Let's Buy a Cell Phone for Grandma!

When the kings of CrunchGear told me that my next assignment would be a buyer’s guide on cell phone shopping for Grandma, I scoffed, thinking it would be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, I was wrong. There are so, so, so many phones, and your grandmother hates most of them, trust me, I’ve read her LiveJournal.

If your grandmother is anything like mine, then she’s something of a Luddite. It was a struggle to get her to consent to a DVD player, but that was mostly because her Yakov Smirnoff videos were all on VHS. But she had the ability to watch video on-demand, something that was a dream for the majority of her life. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not a butter churn, either.

So this gets us thinking that grandma isn’t tech un-savvy, she’s just set in her ways. Maybe it’s not the “cell phone” that’s the concern in finding her a new cell phone, it’s the “new.” I mean, after all, she’s had her Motorola StarTac for years.

Before finding a gift for anyone, it’s important to understand her requirements. Some of your grandma’s needs may only need the phone for emergencies, whereas others will make you and your family rue the day you gave them mobile access, and that’s how we’re going to look at things, as two separate people, one who hates and one who loves new technology.

Grandma One: the Old-Schooler

Grandma does not require Bluetooth. Grandma probably can’t work a QWERTY keypad. Grandma has no MP3s. This grandmother doesn’t need the high-end or even mid-range features users like you and I enjoy, and there’s no way to convince her that she does. Grandma needs a phone she can take with her, and that’s about all.

Grandma might have arthritis, which rules out any phones with extremely small keys, so the SLVR and RAZR and KRZR and most other modern Motos are out, as well as many, many other phones. She needs big keys, and they don’t come any bigger than those offered on Samsung’s Jitterbug.

Jitterbug isn’t just a phone, however. It’s a package that includes simplified service. As network operators make their plans more complex (after 7 is free, before is peak, unless it’s a holiday, in which case it’s half rate, unless you’re calling Zeta Jones, in which case you’re a pervert, unless you’re last name is Douglas, in which case this article might apply to you), our antiquated relatives get more confused. Jitterbug mixes simple phones with simple plans: If you want 150 minutes, that’s $30. Thanks, and have fun at bingo.

The Jitterbug as hardware itself runs counter to pretty much everything Samsung (the new Sony) has stood for this year: It’s big, white, and clunky. But that’s exactly what Grandma needs. The phone comes in two models: the A120, which is just an over-simplified standard CDMA cell phone, and the A110, which offers over-over-simplified 3-key dialing to the numbers she needs, no T9 here.

Both models feature a padded ear piece with highly-rated hearing aid compatibility, so that even if she hates cellphones, she’ll love the Jitterbug. And she’ll understand how it works, so she won’t waste her minutes calling you with questions about text this and Bluetooth that, which gives her more time for her soaps.

Grandma Two: The Techie

Grandmothers have come a long way since the women’s lib movement, a good deal of them asserting themselves by becoming Golden Girls-versions of nerds. They play Nintendos, they use GPS, they email, they know what they’re doing, and they’re not afraid.

These grandmas are the hard ones to shop for. Chances are good that they have their own cell service and know exactly how many minutes they have left this month. They have figured out that there are games to be had, games they remember from years ago. And they’ve found that you are never, ever out of reach, even as she plugs more quarters in at Cesar’s Palace.

This grandmother is a different story. While many of the same obstacles are there (eyesight and dexterity are casualties of age), the accommodating spirit is, as well. This grandma wants the absolutely most capable phone on the market, but she still wants it primarily as a phone, which is where it gets interesting.

This itself does not make grandma unique, her bunions do the job nicely. Instead, it makes her part of the mainstream cell phone user market, which is where her geriatric particulars come into play. Find something simple that works on her network, so she doesn’t have to abandon her current plan. And pay full price for it, extra subsidies aren’t a gift, they’re a burden. If the phone is simple enough then you can get her what she needs without paying a premium for that which she does not. She’ll be happy you’ve shown such thoughtfulness. Load it up with a Matlock theme song ringtone, you won’t need stocking stuffers.

As proud mothers with grandkids, they like to take pictures, all the time, so help them. Look for a simple phone with a good camera, maybe something that makes it easy to load them onto her computer. A flash is handy, as church basements are often a little too dark. And video capture is great for little Suzie’s soccer game, which is useless to you and I, but a cherished memory to those from the Eisenhower administration.

In the end, grandma’s are people; they’re just very, very needy people. Any cell phone can work, but the trick is finding one she’ll like, so we hope this helps. Big buttons or big features, cell phones are personal, and people your grandma’s age tend to be particular. We’ve narrowed the field, but feel free to use the comments to share other ideas you have for your mom’s mom’s cell, we’re curious to see how the rest of your families work.