Tablets and Computers for Seniors: The Only Guide You Need
By Crystal Lee
| Last updated
Finding the best tablets and computers for seniors can be a challenging task, but it's more than doable. Yes, older adults can have a wide range of unique needs. However, computer manufacturers are continually coming up with new ways to meet those needs. From large-print keyboards to touchscreens to simplified operating systems, there are a myriad of options to help seniors stay connected with technology.
Besides, did you know that computer use is on the rise among this demographic? A 2016 survey found that 67 percent of American adults over the age of 65 use the Internet, up from 53 percent in 2012.1, 2 About a third of respondents reported using social media (and 70 percent of those who did said they check it every day).1 A separate study revealed that 25 percent of seniors play online video games.3
When choosing any device, the most important factor to consider is what you want to do with it. Do you just want to send emails and look at family photos, or are you hoping to watch movies, print documents, or create spreadsheets? Will it stay in one place in your home, or would you like it to be portable? How much experience do you have with computers? Are there physical limitations to consider?
In the end, the best device is the one that most closely meets your individual needs and preferences. The following information can help you determine exactly what that might be.
Desktop Computers vs. Laptops vs. Tablets
Among seniors, traditional computers such as desktops and laptops are more widely used than tablets, but tablets have become increasingly popular in recent years. In a 2016 survey, 32 percent of Americans over age 65 said they owned tablets, up from 18 percent in 2013.1,2 In order to select the most appropriate device, it's important to understand how they compare. Here's a breakdown of the differences:
Desktop computers generally have a tower or base unit, plus a separate monitor, keyboard, and mouse. They come with large screens and have many options for full-size, ergonomically designed keyboards (including some with large-print keys for users with poor vision). Desktop computers have lots of processing power and storage capacity. And because they stay plugged in all the time, you can leave them running without worrying about charging a battery. They can also be repaired or upgraded more easily than laptops.
Desktop computers are well-suited for tasks like word processing, creating graphics, printing documents, or just having more than one window open at a time. However, as the name implies, they are designed to stay on a desk; you can't carry them around with you. They also take up more physical space than laptops.
Laptops are smaller, portable versions of desktop computers, with a physical keyboard and screen attached as a single foldable unit. They have a touchpad that you manipulate with your fingertips rather than a mouse that you use with your whole hand, but you can always choose to add a wireless mouse. Like desktops, laptops are good for multitasking as well as creating and printing content. Laptops are generally less powerful than desktops, but they are more powerful than tablets. They also have bigger screens than tablets, with more storage space.
Tablets are about the size of a book or magazine and are the most portable option. They have touchscreens and are smaller, lighter, and thinner than both desktops and laptops. Because they have no physical keyboard or mouse, they are fairly easy to hold in your hand. Tablets start up faster than traditional computers and generally take fewer steps to accomplish tasks. They also tend to have much better battery life than laptops.
Tablets are ideal for reading, playing games, browsing the Web, watching videos, and listening to music. However, they are typically not great for multitasking or doing lots of typing. You can often pair them with wireless keyboards, but those keyboards tend to be smaller than the full-size options available for desktops.
How to Decide What You Need
Now that you understand the basic types of devices, it's time to think about what will work best for you. Here are some questions to consider:
What will you use it for?
Many seniors are looking to stay connected with loved ones on a simple, user-friendly device, whereas others want a more powerful machine they can use to create spreadsheets or edit photos. What do you want to be able to do with your computer? Here are some common tasks:
- Reading and sending emails
- Browsing the Web
- Shopping or banking online
- Keeping up with social media
- Making video calls
- Using a word processor and printing documents
- Editing or storing digital photos
- Reading e-books or digital magazines
- Playing electronic games
- Watching videos or listening to music
It's also important to consider where you will use your device. Will it stay parked on a desk or countertop? If so, how much space do you have for it? Were you hoping to use it while lying in bed or relaxing on the couch? Does it need to fit in a handbag? Your answers will help guide your choice.
What are you already comfortable with?
Think about the technology you've used in the past. Do you have experience with a certain operating system? For instance, you might prefer a traditional Windows computer or tablet if that's the interface you've always known. Are you accustomed to a large screen or a full-size keyboard? If so, you might want a desktop computer or a larger laptop.
On the other hand, you might be looking to simplify your experience compared to what you've used before. Maybe you don't need all the bells and whistles of a full-blown desktop system and would be happier with a pared-down laptop like a Chromebook or a user-friendly tablet like an iPad. If you're buying a device for a senior who is not well acquainted with technology, the intuitive navigation of a tablet touchscreen might be a better option.
What are your physical capabilities?
Even seniors who are well-versed in technology may find that their devices become more difficult to use as their physical needs change. That's why, for example, a larger screen and a keyboard with large-print keys can be useful for older adults with vision limitations. Some seniors find a touchscreen easier to work with, but those with hand tremors or joint issues may prefer the more precise control offered by a mouse. Portable devices work better for adults who have difficulties sitting at a desk, but tablets may not be a good option for those who struggle to hold a device in their hands. Be sure to take any physical limitations into consideration.
What to Look For in a Device
Computer descriptions can be long and confusing. But the information below will help you cut through the jargon so that you better understand what you're really getting with a particular device. Here are five things to consider when shopping for a computer or tablet:
Size and weight
A larger screen is easier on older eyes and requires less scrolling. Desktops offer the largest screens, with some going all the way up to 30 inches, but they also take up a considerable amount of space. Laptop screen sizes range from 11 to 15 inches and up. Tablets are generally between seven and 12 inches. Anything over 15 inches is too big to be carried comfortably, so keep that in mind if you're going for portability.
Bigger also means heavier. That might not matter if your computer is going to stay on a desk, but it's a real issue if you plan to carry it around. Tablets are the lightest option, but if you're leaning toward a laptop, look for one that weighs no more than four pounds.
The operating system (OS) is the software that makes the computer work. Different types of devices run different operating systems, so you need to decide which type is best for you.
Microsoft Windows is a widely used and highly versatile operating system that runs on desktops, laptops, and tablets. Many people are familiar with the Windows interface. These machines come in a wide range of styles and can cost anywhere from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars. One drawback is that they tend to come with a lot of unnecessary software, known as bloatware. Plus, they require periodic updates and are extremely susceptible to viruses and malware.
Apple computers are powered by the macOS operating system (for desktops and laptops) and iOS (for iPads). Apple machines are known for being easy to learn and use, and they are extremely secure, with little risk of malicious software. However, they tend to be expensive.
Chromebooks are simple laptops that run Google's Chrome OS. They are lightweight and inexpensive and are built around the Chrome web browser. Just keep this in mind: Since these machines are meant to be used while connected to the Internet, you will need Wi-Fi to perform most tasks, including retrieving your files.
Android is Google's operating system for tablets. Android tablets are made by lots of different companies. For instance, Samsung and Amazon both use versions of Android on their tablets. But because there is no uniform version of the operating system, not all apps are available on all systems. If you opt for an Android device, make sure it has the features you want.
Random access memory (RAM) is what computers use for short-term storage of data. The more RAM a machine has, the more tasks it can accomplish at once, and the smoother it will run. Desktops and laptops should have at least 4GB of RAM. Because tablets manage memory a bit differently, RAM isn't quite as crucial; most tablets come with somewhere between 1GB and 4GB of RAM.
You also need to think about how much internal memory you will need to store your documents, photos, music, and videos. If you mostly just browse the Web and send emails, then 16GB might be enough memory. On the other hand, if you download lots of games, songs, photos, and movies, you will need much more.
Maintenance and security
Before buying any device, consider how it will be protected against viruses or cyber attacks. As noted above, Windows machines are often targets of malicious software, making it critical to stay on top of security updates. If you don't feel comfortable doing that, see if a trusted friend or family member could handle it for you. Otherwise, you might be better off choosing a different operating system.
Chromebooks are a good low-maintenance option. They automatically apply updates and patches in the background, so you don't have to deal with doing that yourself. You might also want to consider an iMac, MacBook, or iPad. Apple tightly controls its hardware and software and only allows downloads from approved developers, so its systems are fairly secure.
Keep in mind, however, that there is still room for user error. Some people do not fully appreciate the risks of downloading files or clicking on links in unsolicited emails. It's important to educate yourself or whoever will be using the computer about the dangers of phishing and how to avoid getting caught up in scams.
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10 of the Best Standard Devices for Seniors
There are a wide variety of standard computers and tablets that work well for older adults, depending on their needs and budget. The following devices are listed in order from most expensive to least expensive.
Seniors who are familiar with iPhones and appreciate Apple's intuitive interface might want to look at the 13-inch MacBook Pro laptop. Its high-resolution Retina display, backlit keyboard, and excellent speakers make it ideal for older adults with vision or hearing challenges. It's also very thin, measuring only 0.59 inches when closed.
Price—$1,099.99* and up from Amazon
This Windows machine is an all-in-one desktop, meaning it comes with everything you need: workstation, monitor, keyboard, and mouse. The screen is 23.8 inches wide and has full HD (high definition) resolution, so images and text are crisp and clear. A boon for seniors is that the included keyboard and mouse are wireless. That way, you can adjust your sitting position to whatever is most comfortable.
Price—$829.00* and up from Amazon
Seniors who are looking for a powerful yet portable Windows device may want to consider the Surface Pro. With its sharp 12.3-inch touchscreen and detachable keyboard, the Surface Pro can function as either a tablet or laptop. This machine can run full Windows applications, including Microsoft Office. However, you do have to purchase the keyboard and stylus separately, which bumps up the cost.
Price—$625.18* and up from Amazon
Another all-in-one from Dell, the i3464 also runs Windows 10 and has a 23.8-inch screen that can display full HD. It has a slightly less powerful processor than the i5459, but this one is more affordable and is still good for everyday tasks. The keyboard and mouse are wired, but you can replace them with wireless versions if you prefer.
Price—$799.77* and up from Amazon
At 2.4 pounds, this is one of the lightest Chromebooks on the market. It has a crisp 12.3-inch touchscreen and a 360-degree hinge that allows the keyboard to fold all the way back out of sight. That means it can function like either a laptop or a tablet. (The keyboard remains attached, though, so it's heavier than a true tablet.) Chromebooks are great for web browsing; this one also runs Android apps.
Price—$409.00* from Amazon
If you're looking for a Windows laptop with a bigger screen, you'd be wise to consider the Aspire E15. This is a solidly-built budget laptop that features an excellent 15.6-inch HD display and good-quality sound. The keyboard is backlit and very responsive. At a little over five pounds, it's a bit heavy to be carrying around, but it offers a good combination of performance and usability.
Price—$402.59* and up from Amazon
With a 9.7-inch screen, the Galaxy Tab S3 is a thin, light tablet. It offers a beautiful display with vibrant colors, plus four very good speakers, making it an excellent choice for seniors who want to enjoy their favorite movies or TV shows on a handheld device. The S3 also comes with a stylus, which gives you more precise control of the touchscreen.
Price—$339.99* from Amazon
This is a solid choice for seniors who want a basic desktop computer. It runs Windows 10 and delivers good performance. It comes with a large hard drive, so there's plenty of storage space for movies, videos, and other media. Note, however, that this is not an all-in-one. A wired keyboard and mouse are part of the package, but a monitor is not. You'll have to buy one separately or connect to one you already have.
Price—$479.00* and up from Amazon
Apple devices are renowned for their usability, and the iPad Mini 4 offers a simple interface on a 7.9-inch screen. This tablet is small enough to fit easily in a purse or handbag and weighs only 0.65 pounds. Its manageable size makes it great for reading and web browsing; you can hold it for extended periods without too much strain. The small on-screen keyboard can be hard to use, but you can pair it with a wireless keyboard if you're going to be doing lots of typing.
Price—$367.73* from Amazon
The Kindle Fire HD 8 is an entertainment tablet at a bargain price. If you're an Amazon Prime member and get most of your e-books, digital music, and videos from Amazon, the Fire is an easy way to enjoy them. It features a decent screen and 12 hours of battery life. It also includes Alexa, Amazon's virtual assistant. It's not the most robust tablet out there, but it's a good deal for the price.
Price—$79.99* and up from Amazon
Computers and Tablets Specifically Designed for Seniors
While many seniors are comfortable using standard devices, those who have little experience with technology may prefer a computer that was designed with them in mind. The information below explains a few of the available options.
The Telikin claims to be the easiest computer for seniors to use. It has a plug-and-play setup and offers a simple, user-friendly interface, with large buttons anchored along the side of the touchscreen for each function: email, Web browsing, photos, games, video chat, etc. It also comes with a large-print keyboard and a wired mouse. A feature called Tech Buddy allows a designated person to access the Telikin remotely, so seniors who run into problems can get assistance from a friend or family member.
However, for the price, the machine is underpowered. (It has an outdated processor and only 2GB of RAM.) Plus, it only works with certain printers, and the operating system is locked down, so you can't install any software.
You might be better off buying a cheaper desktop computer elsewhere and adding special software to simplify things. But for tech-fearful older adults who have never used a computer before, it might fit the bill. (Telikin also offers a 15-inch touchscreen laptop as well as a 22-inch desktop model that includes text-to-speech, meaning it can read your emails out loud to you.) The company offers a 60-day money-back guarantee.
Price—$699* from Amazon
A Plus offers a range of desktop and laptop computers that run Windows, but with a special overlay that makes things easier for seniors. Initially, the screen has only three big icons for email, games, and Google. Desktop models come with a 20- or 24-inch screen, large-print keyboard, and mouse. (Laptop screens are either 15 or 17 inches and do not have the large-print keyboard.) Touchscreen models are available for both desktops and laptops.
The main difference between these and the Telikin computers is that these are fully functioning Windows machines, so you can add any Windows software or connect to any standard printer. The hardware is also better quality than the Telikin, with a faster processor, 4GB of RAM, and plenty of ports for connecting other devices. The company also claims to offer lifetime anti-virus protection, so security updates should be taken care of. You can try one of the computers risk-free for 30 days.
Price—$899* for the 20-inch desktop model with touchscreen directly from A Plus Senior Computer
Designed for adults over 75 who have never used a computer or who have vision, hearing, or motor skill challenges, the GrandPad is an eight-inch simplified tablet. It allows seniors to make video calls, view photos, send and receive email (including the ability to record voice emails instead of typing them), listen to music, and play games—all just by tapping one of the giant colorful buttons on the touchscreen.
Family members can download a free companion app that will allow them to send photos and videos directly to their loved one's GrandPad. Family members can also work with company support to specify what types of content should be automatically sent to the GrandPad. There is no Web browser, and users can only get calls or emails from approved contacts, so seniors don't need to worry about spam or security. There are also no passwords to remember or settings to configure.
However, the device relies on 4G connectivity, so there is a hefty monthly fee. And if you cancel the plan, you must return the tablet to the company.
Price—$200* for the device, plus $38 per month* for the subscription from Consumer Cellular
Another simplified tablet, the Claris Companion has a 10-inch touchscreen with a customized interface. It's designed to enable elderly seniors to connect with loved ones and caretakers and receive reminders about appointments and medications. Large circles on the screen activate various functions, such as photos, email and text messages, and Web browsing. Seniors can also use the "Check In" button to send a message to family members saying they're all right.
Care providers or family members can manage the device remotely and send photos and messages, set reminders, create contacts, allow access to certain websites, and more. For example, if seniors miss a medication reminder or fail to check in, family members can receive an alert.
Both Wi-Fi and 4G models are available directly from Claris Companion, but both incur a monthly fee.
Price for the Wi-Fi version—$349* plus $29 per month*
Price for the 4G version—$449* plus $49 per month*
Software Solutions That Simplify Computers and Tablets for Seniors
In many cases, a standard device can be made more senior-friendly with the help of special software. Here are a couple options:
Oscar Senior is an app that allows any tablet (either iOS or Android) to be turned into a simplified device for information, entertainment, and communication. The app provides a simple, secure interface with enlarged text and big icons that enable older adults to make video calls, play games, surf the Web, check social media, get the latest news, and more.
A family member (who must also download the app) acts as a designated administrator and can remotely manage the senior's contacts and content. An administrator can even make a video call to the senior and have it auto-answered, so the senior can get connected without even having to touch the tablet. The senior cannot close the app or download any additional apps, and the interface blocks popups and alerts from third parties. However, administrators can easily exit the app, so the tablet can be used for other things.
The app is free for seven days, but then a subscription is required.
Price—$4.99 per month* or $49.99 per year* for one user; family plans are also available.
You can make a standard personal computer much easier for seniors to use by downloading the free Eldy software. It works on older computers running Windows 7 as well as some Android tablets. Eldy transforms the screen into a simplified menu of six large buttons for accessing the Internet, email, video calls, and more. Navigation is easy, as there is always a button along the bottom for returning to the main screen. Users can also close the software in order to use the computer as normal. (They get warnings asking them if they're sure that's what they want to do.) If they want to go back to Eldy, they just click on the Eldy icon.
With the vast array of options for tablets and computers for seniors, it's easier than ever to reap the benefits of technology. Finding the best option is a matter of deciding what you'd like to accomplish and what you're most comfortable with. Whatever your particular needs, you can definitely find a device to suit you.
*(Prices are current as of May 2, 2019.)