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Laptop or Tablet: Which is Best for a Senior’s Computer Needs?

Seniors often find themselves being teased because many avoid technology. Many people assume this is because seniors are scared of using technology. Some even think the elderly lack the ability to grasp using technology! However, these assumptions are just plain ole wrong! The fact is that many seniors don’t feel like they have a reason to use technology. I mean, they have lived without it this long, right? So, why should they access the Internet or use a laptop or tablet computer lnow? However, once seniors understand how using a computer improves their life, many are quick to like using these new gizmos. But which device is best for seniors: a laptop or a tablet?  In this article, I'll break it down for you.

Thanks to my friend Shaun for helping me out with this article. He works in the IT department at our local hospital and knows a lot about this technology stuff!

Are Seniors Really Scared of Technology?

New technology like smartphones, tablets and social media, is only for the young, right? Seniors cannot learn new things like using a computer or a laptop, can they? These are common thoughts. And, many times, seniors are even the butt of  jokes that make fun of their apparent lack of understanding of technology.

However, in reality, this lack of understanding is not at all based on fear of technology. Many seniors just do not know why they need to use it in the first place. The absence of any useful purpose for adopting new technology is an important reason why seniors choose not to add a laptop or tablet to their lives.

Here is another way to think about this problem. For seniors, learning to use a new piece of technology is like learning to drive a fast sports car. No one needs a sports car, right? Most of the good ones have manual transmissions. So, it’s a little frustrating at first. But once you get the hang of it, it becomes impossible to stop crusing around town. Similarly, once seniors get a feel for using technology, they may just find themselves riding down the Information Highway at breakneck speed!

using a tablet with a laptop in the background

Laptops vs Tablets: Which is Best?

For the elderly, desktop or laptop PCs are normally the only choices for getting online and using the Internet. These devices have been around for a while now. And, most seniors are already aware of laptops having seen family members use them or on TV. And, like most technology, there are some laptops that are easier to use than others. Here is the good and bad points for laptops vs tablets for seniors.

Laptops are Bigger and Heavier than Tablets

Laptops are portable. Simply close the screen and it can be carried with you nearly anywhere. But, some laptops are quite large and nearly 18" long. This may be difficult for some seniors to manage. Some are also heavy and require a good grip to hold onto safely. 

Laptops Require More Steps to Operate Them than Tablets

Another drawback with laptops is that many functions require multiple steps when compared to a tablet or mobile device. For example, to check emails on a laptop, the senior would have to open a web browser, type in "www.googlemail.com" in the address bar. Then, when the page comes up, they would enter their email address and password. Yes, there are a few shortcuts to this process but it will still require multiple steps.

On the other hand, with a tablet the user would just have to touch the email icon with their finger. And, if their login info is saved, their email box opens right up.

Another problem with laptops is that hitting special key combos, such as “Ctrl”, “Alt” & “Delete” can be quite a task, especially for seniors suffering from arthritis or other such ailments.

Tablets are Usually Easier to Use than Laptops

Given these problems of a laptop, tablets are known as the easiest device for the elderly. They are much simpler to learn and use. The simple and intuitive touch screen interface is a big reason for that. Within a few years, computer tablets such as iPads have revolutionized mobile computing. They have made technology truly accessible to everybody. And, also useful to everyone - even seniors and elderly.

No more typing on bulky keyboards and clicking the ‘mouse’ to give the computer any commands. Especially since some people with arthrits have difficulty operating a mouse. With the latest iPad or a tablet, basic activities like browsing the Internet, reading the news, checking emails, listening to music, clicking photos, and sending messages and videos to others is now possible at the touch of a fingertip.

searching google on a tablet

Benefits of Using Tablets & iPads

Using tablets and iPads, instead of laptops, just seems more convenient and natural for seniors. But there are other benefits of using a tablet for seniors. Studies have indicated that another reason for the popularity of tablets is that these mobile devices encourage the elderly to learn new actions and skillsets, while focusing on the things on hand.

Another important benefit: seniors are less likely to "mess something up" with a tablet. It is harder to accidently delete programs and icons with a tablet. Other benefits of tablet devices include :

Builds Social Skills

​One of the biggest advantages of using tablets is that it allows us to socialize with others. Easy to use apps for texting, voice calling and video chatting let seniors touch base with their loved ones in an instant. And, they do not even have to leave the comfort of their homes. In a way, tablets help connect people who live miles and miles away. This reduces loneliness and isolation with the press of an icon in a just a few seconds.

Lifelong Learning​

Tablets also help seniors learn and acquire new skills very easily. There are dozens of free and paid apps that cater to the interests of the seniors. New skills are learned by watching videos about their hobbies or even downloading a new movie. These taks that seem so simple to us, give seniors a sense of pride that does wonders for their self-esteem. This new way of learning and improving themselves has made tablet computing very popular among the seniors.

​Convenience

​Tablets help people do many basic activities of daily life easier and quicker. Some examples are shopping for groceries, banking, or ordering food from a restaurant. These can be done right from the comfort of their homes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Banking, shopping, learning, socializing are all major activities that are covered by a simple tablet. No having to get dressed, drive to town, make the purchase, load up the car and drive back home. Some seniors are unable to do these types of tasks. So, it is safer for them to use technology for these.

Safety

​Simply by downloading the right apps on your tablet devices, people can monitor their loved ones in real time. This includes aging parents and relatives. Seniors can also video chat with their doctors or emergency personnel in an emergency. And, get immediate help as needed.

senior man holding a tablet

Things to Consider while Choosing a Tablet

With so many things going for tablet PCs, you are probably considering a tablet for you or your senior loved one.  But, while shopping for a tablet or iPad for seniors, please keep these points in mind:

1. Choose a Tablet with a Large Screen

​Screen size is one of the biggest differences between a smartphone and a tablet. Most smartphones try to crowd all information in a sub-5” screen. Many seniors have trouble seeing these small screens.

Not so, with tablets though! A bigger screen can mean the difference between seeing clearly or not seeing at all. This is key for seniors with failing eyesight. Look for tablets with at least a 10" screen for most seniors.

2. Compare the Overall Size and Weight

​While it may seem like a small detail, look at the overall sizes of tablets. The weight is an important consideration too. Also, keep in mind that covers and add ons such as a keyboard will add to the total weight.

3. Find a Tablet that is Simple to Use

Another very important thing to think about is how easy the User Interface (UI) is to use. The two leading operating systems available today, iOS (available in all mobile Apple products) and Android (available in most other tablet devices, including Samsung). Each system has its own pros and cons. It would be best to have the elderly person try each of the systems before picking any certain one.​ The next section compares these operating systems to help you decide.

icons on a tablet screen

iOS or Android or Windows: Which is the Right OS for Seniors?

One of the first things you will need to decide when selecting a tablet is the Operating System (OS). There are 3 main choices available. All three perform basic tasks quite well. But, each one also has a few pros and cons.

Really though, there is no wrong choice. They are all much easier to use than past systems. A good idea might be to choose the one you are more familiar with so that you can help them out.

Here are the advantages & disadvantages of each OS:

Apple iOS

The iPad is probably the most popular tablet, And, it has its own OS called, simply, iOS. It is used for all Apple mobile devices including iPads, iPods and iPhones. iOS has its own Apple Store where you can download over a million paid or free apps (third party software). iOS 10 is the current version at the time of this writing.

Pros and Cons of Apple iOS for Seniors and Elderly

Pros

  • Powerful and very intuitive OS
  • Extremely easy to learn and use. If you are already an iPhone user, the device connectivity is much easier
  • Big icons which can be pressed lightly
  • Over a million paid as well as free apps available in the Apple App Store. Apps available keeping in mind the special interest needs of the elderly
  • All apps approved by Apple. So there is almost no chance of downloading a virus or a app designed to steal or corrupt your data
  • iOS is generally more secure and safer and protects your data more securely than other OS

Cons

  • Customization options limited to background colour and order of the apps that appear onscreen.
  • iOS does not support Flash animation. Some websites may not load correctly on iPads
  • No central file storage browser, unlike the Android OS. Different files get stored in the particular app it was created in
  • iPads are the most expensive tablets. If you are only looking to use the Internet for casual browsing, you may find it too expensive

Android OS

Android Operating System is another popular OS for tablets. It is made by Google and is usually found on several brands such as Samsung, Amazon, Asus and Huawei, etc. Like iOS, the Android OS was also made first for smartphones and then used for tablets as well. The latest version of the Android OS is called Nougat. Interesting fact: All Android OS versions usually have a dessert-related name!

Pros and Cons of Android OS for Seniors and Elderly

Pros

  • Highly customizable system which may allow the elderly to design the look of their tablets to suit their personal preference.
  • Android tablets are available in all price brackets, ranging from fancy expensive ones to dirt cheap
  • Google Now, the built in personal Assistant in Android systems is very responsive to verbal search requests and voice commands
  • Android allows users to have two app windows open at the same time. As a result, users can do multiple things. Such as watching a video, and typing a text message at the same time
  • File sharing, such as photos or music, with other Android users is much easier on Android than on iOS thanks to different easy to use file-sharing apps.

Cons

  • Not as intuitive or as simple to use as the iOS. This may cause the elderly to take some time to get accustomed to the Android system
  • Different tablet manufacturers can tweak the OS. So, not all apps are available across all tablets using an Android system. This may be difficult for seniors who may not find the same app on different Android tablets
  • Unlike an iOS device, which generally looks and functions in a similar fashion on almost all devices, Android looks different on different tablets. This may confuse some seniors who may prefer the comfort of consistency
  • Since apps can be downloaded from multiple sources, there can always be a small possibility of downloading a virus or a software designed to corrupt or steal your data. While anti-virus softwares are available for the Android system, if they are not updated regularly, the system may still be at risk.
  • Most Android tablets have a soft button to "go back”, unlike the iPads, which have a single Home Button to go back. The Android soft button can sometimes get lost in apps when they are in full screen mode, resulting in being unable to get back to the  previous screen.

Windows OS

The Windows 10 OS is the latest operating system for Windows tablets. A lot of companies, other than Microsoft, also offer tablets using the Windows 10 OS. However, the Windows OS is a late entrant into the tablet market and is trying to catch up.by offering a host of new features in their new OS. But, despite its efforts, it seems that Windows tablets are the ideal choice for people who want to do some really heavy-duty computing on their tablets. It is designed to do much more than just browse the internet and play games, etc.

Pros and Cons of Windows OS for Seniors and Elderly

Pros

  • Many people who are used to Windows operating systems on their PCs will find the OS very familiar and easy to use
  • Simple setup and minimal efforts for Windows 7 and Windows 8 users
  • Allows high levels of customization of the Home Screen, unlike the iOS
  • Supports Flash and Flash enabled websites and content without any issues

Cons

  • Highly susceptible to viruses and malware
  • As the Windows OS is highly robust making it one of the most expensive software available
  • Windows was not specifically designed for tablets or smartphones so the interactions sometimes seem a little awkward
  • In many cases, a stylus or a mouse becomes a necessity, which may cause pain for arthritic seniors
  • Given the fact that it is not a very “lean” software, unlike iOS and Android, the Windows OS may require as much service and maintenance as a laptop or a PC

Verdict: The Easiest Operating System for Seniors

So, now you have an idea what to expect from each of the three main types of tablet operating systems. Almost all of the three systems allow you to do similar activities. The difference lies in how easy it is to do these various tasks.

I think iOS is perhaps the most obvious choice of OS for the elderly given its ease of use and simplicity. Although iPads are priced higher than an inexpensive Android tablet, it provides a complete package of easy navigation with powerful built-in security features. iOS also offers millions of user-friendly apps.

Android comes in second place.  The newest entrant - Windows 10 - while good, is more suited for business applications than for casual browsing and light reading by seniors.

BONUS : Quick List of Activities Seniors Can Do Using Tablets

With the correct apps downloaded on their tablets, seniors can easily do all of the following activities with the help of their tablets :

  • Stay connected with friends and family
  • Remain updated with news and current events
  • Keep their minds constructively occupied
  • Set reminders for medical appointments and to take pills
  • Listen to their favourite music online and watch videos and movies
  • Catch up on their reading
  • Check up recipes online and save their own recipes
  • Create a video blog about themselves and their surroundings
  • Get updated medical information
  • Pay bills and complete banking procedures

Summary and Final Recommendations

So, laptop or tablets for seniors? Because they are lighter to carry and easier to use, tablets are a better choice for seniors than laptops. Most are simply operated by touching a finger to a screen to access the desired apps. They are also small and lightweight enough to easily be carried through the house or even out and about.

There are 3 basic operating systems that each have their own plusses and minuses. Overall, iPads with the Apple iOS, are the easiest to use for seniors and the elderly. Yes, these tablets lacks some customization and are a little more expensive. ​But, they offer a complete package for older Americans.

Tell me about your experiences using a tablet or iPad with a senior. Do you use one yourself? Let me know what your recommendations are in the comments below​!

About the Author Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS®

I work daily with seniors and the elderly in my position as a wheelchair specialist at a home medical company. I see the struggle they have maintaining their independence and living their daily lives. Most are completely unaware of the options and products out there that can improve their independence, mobility, and safety in their home. I created this site to help seniors, elders, and their caregivers make smart buying decisions about the many independent living aids on the market.

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