Ask Adrian: Our tech expert addresses your trickiest technology problems
Q: My mother is going into a nursing home and needs her own phone to keep in touch with family. I'm not sure if she'd manage a smartphone, and her eyesight is not great. What would be the best options?
A I would recommend either a Doro smartphone (around €130), a basic large-screen Android (€100 with senior citizen friendly app) or an old-fashioned Nokia button phone, which is still available.
Before I expand on these model options, I'm making a few assumptions about your mother.
I'm betting that she has no experience with smartphones and relatively little experience with older mobile phones. But I'm also going to assume that she is somewhat familiar with ordinary push-button landline phone (the only type really available for the last 30 years).
Given those assumptions, there are the choices I think you have.
Nokia 130 button phone
(€70 prepay from 3 Ireland)
This is the traditional mobile phone, with a small non-touch screen and buttons from 0 to 9. It's pretty straightforward except for two things. First, everything is pretty tiny. With poor eyesight, it might be a struggle even to see the 'answer' button. There are also arguably too many buttons (20 in all) on the phone. Some of them are aimed at things like menus and texting, which I doubt your mother will want.
For a beginner, this might all prove to be a bit confusing, especially if one of these buttones is inadvertently pressed.
Alcatel Pop 4 Plus
(€99 prepay with Meteor) plus 'Wiser' app
This is a standard Android smartphone, but it has the biggest screen you can currently get: 5.5-inches. (That means it's the size of Apple's huge iPhone 7 Plus.) The advantage here is that it's much easier to see things than smaller smartphones or tiny feature phones, like those from Nokia.
The key here is to download a special pensioner-friendly app before giving it to your mother.
There are lots of these, but try the 'Wiser' app. It transforms the phone's normal interface into an extremely basic screen with photos of family members.
Tap a family member and it calls their phone. It's the kind of thing a two-year-old could probably figure out. Apps such as these are 'launcher' apps, which means it will springs into action whenever you turn on the phone.
(€129 prepay from 3 Ireland)
Doro specifically makes phones for senior citizens. While it has a number of button phones, its 8030 model is the kind of touchscreen smartphone device that Fisher Price might make. It has a medium-to-large screen (around the same size as a regular iPhone) and three large buttons on the bottom.
Crucially, you can set the screen up with a couple of pictures of family members or friends for quick calls. The device can do most other smartphone tricks (based on Android it has a camera, web browser and apps) but it's really designed to focus on the basics for absolute beginners.
Make sure the hospital can receive a proper phone signal
This is really important. Buying a phone usually means picking an operator at the same time. If it's at all possible, try to make sure that the operator you're considering has a decent signal at the hospital your mother will attend. Believe me, this isn't to be taken for granted: there are some really surprising regional variations in network signal strength. This could be a deciding factor as to whether the phone gets used.
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Two to Try
New Apple iPad
(€429 from shops)
Apple recently streamlined its iPad range with its latest model (just called 'iPad') coming in as its cheapest ever 10-inch model. In contrast with the laptop-replacement iPad Pro models, this one doesn't quite have a bleeding edge engine under the hood. Nevertheless, it still has a gorgeous Retina screen, fingerprint TouchID and comes in either 32GB or 128GB versions.
Polk Boom Bit
(€40 from Amazon.co.uk)
What's the alternative to wearing headphones? A clip-on Bluetooth music mini-speaker. Polk's Boom Bit is the size of a large USB key, clips on to your clothes and has a small 1.5-watt speaker to provide somewhat serviceable audio quality that's better than your phone's speaker. It recharges by plugging into a computer's USB port or a USB plug. An onboard microphone makes it a reasonable hands-free phone kit, too.