In preparing this report, we came upon a number of smartphones and cellphones specifically targeted toward either seniors or children. In assessing performance as well as costs for both the hardware and service, we were hard-pressed to find any that earned good enough feedback from experts and users for us to recommend. That's not to say, however, that we don't have some advice to share based on our research.
Regardless of whether it's for a child, a senior, or anyone else who just wants a simple phone that makes calls and texts, and doesn't do much of anything else, the BLU Tank II T193 (Est. $30) looks like a good pick. It's an Editors' Choice selection at PCMag.com and earns a solid 4.2-star rating at Amazon.com. The BLU Tank II is judged to be comfortable to use with good sound quality considering its rock bottom price. "Yeah, sure, it doesn't do any of that 'Internet' stuff, but if you want a phone to give to a visiting relative, to throw in the glove compartment, or to give to a child for emergencies, the Tank II is worth picking up," says PCMag.com's Sascha Segan.
That's not to say that the BLU Tank II is completely devoid of extras. There's a 2.5-inch display, VGA (640 by 480 pixels) still camera that can also capture low-resolution video (320 by 240 pixels), an MP3 player, and an FM radio. You'll also find a flashlight, alarms, a basic calculator a voice recorder and more. There's no built-in memory, but you can add a microSD card (cards up to 32 GB are supported) to store movies, photos and music. It's available in either black or white, with a number of different color accents. Battery life is reported to be excellent.
If you are a parent looking for a "real" smartphone for your child, skip past those aimed at kids and head for our Best Reviewed cheap smartphone, the Motorola Moto E (Est. $100). Its balance of price and performance make it a great pick as a first smartphone -- build quality is good enough to withstand reasonable abuse, and its price tag won't make you wince too hard should your child break or lose the device.
The Motorola E doesn't have any child specific applications built in, but the available (free) Motorola Alert app can let your child trigger an alert to selected contacts if they are in trouble and send messages to parents to keep them apprised of when their child arrives at or leaves a specific location. One example from Motorola's support page would be to have an alert sent when your child arrives at school and another when your child leaves to return home.
There's also a plethora of apps available on the Motorola Moto E to restrict or keep tabs on the things your child uses or sees. Some, such as Zoodles Kids Mode, are pre-installed on certain devices, or can be downloaded at the Google Play store. These create a walled garden that's suitable for younger kids. For older children, a parental control solution such as Qustodio Parental Control (Est. $20) brings robust filtering and monitoring features to mobile devices as well as laptop and desktop computers. Qustodio is an Editors' Choice selection at PCMag.com, where Neil J. Rubenking says "This impressive parental control system includes just about every feature you might want."
For seniors, and anyone else new to smartphones, one of the big hurdles is usability. User interfaces can be intimidating for those who've never used a smartphone before. Some makers, such as Samsung, have built in a simplified mode that's ideal for such users. The Easy Mode on Samsung devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 (Est. $600 and up) enables both a scaled back version of the user interface with larger icons and text, as well as easier to use versions of some apps. This article at AndroidCentral.com goes into a little more detail.
If your smartphone does not have a built in simplified mode, a variety of third-party free and low-cost "launcher" apps that offer simplified interfaces for seniors and others are also available. Examples include Necta Launcher (for Seniors) and Wiser - Simple Launcher, both of which are free from the Google Play Store. Most experts consider the learning curve for mastering the iPhone interface to easier, but simplified launchers for that device are available as well. Examples include Easy Mode, which is available at the iTunes store.