The best smartphones to help older people beat the tech divide

Simplified home screens and customisable interfaces aid those who struggle with touchscreens

These days many daily tasks require a smartphone because of new online payment security checks and the widespread use of parking apps. This is a potential nightmare for those who struggle with touchscreens, apps and texting but there are some easier-to-use models to help conquer the technology divide.

Manufacturers continually modify their smartphones to make them more straightforward to use but, unfortunately, when it comes to apps, whether it is your bank or WhatsApp, you will still be at the mercy of their interface as this cannot be changed. So while there is no truly simple smartphone that can do every task, here are some of the best options.

Emporia Smart5

The Smart5
The Smart5 has a clever folio case with four physical buttons for answering calls, and an emergency call button on the back. Photograph: Emporia

Price: £241

The Emporia Smart5 is one of the better smartphones targeted specifically at the over-65s. Its main selling points are a simplified home screen, clever folio case with four physical buttons for answering calls, and an emergency call button on the back, which when pressed rings a set of five contacts. Unusually, the phone ships with a printed manual to walk through some basic tasks. It also comes with a magnifying app and a training app that teaches touchscreen interactions such as tapping and scrolling.

Otherwise, the Smart5 is a fairly standard smartphone, with a 5.5in screen, camera, splash resistance and full Android 10 (not the stripped-down Android Go) with access to the Google Play store and all its apps, including banking and messaging apps. It can be bought with a charging cradle, too; otherwise it uses a USB-C cable.

Unfortunately, when you open a third-party app the simplified interface is left behind for the app’s regular interface. It also doesn’t have a fingerprint sensor for your banking app or similar. Emporia only guarantees two years of crucial security updates from purchase; as soon as it stops getting updates you should replace it to stay secure.

Apple iPhone SE 2022

The home screen
The iPhone SE with a simplified home screen. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Price: £449 RRP – deals from £300

The iPhone SE isn’t specifically tailored for older people but you can change the settings to make it easier to use and it has all the advantages of an Apple smartphone. With a 4.7in screen, the phone is fairly compact and there is a huge range of third-party accessories available, which makes buying a solid case easy.

The home screen can be simplified by removing all unnecessary apps and putting widgets for one-tap access to favourite contacts on the screen. Increasing the zoom and text size in settings will make everything appear huge on the screen . It also has a range of accessibility features that can be enabled, including additional screen and text magnification and adjustments for hearing aids. It is water-resistant to one-metre depths, too, so will survive a proper dunk in a bath or toilet.

With as many as seven years of software support, once learned, you won’t have to change the phone for a long time, and if it breaks it is easy to get fixed on the high street. The large, physical Touch ID fingerprint button is easy to use for unlocking the phone but also in banking and payment apps. It only has 64GB of storage, which will be fine for apps but not lots of videos.

The phone charges via a Lightning cable but also supports wireless charging, so you can just place it on a pad to charge rather than fiddling with a cable. Only a USB-C cable is included in the box, however.

Google Pixel 6a

The home screen
The Google Pixel 6a with the home screen simplified and the display and text size maximised. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Price: £399 RRP – deals from £299

Google’s Pixel 6a offers terrific value and can be customised to make it easier to use.

It has a good-sized 6.1in screen in a fairly compact body, keeping it still pocketable. It is water-resistant to one-metre depths, has a reasonable selection of third-party cases to choose from and can be repaired by Google or third parties if it breaks. It also has a fantastic camera, rivalling phones twice the price, and 128GB of storage.

The interface can be enlarged to make text and icons bigger, which also applies to third-party apps. The home screen can be fully customised, too, removing unnecessary app icons, adding widgets for favourite contacts, and making them huge and spaced out so they are easier to tap.

There’s a choice of swipe or on-screen buttons for navigation, plus a decent selection of accessibility tools, including large on-screen buttons for various controls and a screen magnifier tool. Google provides five years of software support from release, which makes the Pixel 6a safe to use until at least July 2026.

It charges only by USB-C cable and you’ll need to provide your own power adaptor. It has an in-screen fingerprint scanner that is useful for unlocking the device and banking apps but is more fiddly to use than the iPhone’s big, physical home button.

Samsung Galaxy A33

Front and back views
Samsung’s Galaxy A33 has a big screen and some customisation options. Photograph: Samsung

Price: £329 RRP – deals from £250

If you want a bigger screen, the Galaxy A33 has a 6.4in display but is still relatively light and compact. There are plenty of third-party accessories available for these popular phones. The A33 is water-resistant to one-metre depths, has a big battery to keep it going, a good camera and 128GB of storage with support for a microSD card for adding more.

Similar to the Pixel 6a, the home screen can be customised, although app icons can’t be made quite as large. The rest of the text and interface can be magnified to make them much bigger, too. There’s a choice of swipe or on-screen touch buttons, plus some accessibility tools including adjustments for touch and hearing aids as well as a magnifier tool. Samsung provides up to five years of software support from release, making the A33 safe to use until March 2027.

The phone charges via USB-C only, and doesn’t include a power adaptor in the box. It has an in-screen fingerprint scanner for unlocking the phone and banking apps, which will be a bit more fiddly to use than a physical button. It also has face recognition for unlocking the phone via the camera in good light, too.


Samuel Gibbs Consumer technology editor

The GuardianTramp

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