Whether in iPhones or Android phones, there are increasingly some great features being included for people with hearing loss and hearing aids.
Every cell phone has accessibility features, but some models are more comprehensive than others. If you have a hearing loss, pick a smartphone that supports your hearing loss, and can help you with listening tasks. This article will help you select a suitable model for your needs and budget.
Frequently Asked Questions
Not all cell phones are hearing aid compatible. While most modern smartphones, including all iPhones since the iPhone 5, are designed to be hearing aid compatible, this is not a guarantee for all phone models. If hearing aid compatibility is a crucial factor, it's best to check the specific phone model's specifications before purchasing.
Yes, a smartphone can be used as a hearing aid to some extent. There are several apps available for both Android and iOS devices that can turn your smartphone into a makeshift hearing aid. These apps use the microphone on the phone to pick up sound, amplify it, and then play it back through your headphones. However, while these apps can help in certain situations, they are not a full replacement for a dedicated hearing aid. It's important to consult with a healthcare professional or audiologist for personalized advice on hearing assistance.
To improve your hearing on cell phones, you can use a variety of strategies. First, ensure that your phone's volume is set to a comfortable level. Many smartphones also have accessibility settings that can be adjusted to make the device easier to use for those with hearing impairments, such as enabling mono audio or increasing the left/right balance based on your needs. Additionally, you can use headphones or earbuds, which might help you hear better. If you're using a smartphone, you might consider using an app designed to amplify or clarify sound.
Yes, you can connect your Android phone to your hearing aid. Many of today's hearing aids can be paired with Android phones via Bluetooth, allowing you to control volume, adjust sound preferences, and select specific hearing programs for different environments. Some hearing aids are even capable of streaming music and phone calls via Android's ASHA protocol. However, it's important to note that not all hearing aid models are compatible with Android devices. You should check the user manual, manufacturer's website, or ask your hearing consultant to ensure your Android works with your hearing aids.
Yes, you can connect your iPhone to your hearing aid. Apple has collaborated with top hearing aid manufacturers to create "Made for iPhone" (MFi) hearing aids. These devices can be paired with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, allowing you to stream audio, answer phone calls, adjust settings, and more directly from your Apple device. For this to be possible, your hearing aid would need to be MFi ready. Consult your user manual to verify.
Both the iPhone and Samsung phones are generally praised for their sound quality, and both companies invest heavily in audio technology for their devices. In terms of accessibility for individuals with hearing loss, both iPhones and certain Samsung phones are known to be hearing-aid compatible and to provide a range of features to support individuals with hearing impairments.
There are indeed special phones designed for the hard of hearing. For home and office use, phones like the Panasonic KX-TGM450S, Hamilton CapTel 2400i, and VTech SN5147 come with features like increased ringer volume, flashing lights for incoming calls, text transcription, and photo dial.
How can smartphones help with hearing impairment?
Whether or not you use hearing aids, your smartphone can help you hear or communicate better. Some features optimize sound streamed to your audio devices or hearing aids, while others turn speech to text, so it's easier to follow along.
Here are the most important features you'll find across different phones:
- Live captions: For video or audio streams that lack captions or subtitles, a smartphone equipped with this feature can create them for you on-the-fly—perfect for video or phone calls.
- Live transcriptions: Technically similar to captions, since a transcription turns spoken words into text, but different in that it listens to voices in your environment, rather than the audio playing on your phone.
- Real-time text (RTT): With RTT, you can text during a phone call, while at the same time submitting audio. The recipient will see your messages in real-time. This is useful when you can't talk. Alternatively, when you struggle to hear the person on the other end, you can ask them to use RTT on their phone. While both Android and iOS support RTT, not all cell carriers or phone models do; Google FI, for example, doesn't support RTT.
- Teletypewriter (TTY): A TTY device lets people with speech or hearing impairments handle phone calls by turning voice messages into text and vice versa. If your smartphone supports TTY, you can let it transcribe incoming voice calls into text, while you can respond with your voice. On phones like the iPhone 14, TTY and RTT work in tandem.
- Ambient sound amplification: Phones with this feature use the microphone to amplify ambient sounds, particularly voices. It's similar to the ambient mode in many active noise-canceling headphones, which lets you have a conversation without taking your headphones off.
- Customized headphone audio: This feature goes by a few different names, but it boils down to adapting streaming audio to your specific hearing impairment, much like hearing aids. Some phones let you use an audiogram, others will perform a basic hearing screening test, or you can manually choose your preferred left/right audio balance. The goal is to boost those pitches (frequencies) that you have trouble hearing.
- Mono audio: In stereo recordings, one channel can play a different sound than the other. For example, in Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, vocals and instruments switch between the left and the right channel in parts of the song. With mono audio enabled, you can combine both channels and hear the same sound from both speakers, which is most useful when listening through headphones.
- Hearing aid compatibility (HAC): The HAC rating is an FCC standard that helps you spot phones compatible with analog hearing aids. The T-rating specifies compatibility with hearing aids that contain a Telecoil, while the M-rating applies to those without an induction pick-up coil. The scale reaches from 1 to 4, with higher values indicating higher compatibility, meaning M4/T4 represents an ideal rating. Phones with lower ratings might cause interference with hearing aids.
- Digital hearing aid support: There's more to pairing hearing aids with a smartphone than enabling Bluetooth. If you already own a pair of hearing aids, this might even decide which phone you'll choose. Likewise, if you're planning to upgrade your hearing aids, you'll want to choose a phone that will be compatible with your next hearing aid model. Consequently, you must understand the standard your hearing aid or desired phone uses to stream audio to hearing aids.
How to choose the right cell phone for your hearing aids (and vice versa)
Even if your hearing aids feature Bluetooth, they won't automatically support audio streaming from your smartphone. Not only should your phone support hearing aids, but your hearing aids also need to support the streaming standard your cell phone is using. Hence, check which Bluetooth standard your hearing aids support, then find a matching phone or vice versa.
These are the most common standards used for hearing aids:
- MFi: Made for iPhone is an iOS standard that works with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Apple pioneered this extension to BLE in 2013.
- ASHA: Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids (ASHA) is the Android equivalent of MFi. Google released this open standard in 2019.
- Bluetooth LE Audio: Both MFi and ASHA were developed before BLE supported audio streaming. The new Bluetooth LE Audio standard, announced in 2020, adds the much-needed audio streaming feature and will eventually replace ASHA and MFi. The much-anticipated Auracast broadcast system will also be using this standard.
There have been other wireless streaming solutions employed in hearing aids. For example, in 2018, Phonak launched a Classic Bluetooth solution in its hearing aids that could stream to both iPhone and Android phones.
Trends should continue to favor the BLE Audio standard, and this will also enable enhanced functions like Auracast for broadcast audio, another exceptionally useful Bluetooth technology on the horizon. Auracast is designed to enable an audio transmitter—like a public address (PA) system or a smartphone, laptop, or television—to transmit audio to nearby Bluetooth audio receivers, including hearing aids, cochlear implants, earbuds, and other Auracast-enabled devices.
Fortunately, not all is lost if your hearing aids and your phone aren't compatible. Most hearing aid manufacturers offer devices that can pair with both your hearing aids and your smartphone to facilitate audio streaming. For example, Signia offers the StreamLine Mic.
The best cell phone for hearing loss
Now that you know what features to look for, and how to choose a phone that will work with your hearing aids, let's review the phones with the best accessibility features for the hearing impaired.
While all recent iPhones are compatible with MFi, the iPhone 14 tops our list because Apple's flagship has the most comprehensive set of accessibility features. With iOS 16, Apple added Live Captions.
Apple iPhone 14.
Here's the complete list of features found in the iPhone 14:
- Support for hearing devices (M3, T4, MFi)
- Live Listen: Stream sound captured by your iPhone's microphone to your AirPods or hearing aids
- Sound Recognition: Program your iPhone to vibrate or visually alert you of a specific sound in your environment, such as the doorbell
- RTT and TTY
- Audio adjustments: Enable mono audio, change the left/right balance, and enable Phone Noise Cancellation to help you hear calls better in noisy environments
- LED Flash for Alerts for incoming calls
- Headphone Audio: Customize the sound profile for phone calls or media using manual inputs or an audiogram
- Background Sounds: Mask distracting environmental noise with calming “brown” noise
- Subtitles and Captions
- Transcriptions for Intercom messages from HomePod
- Live Captions
Apart from the latest iPhone, hearing aids that support MFi should work with all iPhone models released since 2014, including the iPhone 6 series. However, Apple recommends that you “confirm support for your model iPhone with your hearing aid manufacturer.”
Apple brings native controls for some key hearing aid features like volume control through the accessibility menu.
Within the Apple ecosystem, you'll find many other gadgets that pair well with your iPhone. The Air Pods Pro 2 earbuds, for example, support Apple's Headphone Accommodations and Conversation Boost features, making them work almost like a pair of hearing aids.
Google Pixel 7
Google's flagship phone, Pixel 7, features all the accessibility features supported by Android.
Google Pixel 7.
Google Pixel 7 highlights include:
- Live Caption: Works on media and incoming calls, supports several different languages, and can automatically translate media captions.
- Live Transcribe: Supports over 80 languages and is available for offline use after downloading the respective language pack.
- RTT and TTY
- Sound Amplifier: To reduce background noise, boost quiet sounds or specific frequencies, or adjust ears separately, all while using wired or Bluetooth headphones.
- Sound Notifications
- Hearing aid support (M3, T4, ASHA)
- Clear Calling: Google's Clear Calling suppresses background noise to make it easier for you to hear your caller's voice and for your caller to hear your voice.
Not all phones running stock Android come with the features above. For example, Clear Calling is currently exclusive to the Google Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. Others, like Sound Amplifier, are only available through a separately installed app. Over time, however, Google may roll these features out to stock Android, and hence other phones.
Android on a budget? Check out the Pixel 7a
If you're looking for a budget version of the Pixel 7, look no further than the Pixel 7a. Coming in at a $499 starting price, Pixel 7a supports everything listed above, with the exception of Clear Calling.
Samsung Galaxy S23
Samsung phones run on Google's Android OS, but with the company's own One UI overlay.
Samsung Galaxy S22.
While the interface looks different, the accessibility features on Samsung phones are nearly identical to the Pixel. Most audio-centric options are found under Settings > Accessibility > Hearing Enhancements:
- Live Transcribe
- Live Caption
- Sound Notifications
- Hearing aid support (M3, T3, ASHA)
- Amplify ambient sound
- Adapt Sound
- Mono audio
- Left/right sound balance
- RTT and TTY (under Call Settings)
- Flash notification (under Advanced Settings)
Unlike most other Android phone manufacturers, including Google, Samsung offers up to five years of security updates, keeping your phone safe and secure for longer.
You don't have to buy a flagship phone to access accessibility features. Older Apple, Google, and Samsung phones offer most of the features listed above, as long as you can upgrade them to a recent OS version (e.g., iOS 16 to gain access to Live Captions, Android 10+ for ASHA, and Samsung's One UI 4.1+ to customize the left/right audio balance).
Before you buy an Android phone, however, double-check whether your hearing aids support your preferred model. While iPhones have standardized hardware, Android hardware is all over the place, making it harder for hearing aid manufacturers to offer a seamless experience. Hence, your hearing aids officially might only support a limited number of Android handsets.
With this in mind, here are a couple of other Android phones you should consider if you're on a tight budget:
This flagship phone supports Live Caption, Hearing Aids, Mono Audio, and Channel Volume Balancing. OnePlus recently announced that it would provide “selected phones” with five years of security updates, putting it on par with Samsung.
Samsung Galaxy A Series
Samsung's A series has slightly weaker hardware than the company's flagship phones. However, the A54 5G packs a larger battery than the S23. The older A52 still sports an audio jack, which can be a lifesaver when your wireless headphones run out of juice. So check that model if an audio jack is a must.
Get the right smartphone for your hearing needs
Whatever your smartphone preferences, if you have hearing aids we suggest consulting with your hearing care professional and/or looking carefully at the manufacturers' compatibility webpages prior to either purchasing a new phone or hearing aid.
Tina Sieber is a technology journalist with over 10 years of experience and a PhD in Biochemistry. Following an episode of sudden one-sided hearing loss, she was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor in 2018. She has since started writing about hearing loss and reviewing hearing aids for major tech publications.