As a child I learned to respect my elders, but it’s awfully hard to do that when they can’t grasp a concept as simple as cut and paste!
Seriously, at the risk of sounding like a jerk, most of the people I know over the age of 60 have trouble with computers. It’s not their fault; they didn’t have the luxury of growing up with them. And even in 2014, PCs remain annoyingly unintuitive. Shutting down Windows 8 is a four-step process, for crying out loud.
So here’s my dilemma: My parents (who are in their late 70s and early 80s) have had it with their current laptops, which take forever to boot and often end up infested with malware. And I’ve about had it with troubleshooting these and other problems.
Fortunately, there’s a terrific solution, one I’m increasingly recommending to older users: switch to a tablet.
Let me be clear on this: By “tablet” I mean an iPad or something running Android. Windows 8 in tablet form is still Windows, and that’s something you shouldn’t inflict on a person who’s supposed to be enjoying peaceful sunset years.
You see, most seniors have very basic computing needs, and just about any non-Windows tablet can handle them. Sending and receiving e-mail? Check. Browsing the Web? Check. Video chats with the grandkids, endless games of Solitaire, even reading the newspaper? Check-check-check. There’s very little you can accomplish with a PC that you can’t with a tablet.
What’s more, a tablet goes from standby to on (and on to standby) in an instant. No endless waits for booting and shutdown. No viruses, either. And no Blue Screens of Death. (I still get those from time to time on my supposedly advanced Windows 8 Ultrabook.)
Of course, right out of the box, most tablets aren’t equipped to pull laptop duty. For that you need to make a few simple (and inexpensive) modifications:
1. Prop it up
Obviously a tablet doesn’t have to stay anchored to a desk, but if it’s going to be used for things like composing documents and e-mail (see number 2, below), you’ll need a way to prop it up at a comfortable viewing angle.
But don’t spend a bunch of money on a tablet stand. Instead, hit up your local thrift shop for a picture or plate stand, which can easily hold a tablet upright. Alternately, there are any number of DIY tablet stands, including some cobbled together from LEGO, office supplies, and scrap pieces of wood.
2. Add a keyboard
Tablets have onscreen keyboards, of course, but they occupy nearly half the display and don’t allow for comfortable touch-typing.
Fortunately, most tablets also have Bluetooth, meaning they can be paired with any Bluetooth keyboard. iPad users have the most options here, as companies like Kensington and Logitech offers keyboard cases (which also solve the propping problem, above). But keyboard cases can be cramped. If the tablet is mostly for use around the house, choose something with a full-size set of keys. The AmazonBasics Bluetooth Keyboard, for example, works with most tablets and sells for just $25.99. Cheaper still is the Aerb Portable Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard (currently $15 at Amazon), which even comes with a tablet stand.
3. Install extra apps
Out of the box, most tablets come with a pretty minimal set of apps–but apps are a huge part of a tablet’s appeal, so stock up. At the very least, you’ll probably want to add a word processor, which on Android means Quickoffice and on iPad means Pages. Both are free.
For the news junkie, it’s hard to beat PressReader, which delivers newspapers from around the world–and allows larger font sizes for easier reading. Yesterday USA (iPad) streams old-time radio shows, while Postcards (iPad) shows photos, videos, and messages (sent from family members) in a senior-friendly format.
And there are so many other apps that may appeal to seniors: NPR, TED Talks, Words with Friends, and WebMD, to name just a few.
Remember: respect your elders. Give them a tablet and spare them the horrors of modern computing.
Veteran technology writer Rick Broida is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his money-saving expertise to CNET and Savings.com, and also writes for PC World and Wired.