Most of us have a technologically challenged elderly relative or two. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center (and several other sources), about 70 million people living in the United States today are over the age of 50—and about half of those folks are only “marginally” connected to the Internet (or have an Internet connection but don’t use it much). And about 30 million seniors aren’t connected to the Internet at all.
Enter senior citizens’ advocate AARP. With the help of chip maker Intel, AARP late in 2014 introduced a compact Android tablet geared toward seniors, the $189-list AARP RealPad. According to Steve Cone, AARP’s vice president of membership and integrated value, the organization identified the need for a product, a value-added tablet designed to make technology less intimidating for seniors. That happened in late 2013, when the group started holding its AARP Technology, Education, and Knowledge (AARP TEK) seminars for members across the country.
AARP’s CEO, JoAnn Jenkins, explained further that “AARP understands that while technology is a wonderful thing and boomers are one of the biggest consumers of personal tech, it can still be a daunting experience for a large majority of Americans 50-plus.” And there’s a lot of incentive to fix that, beyond a giant market opportunity: Personal-computing devices, like tablets, not only alleviate boredom and help stimulate the brain, but they can also help seniors stay in touch and participate remotely in events with friends and family.
The heart of the RealPad is an Intel Atom processor. About the RealPad itself, Brian Fravel, Intel’s director of North American marketing, said, “In addition to powering RealPad, Intel helped build the software and unique interface on the tablet, making it simple and intuitive to interact with a RealPad tablet, even for those with little technology experience.”
So goes the claim. Because of the unique front end on this tablet, and the services connected to it (which we’ll get to in a bit), this is a niche slate aimed at a particular group, even if the niche is huge. So it was clear to us that we needed to assess it from a couple of standpoints: First, how well does it hold up against other recent entry-level, compact tablets—essentially, its physical-hardware competition? Second, do the software, help system, and other enhancements succeed in assisting seniors not only to use the tablet, but also to access the Internet, e-mail, social media, and the like? We’ll look closely at that software and other enhancements in the Features & Apps section later on.
As to the tablet itself—its build and screen quality, overall speed, and how well it holds up to today’s other entry-level, compact slates—we’ll cover these issues in several subsequent sections of this review. In a nutshell, though: Suffice it to say that the RealPad’s somewhat sluggish dual-core processor (an Intel Atom Z2520) and short battery life might earmark it, at first, as an underachiever among under-$200 slates.
The processing power, though, is not at all the point in a tablet like this. AARP and Intel are banking far more on this slate’s support and learning features to set it apart. These include a “RealQuick Fix” option for near-instant tablet status updates and one-click problem-solving, as well as numerous tutorials, videos, and enhanced help files. Those items are backed up by 24/7 live tech support, and the purchase price also includes a one-year membership (or membership extension) with AARP itself.
All of this can very well be worth the $189 going price, provided the senior in question is willing to and able to work through the tutorials. The point behind them is to alleviate as much of the frustration as possible in trying to learn to use the tablet. After all, if you have little or no computing experience, Android (or even Apple’s cleaner iOS, for that matter) can seem intimidating.
Our bottom line? As compact tablets go, were price the only thing this slate had going for it, we’d recommend that you pass on it. But if you (or your senior) have been avoiding technology because it’s just too hard to learn, AARP’s RealPad really should help. It’s a good effort, given that it’s the first of its kind.
Read the entire review at Computer Shopper.