Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems
Q My elderly mother has finally agreed to get a smartphone, but I know she's still a bit bamboozled by the look and feel of them. Is there any model she can get that is beginner friendly? She has used Facebook before on a laptop, but I don't think she's going to use much other stuff on it apart from occasionally looking things up on Google.
Adrian replies: There are smartphones designed specifically for older, first-time users. Probably the most popular model is Doro's 8030. It's available from most of the usual mobile operators for around €130.
This model boils the smartphone down to its basic uses, with bigger-than-normal icons and extra volume, if needed, for those who struggle to hear so well.
It has a medium-sized 4.5-inch screen (around the same size as a regular iPhone) and three large buttons on the bottom. If your mother wants it more as an emergency tool, 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 as it's based on an Android operating system. So, if your mother perchance gets into her stride with it, she will have the use of a five-megapixel camera on the back. (Although tell her not to take too many snaps, as the phone only has a paltry 8GB of storage memory on board.) It also has a web browser and can download apps. But it's really designed to focus on the basics for absolute beginners.
It's not perfect. One downside, in my view, is that while a 4.5-inch screen is still considered normal, larger screens are particularly useful for older people, who don't have the hawk-eye vision to pick out numbers that younger people do.
To some degree, the larger font sizes make up for this.
If the Doro seems a little too patronising, another option is to try a decent conventional smartphone that's paired (if necessary) with a beginner-friendly app system.
For example, the Nokia 6 (€199 from operators) is a well-made Android phone with a nice, big 5.5-inch screen, making everything good and visible.
If the whole interface seems a bit intimidating, one option 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.
Of course, you could consider an iPhone. You might only do this, though, if you (or someone else that's regularly around her or often communicates with her) uses an iPhone. That's because (i) you can show her how to use it regularly as you go along and (ii) there are a few benefits to you both using an iPhone (such as free messages over iMessage which, to her, is integrated into the phone's ordinary texting system).
However, there isn't really any such thing as a 'budget' iPhone. Its entry level model, the iPhone SE, costs €400. And while that has some fantastic specifications (a brilliant camera and a very fast chip, among them), it retains the small four-inch screen. Some people like this screen size as it fits their hand better: I simply think it's too small at this point. The other advantage to iPhones is that they're still slightly easier to use for beginners than Android phones, with fewer variations in interface design than Android models.
RECOMMENDATION: Doro 8030 (pictured, €130) or Nokia 6 (€199)
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Two to Try
Amazon Echo Dot
With the launch (finally) of Amazon's voice-activated Alexa service in Ireland comes its various smart speakers, including the diminutive Echo Dot. Using your Amazon account as its basis, the Dot can be asked about things like the weather, the news (from RTÉ or other services) or general information questions. It also links to accounts such as Spotify to play music by asking it to. Advanced set-up makes it possible to do things like switch lights on and off with your voice if you have smart bulbs like the Philips Hue installed. The audio isn't really good enough to hold a kitchen, but is fine as a smart clock radio beside a bed.
Apple's new smart speaker has slightly better audio quality over rivals from Amazon or Google. But it's twice the price. It's not yet officially available in the Irish market, but is in some UK stores.