they can keep by the phone. It would be nice to see suppliers provide these – although I can understand they wouldn’t be an easy fit into the box.

Receiving WhatsApps is pretty straightforward. Open up the phone when you hear the notification and you can touch on ‘new message’ to view the WhatsApp. Photos are a reasonable quality and can be enlarged easily once you know how.

Sending messages on WhatsApp is a bit laborious, as this phone uses the old-fashioned key strokes from early phones – 4 presses of the button to select an ‘s’ and so on. Anyone who has used this type of phone will probably find it’s like riding a bicycle and will be able to say what they need to.

We liked:

  • The cradle for an easy alternative for phone charging and providing a home for the phone
  • The single button to access WhatsApp
  • Clam design with screens to view when the phone is closed and when it’s opened
  • This is just one of a range of mobiles available from Emporium, and their website suggest they have invested some useful research into their phone designs

We weren’t so sure about:

  • Old-school text entry, but users will either take to it or just not use it
  • The manual – a bit heavy going
  • The WhatsApp guide – the one we received was in multiple European languages but not English
  • Returning the phone if it’s not suitable. The web site isn’t clear on the rights of those outside the EU so worth checking before buying

Does our real-life scenario have a happy ending? Not yet. My friend’s mum has so far refused to even look at the phone, but we’re working on it.

Read our latest gift guide for seniors.

Image licensed under the Unsplash+ License

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