Statistically, if you’re over 65 and joining the swelling ranks of the retiring Baby Boom, it’s likely you’re already one of the 95% of the U.S. population who owns a mobile phone. Originally, your choice was probably driven by style: Did you prefer a simple flip phone or a full-feature smartphone?

Today, an estimated 81% of Americans do everything on their phone.

More than thirty years after the first chunky, expensive mobile models were introduced, all but the most hardened holdouts have adopted mobile communication technology. And a scant dozen years after the introduction of the iPhone, smartphone saturation has skyrocketed as well. Just 7% of us used our phones for everything in 2007. Today, an estimated 81% of Americans do everything on their phone.

And although everyone hates it when we stare at screens during dinner, there’s a lot that smartphones get right.

Making the smart move:
Upgrade to the newest technology

Smartphones seem poised to push flip phones into extinction. These tiny supercomputers are everywhere today for good reasons; they’re the ultimate multitaskers. Fully loaded with features, ready to download apps, and hooked up to the right data plan, a smart mobile phone can do the work of a whole television or movie studio -- all while the aspiring director stays in touch with friends and family on social media and email.

If you’ve held out this long against having a computer in your pocket, it may be time to seriously consider an upgrade from a flip phone to a smartphone.

What are some signs that it would make sense to make the swap -- even if you’ve been one of the longtime holdouts?

  • You’d make good use of GPS navigation. Once you’ve navigated with a device in your pocket that knows where you are and can talk you out of a wrong turn with step-by-step directions, it’s really hard to go back. Add native integration with most modern car media systems and voice-assisted turn-by-turn directions as you walk through crowded city streets. It’s like having an invisible friend who always knows where you are.
  • Big, bright touch screens would help aging eyes. Once upon a time, smartphones weren’t as smart as they are today, and their screens weren’t as big. But those days are behind us, and engineers have created bright, clear displays that can display huge, crystal-sharp text and images. And while some older consumers may be apprehensive about learning to use a smartphone, the truth is, the blank slate of a smartphone screen is the perfect space for developers to create interfaces that are optimized just for seniors.
  • Web browsing from anywhere brings a library to your fingertips. The ultimate argument-stopper, fact-checker and question-answerer is right there in your hands at all times. With instant access to websites and apps like the Internet Movie Database, Wikipedia, Google Earth, and Open Culture (a free, curated, massive online museum and library of art and humanities), there’s never a reason not to know the answer to a question again.
  • Massive storage space for photos, videos, and music lets you take your favorite things with you everywhere. Once you’ve made the switch from a flip phone to a smartphone, you might be worried about how rapidly it will fill up with your favorite things, but never fear. The right model will have enough internal storage or removable media to handle even long trips away from home without breaking the back of your data plan’s streaming fees.
  • A better camera--or even more than one--puts new hobbies in your hand. Aspiring amateur artists, photographers, and directors have found an ally in high-resolution cameras loaded onboard modern smartphones. (The camera war may have ended with the Apple iPhone 11: it has so many cameras loaded on its back, the phone famously triggered some people’s trypophobia--the innate, irrational fear of clusters of small holes). And endless apps offer creative options for processing and sharing results after shooting -- you can make slideshows, scrapbooks, even short music videos from the media on your smartphone with just a few clicks.
  • Keep up with the cool kids; don’t cling to obsolete technology. If the vast majority of mobile phones in the U.S. today are smartphones, then the vast majority of smartphone-resistant users are over a “certain age.” If it’s important to you to maintain your mental flexibility, exercise intellectual adaptability, and keep up with tech trends (before they give way to the next ones), then the time to hop on the smartphone train is now.
  • Apps and games keep you sharp. Other ways to stay sharp using a smartphone are the kinds of activities you can use it for -- from reading a book with your book reader app to solving word puzzles alone or with friends. Apps let you download podcasts, learn new languages, explore meditation, even try new yoga poses.
  • Texting is so much easier. Don’t you always tell the grandkids “Don’t text me; I don’t do that”? Well, with a smartphone, texting becomes as simple as typing on a typewriter. No more hunting and pecking through the 0-9 buttons.
  • TV and movies in bed with two different screens. No matter what else is appealing about a smartphone, there is an undeniable attraction about a nest of fluffy pillows, a quilt, a pair of earphones, and Netflix. That’s a personal island of peace and quiet no flip phone can ever deliver.

Flipping back:
Move to a simpler communication device

During some life transitions -- such as retirement and house downsizing -- it may make sense to reevaluate whether a smartphone is overkill. For one thing, between minutes and data, a smartphone can cost upwards of $85/month. If most of your web-surfing and email is done at home, on wi-fi, a lower-cost alternative like a wi-fi-only tablet could help to bring down monthly costs while still maintaining phone connectivity through a separate, dedicated phone.

So what if a phone user doesn’t plan to shoot an epic, run a business, compose a symphony, manage banking and do online shopping from their handheld device?

Warren Buffett prefers flip phones. And he’s not alone. If you have a smartphone and you’re considering going back to the simplicity of a streamlined device that makes and receives phone calls and handles voicemail tasks, then a “downgrade” may help to eliminate the distractions and temptations of our always-on, 24/7, pings-and-banners, smartphone lifestyle. And you might even be catching the leading edge of a new wave. PBS reports sales of flip phones are up by more than 3% in recent years.

  • The phone hardware itself is typically cheaper. Whether you’re buying it outright to use with a pay-as-you-go plan or paying for a contract with a traditional cellular carrier, a flip phone will almost always cost just a fraction of its smarter cousins with bells, whistles, chips, screens, and electronic upgrades.
  • The phone can pay you back with a longer battery life. While smartphone users around you are continually looking for electrical outlets in every public space, flip phone users can sit back and smile, secure in the knowledge that their phones can go days -- sometimes more than a week -- between charges.
  • Speaking of charges, the monthly cellular bill is generally lower. When you aren’t paying for data -- the lifeblood of a smartphone -- your wireless bill savings can add up to hundreds over the course of a year.
  • If it is your first mobile phone, it’s simple, with a lower learning curve. Everybody has to start somewhere, and just like learning to ride a bike or drive a car, incremental skill-building is sometimes easier than taking off at high speed. If someone is getting a first mobile phone, then a simple interface, large physical buttons, tactile feedback, and simplicity of operation of a flip phone is tough to beat in a first phone – appropriate for kids of any age. Easy to use, easy to answer. It rings, you open it and answer. Voila!
  • You can show off the cool retro look. More and more members of the youngest generation are (surprisingly) increasingly happy away from the constant onslaught of notifications. Some are blogging about downgrading to flip phones to manage overstimulation in college. They may be onto something.
  • Security. As much as we love our smartphones, it’s impossible to deny: They’re potential data safety nightmares. On the other hand, flip phones are simply less of a hack risk because they reduce daily temptations to put more and more information online -- the realm where it is vulnerable to external attack, theft, and illegitimate use.

Before and after a switch

Switching from one type of phone hardware (and plan) to another can involve an extra set of considerations. If you do upgrade from a flip phone to a smartphone, or downgrade from a smartphone to a flip phone, bear the following in mind:

  • While mobile carriers are notorious for hitting consumers with termination fees for early contract modifications, they may cover the cost of ending a contract to upgrade or downgrade to another type of phone when needs change. Ask your carrier.
  • Your older phone (the other kind) may still be functional. Do you have a friend who wants to swap out to the other type? A grandchild who’s just approaching first-phone age? If you don’t want to keep your original hardware as a backup, you might consider passing it along (or recycling it).
  • Wondering how else you can improve communication efficiencies now that you’re comparing your needs to expenditures, capabilities, and features? See if your switch has made any impact on your decision whether to keep or dispense with a landline. There may be additional savings hiding in the copper wires hidden in your home’s walls.