Computer or Tablet Time for That Senior? Tips for Buying the Right One

The revolution in touch computing made reality by the recent Windows release and the flurry of new PCs and monitors designed to take advantage of touchscreen capability can be a game changer for many seniors, as we discussed in a recent post on Windows 8.

The new day in PCs and what it can mean to senior loved ones prompted us to go back and revisit our list of items for family members to consider when purchasing computing devices for seniors, which we hope is especially helpful going into the holiday season (and hopefully anytime).

There are, after all, many brands, sizes, speeds and types of computing devices, more than enough to make one pause, even when knowing exactly the features that are desired. Add in the uncertainty of trying to buy a computer for a senior loved one who doesn’t use a computer much – – or maybe not at all – – and it’s easy to stop dead in your tracks.

Often there is a first instinct to buy a computer or tablet for others based on what we would like, with features based on how we would use it.  That could result in buying exactly the right computer for a senior loved one or,  more likely, a computer that’s not matched with their needs – – and thus might not deliver the intended benefits. After all, for many older adults a computer can open new windows to the world via access to the web and social networking sites.

Computer & Tablet Selection Considerations

These are some questions to answer to make it make it more likely a computer or table selected for a senior loved one is useful and provides enjoyment long after you’ve gone (hopefully after setting it up and making sure they know how to use it).

Taking into account these points can improve the likelihood a device purchased for a senior loved one will provide enjoyment and other benefits well after a gift is unwrapped.

How will the device be used?

  • If your answer is basic web access, reading books and document creation, there typically isn’t a need the fastest and most expensive processors or large amounts of memory.
  • A device used for more advanced applications like home movie editing or game playing will benefit from faster processors and greater amounts of both RAM and storage memory as well as larger screens or monitors.

 Where will the device be used?

  • If it’s to be used in a single location, such as a desk or table at home, a desktop or all-in-one computer can be an economical way to buy any level of capability with the plus of greatest screen size optionality, both for touch and non-touch screens.
  • When a device is to be used in multiple locations, whether within the home or for travel, a laptop, tablet or one of the new convertibles (laptops that convert to be used like tablets) provide the greatest flexibility but also tradeoffs between screen size and ease of portability.

How will the senior connect the device to the web?

  • For devices intended to be used only at home or other areas with Wi-Fi, including public hotspots, the built-in Wi-Fi capability in most portable devices should be sufficient.
  • If it’s to be used regularly where Wi-Fi is not available, or if private or sensitive information (such as banking or healthcare data) is to be communicated or viewed over the web from public locations, cellular broadband capability should be considered.  Many portable devices include this as an option or it may be added via an attachment or by using a portable hotspot available from cellular service providers.

Before you go this route, keep in mind that many smartphones can be “tethered” to computers and tablets to connect them to the web. Check and see of your senior adult has a smartphone with this capability and, if so, if it is economical to use it.

Are there any physical limitations of the intended users that impact computing?

  • For some seniors, larger screens may provide greatest access and enjoyment to those with reduced vision.
  • For those whose dexterity is limited by arthritis, injury or other cause, touchscreens, which are now widely available in all sizes with devices using Windows 8, may provide greatest access.

 Is there a benefit to getting a device compatible with those used by family and friends?

  • Consider how the computer will be used, as file sharing, especially with documents, is often easiest with compatible devices.
  • Family members may be better able to provide time and money saving tech support if the senior’s device is compatible with their own.

There may be other factors that determine if a device is just right for the senior who’s your intended recipient, but these cover much of the group and hopefully prompt you to uncover any other important considerations.  If we’ve overlooked one that you found important, please leave a comment so everyone else can take it into account if it fits their situation.

We wish you fun in shopping and your recipient many years of happy and healthy computing!

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