Choosing a simple to use phone

The good news is that there are now mobiles designed specifically for ease-of-use, and for people with hearing or vision problems. In this section we will give you advice about what features to look for.

The benefits of using a mobile phone are obvious – keeping in touch with friends and family as well as security when you are on the move are obvious advantages, so don’t let a poorly designed phone put you off, find a phone that suits your needs.

GENERAL FEATURES

If you are in the market for a simple-to-use phone the following list of features explains what you should be looking for:

Size

A small phone can be convenient to slip into your pocket, but too small a phone can cause problems for the user. As well as being harder to hold, the screen and buttons are generally too small for easy use.

Phone style/shape

You will find simple-to-use phones designed in a range of styles from candybar, slider, to clamshell even touchscreen types. Smartphone users can even download apps to make their phone easier to use. Doro has even developed a simple-to-use Android smartphone, the PhoneEasy 740.

Clamshell designs prove popular with many users as when closed there is less liklehood of accidentally activating their buttons. With more space to work with, clamshell and slider designs usually offer larger screens and buttons.

Big buttons

Large individual buttons that provide positive feedback when you press them are ideal. Many modern mobile phone keypads are too smooth with next-to-nothing to differentiate the small buttons.

Direct memory or speed dial buttons

Many simple-to-use phones are designed with one or more dedicated buttons that can be preset with frequently called phone numbers or even an emergency/SOS number. These make calling much quicker and easier. Most standard mobile phones can be ‘programmed’ in a similar way to speed-dial a favourite number, but the process is slightly more complex. They also do not offer dedicated buttons for this.

Easy to read display

Look for models with clear sharp displays, preferably with large characters that are easy to distinguish. Some phones offer a range of options for text display such as black text on a white background, white text on a black background, yellow on black, or yellow on blue.

Text Zoom

The ability to zoom or increase the size of the text on the screen is another useful feature that can help if you have vision problems, and is often found with specialist models of phone. This is sometimes described as ‘expandable’ text by manufacturers.

A simple to use menu system

One of the failings of many phones is that the menu system is complex and unintuitive. Look for phones that have a simplified easy-to-use menu.

Ring tones and ring volume

If you have hearing problems make sure you choose a phone with a loud ring tone. You can change the ring tone and ring volume on most phones, but some specialist models offer a ring volume of 100 decibels (dB) - normal conversation is around 60 dB.

Vibration alert

Nearly all phones offer a vibration alert to let you know when someone is calling – useful when you do not want the phone to ring or when you need an additional sensory notification that the phone is ringing. Specialist models sometimes offer an extra-powerful vibration alert that can be very useful if you have hearing problems and can not hear the phone’s ringtone.

SPECIALIST FEATURES

Hearing Aid Compatability – What do the M and T ratings mean?

As hearing aid users will know, digital devices such as mobile phones and computers give off radio frequency and electromagnetic interference. This can be heard if you are using a hearing aid or cochlea implant, as an annoying buzzing, humming or whining noise. This can make a mobile phone unusable if you are using a hearing aid.

Older mobiles and older hearing aids are more susceptible to interference, but with improvements in technology this has been much reduced.

Manufacturers are now also starting to rate their phones according to their suitability for use with hearing aids. This is done by using two ratings – the ‘M’ (microphone) rating, and the ‘T’ (telecoil/loop) rating.

M and T ratings

The M and T ratings are ranked from 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent). Only phones with at least a 3 rating can be sold as Hearing Aid Compatible (HAC). The best phone for hearing aid users to choose would have a M4/T4 rating and would enable you to use your phone with either your hearing aid’s M (microphone/acoustic) setting or it’s T (loop setting).

Using a hearing aid with the phone

We recommend that you use your hearing aid set to the ‘M’ setting with a mobile phone. Switching to the ‘T’ setting can cause interference. If your hearing aid is an older analogue one, or you are still experiencing interference with your phone you could try using a neck loop. This enables you to keep your mobile phone away from the hearing aid and will reduce interference. When using a neck loop the hearing aid should be switched to the ‘T’ position.

Hearing aid suitability

Choosing a phone with good M and T ratings is vital, but few people realize that hearing aids should also be designed to be resistant to interference from a mobile phone. Some models have better immunity to interference than others.

If your model of hearing aid is not rated for use with a phone, check with your hearing aid supplier for its suitability.

However, whatever type of hearing aid you have, whether analogue or digital, it is always best to try it with a phone before you buy, or ensure that the retailer has a returns policy that lets you return the phone if it picks up interference and can not be used with your hearing aid.

Voice amplification

If you suffer from hearing loss you may find a phone that amplifies the incoming caller’s voice useful. If you feel that you need an amplified phone, and haven’t already done so, you should have your hearing professionally checked. As a general guide most phones typically boost the caller’s voice by 10-20 decibels (dB), amplification of around two to four times. A phone with 18-28dB amplification is good for mild hearing loss; 30-48dB for moderate hearing loss; and 50-55dB for severe hearing loss.

Tone control

Amplified phones frequently offer tone control enabling you to boost high frequency sounds, an area of hearing that is often first to deteriorate.

Detects fallen states

Some specialist phones are available with a feature that triggers an emergency phone call or text message if the user falls. There are several models reviewed which offer this; The Doro HandlePlus 334IUP, the Amplicom PowerTel M6000 and the Oysta Pearl+.

Emergency calls/SOS

A useful feature on many specialist models is an easily activated emergency button. This can be set to dial and send a pre-recorded voice or text message. Some phones will ring up to five numbers in turn until a response is received. Better models from Doro and Emporia, for example, will detect when an answer machine is rung, ignoring it and moving onto the next preset number.

Remote access to the phone

If you think that you may have problems setting-up and maintaining your phone one thing you can to is to ask a friend or family member to help you.

A number of Doro handsets provide a way for them to do this remotely. Once given permission they can update or modify certain features, such as adding calendar tasks or changing emergency contacts by sending a text message to your phone.

Talking numbers

For people with severe vision problems a phone that ‘talks’ the number as you press a key can be very helpful. The Amplicom PowerTel M7000, Binatone Speakeasy 200 and Panasonic KX-TU301 support this feature.