All that Apple Excitement—What does it mean for Seniors?

We assume that today our readers fall into three groups: Those who’ve already gorged themselves on the news of Apple’s latest iPhone; those who are wondering whether there’s anything in all the hype they should care about, and those who long for a simple phone that just makes calls.

As for what you should care about, the big story is that now you can finally buy an iPhone with a larger screen, either 4.7 inches or 5.5 inches. There’s no question this is a benefit to aging eyes as well as aging hands, since it means the letters on virtual keyboards should be bigger.

Still, we must urge that if you have vision or finger flexibility concerns, you should try out any phone you plan to buy or lease in person. A reviewer’s “lightweight and elegant” may be your version of “heavy and clunky.”

The hardware should determine your choice, because unless you’re a power user, the operating system (OS) that runs your phone is likely to be fairly irrelevant to you. However, if you want to exchange data among multiple devices, such as your phone and your tablet, it will make your life easier to stick to one operating system.

That said, as more and more mobile health applications come online, which OS your phone runs may become increasingly important. Just like with software programs on desktop computers, not all apps are available or can run on all phones, so if you’re devoted to specific apps, you need to pay attention to which phone OS you choose.  For example, Apple’s new iOS8, available on its newly announced phones and downloadable on some of its older models, has a health app that will work in partnership with the Mayo Clinic.

Bottom Line: If you’re an Apple fanatic, you’ve already pre-ordered your phone. If you’re not, there’s no rush, take your time, visit your local phone store and see what feels best for you, while considering what apps you’re likely to use. But before you go with one of the legacy carriers, also check out lower-cost alternatives, such as wi-fi providers. In an earlier post on re-selling phones, we passed along this advice: “a good cost-saving strategy is to buy  your phone at a discount on a two-year contract, then keep the phone when the contract is up and switch to a lower cost or pay-as-you-go carrier.”

If there’s an AT&T store near you, we would add one surprising choice to your shopping list. Amazon’s Fire Phone has not been embraced by either the press or public, but with the recent price drop to 99 cents, it’s now worth considering. It’s lightweight, has a large, crisp screen, and two valuable benefits: You get a year’s free of Amazon Prime and 24/7 tech support. The downside is that in order to get that 99 cent price, you have to have a two-year AT&T mobile contract, for which we were quoted a minimum $60. a month.

Finally, one piece of happy news—basic phones still exist! Many are pre-paid or no contract models that you can buy at Radio Shack and other retailers, others are available through major carriers such as AT&T and Verizon. It is important to try them out in person, because while some have buttons that are easy to press and read, others have buttons so tiny they’d frustrate a parakeet. UPDATE: A reader asked if these basic phones can be used to read and send text messages. Generally, the answer is yes (double-check before you buy), but often it’s a slower, clunkier process than on a smart phone.

More details and a hands-on view of the new iPhones in this video report from Scott Stein.