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AARP’s free online classes can help you learn more about your smartphone, its capabilities and its apps.
• Senior Planet from AARP has live courses that can help you choose and use the best phone for you.
• AARP’s Virtual Community Center has a Tech Help area with interactive events that include smartphone use.
Just as computer shoppers must decide from among Windows PCs, Macs and Chromebooks, you've got alternatives when looking for a new smartphone.
With Apple's 'walled garden,' “everything is designed to work together well since Apple creates both the software and hardware.”
Essentially it boils down to this: iPhone or Android.
“I’d argue iPhone isn’t as intuitive to use as it was, say, five years ago. ... Samsung, conversely, has done a much better job over time to make its devices easier to use.”
"Most of the core functionality, though, will be the same regardless of the phone you choose,” says Dan Ackerman, editorial director for computers and gaming at CNET, one of the most popular online tech resources. “Most phones make calls, browse the web, take photos and so on, but some phones have specialized features like folding screens or extra camera lenses.”
Although the two camps have many similarities in hardware and software, the two operating systems — Apple's iOS and Google's Android — have different looks, feels and feature sets. Price, screen size and weight also can vary greatly.
Choice is good, but it can also be overwhelming. So how do you know which phone will best suit your needs?
“A good first step is to see what your friends and family have, not just so you can try out a phone to see if you like it,” Ackerman says. “But you may want to stick with the same operating system, as some widely used apps are exclusive, like iMessage” for iPhone.
Putting your hands on a device is always a great idea. Go to your mobile phone provider’s store or kiosk or a big-box store to play around with something.
Hold it; pretend to raise it to your ear for a call. Swipe among apps. Look up something on the web. How does it feel and look to you? Your comfort with it is key.
Phone screens with any operating system and price point have gotten bigger through the years with many topping 6 inches diagonally. That can be good news for aging eyes. iPhones make up nearly 60 percent of the U.S. market; most of the rest are Android phones.
“We are living in the mobile-first era,” says Stephen Johnston, cofounder of Aging2.0 and founder of Fordcastle innovation consultancy. Today product developers and service providers assume that you own a smartphone.
“The phone is the hub of a digitally connected life,” he says. “For whatever people need, whether it’s a smart collar for their pet or a security device, it’s all going to be coming into the phone.”
The following is a closer and somewhat subjective look at the pros and cons of each major platform — including the software, hardware and services you can expect from each of the two major players.
A look at the operating systems, apps
iPhone. Of all the phones available, iPhone, which runs Apple's iOS operating system, is the easiest to use. If you're not very tech savvy, look here first.
"Everything is designed to work together well since Apple creates both the software and hardware,” Ackerman says. “Many like Apple's ‘walled garden’ approach, which is a more closed and protected platform."
Apple's App Store has more than 2 million apps, many free or close to it. Almost everything you download for iPhone will work on iPad, too, because they run on the same operating system.
Simply tap an icon to launch an app — short for application, which is what programs are called on mobile phones — and swipe left or right on the screen to see additional apps. Swipe down to search for something by keyword.
But iPhone isn't the runaway choice.
“Interestingly, I’d argue iPhone isn’t as intuitive to use as it was, say, five years ago, as they’ve added many more features," says Daniel Bader, content director at Valnet. His company owns publications including Android Police, Make Use Of and Screen Rant. "Samsung, conversely, has done a much better job over time to make its devices easier to use.”
Android. Because Android is from Google, the mobile operating system is conveniently bundled with Google apps such as the Chrome web browser; Gmail; Google Maps for maps, directions and local search; and YouTube videos, to name a few. Like iTunes, Google also lets you download or stream media such as e-books, games, magazines, movies, music and TV shows to your devices.
These Google-owned apps are also available to iPhone owners but must be downloaded individually.
The Android operating system is also ideal for those who like to play around with the phone's interface, layout and app selection. Sure, iPhone now lets you add widgets, but it happened 10 years after Android offered it.