The FCC requires all cell phones to be compatible with hearing aids. Most people with mild or moderate hearing loss don’t have to do anything special to use a smart phone with hearing aids because of acoustic coupling, a technology that allows your hearing aid microphone to pick up sound coming from the phone automatically.
That doesn’t mean all smart phones are created equally, though.
Smart Phone Ratings for the Hearing Impaired
Cell phones have two ratings — M and T — that tell you how well they work with hearing aids.
The M rating refers to the phone’s compatibility when your hearing aid is on its microphone setting. The range goes from 1 to 4. The higher the rating, the clearer the sound quality will be in your hearing aids.
This rating will be more important for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. M3 is the most common rating for phones currently on the market. For instance, all iPhones currently on the market are rated M3.
The T rating. This is the telecoil rating and it will be more important to people with serious hearing loss, or those who need an exceptionally clear signal. When you set your hearing aids to “telecoil,” the processor picks up sound directly without going through the microphone. This cuts down on background noise and feedback.
This rating tells you how well the phone’s sound will perform when your hearing aids are set to telecoil. As with the M rating, the T rating ranges from 1 to 4, with 4 being the best.
Our Smart Phone Picks for the Hearing Impaired
iPhone XS: Any late-model iPhone will probably serve you well if you’re hearing-impaired. All iPhone models from the 5s up are rated M3 / T4, and they have a specific setting for use with hearing aids. There are many lines of hearing aids that are tagged “Made for Apple”—so they’re designed to be compatible with iPhones.
In addition, iPhones come with a number of accessibility features for those with hearing impairments. These include LED flashing-light alerts, closed captions for video, FaceTime for video calls—great for sign language conversations—and closed captions for video. Not to mention, there are a wide variety of iPhone apps for the hearing impaired.
It’s easy to stream audio from your iPhone directly into your hearing aids if they’re Bluetooth-compatible. And some have reported using their AirPods — wireless earphones for iPhone — as impromptu hearing aids. TechPP has published a great guide for setting your AirPods up with your hearing aid.
Alcatel IDOL 5: This phone has the less common M4 / T4 rating, so it’s worth including. The Alcatel IDOL 5 has a bright, crisp display, an intuitive design, and this is key, really good speaker performance.
If you have mild hearing loss and don’t wear hearing aids, a loud cell phone speaker can really make a difference. This model is known for its high sound quality, loud volume settings, and dual front-facing speakers. It’s also Bluetooth-enabled.
There are some drawbacks, such as less-than-flawless camera performance and too much preinstalled bloatware. But the sound quality and relatively low price point make this phone a decent choice for the hearing impaired.
LG G7 ThinQ: This is another phone known for its high-volume speakers, a contrast to the newer LG G8, which has been flagged for its lower volume, especially through Bluetooth.
Although hearing loss isn’t limited to older adults, it’s more common as we age and the LG G7 also offers Easy Mode, a setting that make this phone great for seniors. It includes larger home screen icons, enlarged text, a super-bright display, and simplified navigation for those with dexterity and vision issues.
The LG G7 also gets points for its wide-angle camera, fast processing speed, and lengthy battery life.
Jitterbug Smart2: Jitterbug makes a line of simplified cell phones for seniors that come with features specifically for the hearing impaired. This phone has an M4 / T4 rating for hearing aid compatibility, the best rating on the market. It also offers amplified, front-facing speakers and Bluetooth capability.
Because these phones are designed for an older market, this one comes with features that are great for vision-impaired users with dexterity challenges: a simplified user interface; a large, easy-to-read screen; and voice typing capabilities, for instance.
It also supports a number of health and safety options, such as the 5Star medical alert button; an Urgent Call line allowing users to get advice from doctors and registered nurses; and the GreatCall Link, which allows caregivers to keep tabs on the user’s health.
There are lots of Smart phones that work for the hearing impaired—but finding the right one for you can take trial and error. It depends on your hearing loss and the type of hearing aids you have. We recommend that you try out several phones in different sound environments to see which works best for you.