Windows phone – a disastrous christmas present

My 75 year old mother needed a new cell phone – she travels quite a lot within the UK and lives alone and it was time.  She’s been using an ancient Nokia for years – it’s at least ten years old at this point and doesn’t keep a charge and is getting harder and harder to use.  So when she brought up the idea I was happy to help her – although at a distance.  She had seen an ad for the Doro phone – which is aimed at old people.


The trouble is that it seemed astonishingly expensive for what it is and for what she needs – it lists at £230 ($350) for what appears to be a 2-3 year old android phone with a simplified UI.  If you purchase it with a monthly plan, it’s still really pricy since my mum uses about £10 of call and SMS credit a YEAR, and the cheapest plans were more than that per month with a 2 year commitment.  Even if she were to use 3G or 4G data for checking road conditions and her single email account, I imagine she’d struggle to use £15-20 a year.

So, thinking that we could configure any smartphone to more or less work like this, I decided on my disastrous plan B.  I decided to recruit my 14 year old niece who lives near my Mum to help her learn how to use a smart phone and set it up simply in the first place. I sent my sister to carphone warehouse with a budget of £50 to get a PAYG phone.  My recommendations were the following:


HUAWEI-ASCEND-Y330_PURPLE_1Huawei Ascend Y330


NOKIA-LUMIA-530_GREEN_1Nokia Lumia 530


The first three are android, the last is Windows phone.  My sister chose the last because my nieces have an earlier version of the same phone, so in theory can help her out.

I say in theory, because in practice it turned out to be a complete disaster – after fielding multiple phone calls with tears and stress and upset, I told her too return the smartphone for whatever candy bar feature phone she wants and use the difference for a nice bottle or wine or two.

Why was this process so traumatic?

  • My mum, although intelligent and educated and comfortable using word on a laptop and webmail in a browser (on a public library computer) could not grasp the graphical paradigm of windows tiles.  She wants, expects, and needs hard keys for on/off, home, etc.  Even after reading the limited instructions and getting advice from my sister and two nieces, she just could not grasp the tile and sliding concepts.  The harder she tried the more confused she became, the more frustrated she was, and ultimately rejected the whole thing.
  • Touch screens require fine motor control. This may be adjustable in the windows UI, but she struggled with touching accurately and quickly enough (but not too long).  She did not seem to have the same issue with an iPad – but even that UI was confusing and strange to her.  She likes hierarchical menus and the graphical stuff is way too busy and odd.  If you look at the image of the Nokia above – the ONLY tile she wants or needs is the phone.  The rest is distracting garbage to her.  My niece couldn’t conceive that she wouldn’t want Facebook and twitter on the home screen, because those are like oxygen to her.  To my mum, they are nothing of interest.
  • My mother’s eyesight is good, but the icons and colour palettes were strange and confusing to her.  She still is annoyed that a magnifying glass “means” search. To her it means “zoom in” or “make larger”.  I suspect you may be able to customize icons and colour palettes, but that would require a lot more time and effort on my part – for a phone that gets used for 10-15 minutes a month.
  • Many people of her generation (especially in the UK) have  great fear of breaking or damaging a compeer by “doing the wrong thing”. I’m not sure if this is due to scare stories in the news or just received wisdom, but I have seen this a lot. Devices don’t come with manuals any more – you are just expected to click around and work it out.  But if you think that there’s a “wrong” thing you can do that will destroy the item, you will never explore and discover.  At the other extreme is the young kid who will click on everything and work it out for themselves in minutes – with no fear (or concerns) at all.

The whole experience has been trying and frustrating for all involved and I’m disappointed we couldn’t find a phone that worked for my Mum – maybe we can try Android or iOS, but I suspect many of the same issues would arise no matter what the platform.  It has really made me rethink UI development from the perspective of the older, unsure user.  It also made me realize that the simplicity that Doro have engineered into their UI is worthwhile (still overpriced, though, IMHO).



About Raoul

With a fairly unusual first name, this is where I have to stress VERY STRONGLY that these posts are my personal opinions and in no way reflect anything at all to do with my employer. For employer-approved content, take a look at my work blog.
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30 Responses to Windows phone – a disastrous christmas present

  1. Pingback: Interesting article complains Lumia 530 too complex for the elderly, but poor configuration really to blame

  2. Avatar Jhon says:

    I think the problem was not the older person, but rather ignorance or tactless simply teach how to configure for people with disabilities. So from my opinion criticizes, is not problem of Lumia, if not rather of people who have purchased the terminal. And so easy to blame a phone and hand washing is rather to be unintelligent, except that he wrote this blog have problems or would be easy to blame the same mechanism rather well. Absurd blog comment and not objective.

  3. Avatar big_Stefano says:

    That was genius of you to send your 14 year old niece to do the work. There are so many things you could’ve done to make the phone more user friendly to the old lady:
    -make the tiles bigger
    -get rid of unnecessary tiles
    -make the font bigger
    I can think of white a few more. It would’ve taken you less than 5 minutes to customise this phone to your old lady.

    All I see in this article is ignorance on your behalf, a waste of time to whoever reads it and a wrongful information.

  4. Avatar Fausto says:

    Your personal IGNORANT RELIGIOUS FANATIC opinion…
    Giving a WP as a present is only as good as the relative who gives it and teach the new user how to use a WP, being a Fandroid yourself obviously this was planned to bash on WP… and that’s pathetic because you screw granny’s christmas gift by giving something you never knew how to use and YOU left your own granny to drown on her own!
    You disgust me!
    Why not giving her an iPad? because is so expensive that you would buy yourself a new Galaxy with that money…
    An iPhone? same as above…
    But… in the rare case you could have the guts to give her an iOS device as a gift, you now would be saying crap about iOS, because you, a good FANDROID, have no intelligence to learn all of those OSes and guide your relatives without RELIGIOUS FANATICISM towards Lagdroid…
    I have helped many people on my job(not related to phones) to use their devices, that includes all the of three platforms, all of them are happy after they learned how to fairly use their devices and were happy to learn the rest by themselves… That’s the way it’s done, without BIASES to any OS…
    Again… YOU, android religious FANATIC! YOU DISGUST ME!!! IDIOT!

  5. Avatar R Warder says:

    Ironically the phone you returned was likely the simplest and most suitable for her.

    Unpinning all tiles and leaving one big phone one takes 2 seconds. Also accessibility mode can make text bigger and even read out to help.

    Apple is less easy to have only a phone icon as is Android.

  6. Avatar Matthias says:

    You or ur niece should rly just configured the Lumia right…it can be configured (and locked to this config) very similar to the doro:

    Example (btw there is no need for the black and white theme)

    Too bad you already send it back, cause i think it would fit your moms needs

  7. Avatar DaFoo says:

    My 77 year old father has a Lumia 520 and he has no issues with it. He can even use an app to watch streaming sports games when he’s at the coffee shop. My 66 year old mom has a Lumia 520 too, but she just uses the phone tile, really. But she’s never gotten so frustrated that she gave up all hope. I would recommend just running through it with your mom, little by little. Reassure her that she can’t mess up the phone beyond repair. Old people can learn new tricks, it just takes time.

  8. Avatar Arun says:

    How much are you paid for this negative post against Windows Phone?

  9. Avatar Titus says:

    I am a windows phone user. Who used to use symbian and ios before. Concernin UI windows phone is perfect on that aspect and the colours are meant to make the phone attractive. There are dull colours in the list or you could just switch to black tiles. Also about tiles any unnecessary or unwanted one can easily be removed. The UI is the simplest to use with large words so you don’t get confuse. My mum uses a windows phone and with she even learned to use apps, I was suprised to see she had downloaded a newspaper app. I just did all the account configuration for her she also like the tiles and changes the colour as she pleases… So your claim that windows phone UI is a flaw is a very bias statement especially compared to other mobile OS. I have my frustrations with windows phone and almost every mobile OS. But windows phone case is not the UI. Unlike android. IOS is manageable.

  10. Avatar themadridking says:

    I think you were little hasty i your decision, so i leave a link to an article that directly deals with your dilemma.

    Additionally the title of your post is a little unfair to the platform considering you note that the same issues arise regardless of platform and its more an industry wide UI issue.

  11. Avatar Burt says:

    This blog post I’m sorry to say is completely wrong. If you prejudice someone beforehand of course they are going to find things confusing.

    Windows Phone is a SUPERB mobile OS for an older person due to the minimalist UI and large easy to press tiles. Also one thing to consider is Windows Phone is rock solid reliable and secure which means an older person won’t be “left in the dark” like you potentially would with some cheap Android phones or even iphones with their well known signal/quality issues.

    I would not hesitate to recommend a Windows Phone for an older person but I would hesitate with iphone and would sternly NOT recommend any type of Android phone.

    A relative of mine who struggles a bit with technology got a Windows Phone based on my recommendation and she says that its a breath of fresh air, meaning its actually very easy to use for her after she tried a cheap Android phone.

  12. Avatar Marc says:

    In my own experience, you should consider spend time with her to guide the setup, but she has to do it by herself. And once it is done, you have to show up her the key elements of the UI. She should then be able to understand and use it. My parents 70+ are both using Windows Phone without any issues and my mother was not a smartphone user before. At the end, what is important is spend time with them to explain, with patience and a positive attitude. Touch is not as easy to handle as one thought initially…

  13. Avatar BigBeans says:

    Absolutely bullshit. My gran can operate an windows phone and she’s only 80 years old, so can my mother and my father, they both only in her late 40s, the gotten use it, before they were confused for the first time operating my old lumia.In the past they found android confusing, iOS confusing after that disastrous iOS 7 update. Lumia was the best Christmas present. Androids and iPhones was the most disasterous presents I gave them.

  14. Avatar BigBeans says:

    My gran can operate an windows phone and she’s only 80 years old, so can my mother and father, they both only in their 40s, they all gotten used it, before they were confused for the first time operating a lumia, it was a different UI experience for them, iOS was confusing after that disastrous iOS 7 update. Lumia was the best Christmas present I gave them last Christmas. Android and iPhones was the most disastrous presents I gave them in the past.

  15. Avatar TR says:

    I think it is your fault as you havne’t placed the needed tiles logically to her needs. You can move and resize the tiles and set the start screen just the way your mother needs. You find Doro interesting? Well you can make the start screen on the Lumia just like it is on the Doro – you can pin contacts directly to the start screen. For example: Or if the screen is bigger (not the case for Lumia 530) you could use smaller tiles:

  16. Avatar eric says:

    So you couldn’t setup a Windows Phone home screen with the minimum tiles that you need? Pretty easy and has good accessibility features to the on as well. And then you think Android and iOS may be an option? You are kidding yourself, Windows Phone is the most simple of the 3 systems.

  17. Avatar Michael says:

    Hi, Just thought i’d help out if your mom still has the phone no one else has helped. My mom got a Windows Phone in May and it was her first smart phone. She doesn’t have the “computer literacy” that your mom has but she’s been doing very well with her phone.

    The great thing about WP is that it’s very easy to personalize. Almost anything can be pinned, unpinned or even uninstalled from the phone. Your niece didn’t have to set it up for her, she could have simply showed her how to pin ANYTHING to the start screen and showed her how to move them around. The tiles are huge and even if she had motor issues, she could have managed just. My moms home screen has Phone, Text, Whatsapp and Contact cards of people she’ll call as well as the Family Room.

    She doesn’t download apps although i’ll work on that the next time i visit. She knows how to save contacts, return a missed call and check voicemail. Everything else, can be done from her homescreen. It really is a simple platform.

    Edit: This may be helpful.

  18. Raoul Raoul says:

    Thanks very much – I appreciate the help. I wish I could have made these changes but she got in her mind that it wouldn’t work for her

  19. Raoul Raoul says:

    Fairly difficult for me to set up from 3500 miles away. I thought my niece would be able to help, but apparently she is less expert than I thought. I think that all three major OSes are more complex to older people than we think. Thanks for your comment

  20. Raoul Raoul says:

    Thanks for your comment – I had thought I would do that, but I guess we didn’t know WM well enough

  21. Raoul Raoul says:

    Not sure where you get the prejudice idea from. I appreciate your comment. I just wanted the best thing to work for my mum, but I think none of the major systems would work well for her at this point.

  22. Raoul Raoul says:

    Thanks very much for your comment – I appreciate your feedback. However, the point (which I may not have made well) is that those of us who work with tech are often not the best people to judge the best platform for older people. As the tech industry is dominated by young people, we often forget about the different needs and challenges of older people.

  23. Raoul Raoul says:

    Nothing at all – just my personal opinion. But if you would like to pay me, that would be great.

  24. Raoul Raoul says:

    I’m sure that’s true – and perhaps the issue is more with my Mum’s frustration than anything to do with which technology is better or worse.

  25. Raoul Raoul says:

    Thanks very much, this is very useful information. Maybe we can get her to change her mind.

  26. Raoul Raoul says:

    You seem very angry.

    Just for the record I have never owned an Android device of any kind – I think it’s a poor, cheap imitation of iOS. But hey, you are angry and mean – please get some help for that.

  27. Raoul Raoul says:

    Thanks for the comment – I am learning that now. I hope we can change her mind and use some of these recommendations

  28. Avatar Mark says:

    I own devices on Android, iOS and Windows Phone and in my view, if correctly set up, the Windows phone should have done it but the configuration and training needs were underestimated !

    In the UK, for low usage smartphones the “3” network and the PAYG 3 2 1 scheme is the best bet.

  29. Avatar John says:

    Towards the end of this post you say:

    “…maybe we can try Android or iOS, but I suspect many of the same issues would arise no matter what the platform.”

    That is quite accurate. In that case though, why use a title that implies that it was the fault of Windows Phone? You obviously bear no specific responsibility to promote WP but, as a user myself, it frustrates me that there is so much misinformation out there about the platform. I’ve heard stories about sales people recommending customers not to buy Windows Phone devices, only to be shown their existing device by that customer and being surprised at what it can do. The title of your post is just one more in a long line of things that paint Windows Phone as something that it’s not not and hold it back as a result. If you care to be fair, change the title of this post because the fault was primarily with the configuration and advice, not the device, and anything that was due to the device would have been appreciably different on another platform.

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