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

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

When thinking about a computer, many seniors consider both laptops and tablets. Laptops are heavier and a bit more difficult to learn but have more options. Tablets are easier to learn and lighter weight but more fragile and limited.
Laptop Or Tablet Which Is Best For A Seniors
Laptop Or Tablet Which Is Best For A Seniors
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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 cannot grasp tech! 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 now access the Internet or use a laptop or tablet computer? 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.

Are Seniors Really Scared of Technology?

New technology like smartphones, tablets, computers, 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 often, 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 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 computer 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 cruising around town. Similarly, once seniors get a feel for using technology, they may find themselves riding down the Information Highway at breakneck speed!

person using a table in front of a laptopPin

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, some laptops are easier to use than others. Here are the good and bad points for laptops vs. tablets for seniors.

Laptops are Bigger and Heavier than Tablets

Laptops are portable. 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 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 and type in “” in the address bar. Then, when the page comes up, they would enter their email address and password. Yes, this process has a few shortcuts, but it will still require multiple steps.

On the other hand, with a tablet, the user would 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 ailments.

Tablets are Usually Easier to Use than Laptops

Given these laptop problems, tablets are known as the easiest device for the elderly. They are much simpler to learn and use. The simple and intuitive touchscreen interface is a big reason for that. Companies such as Birdsong Life (a sponsor of this site) have made tablets specially designed for senior users that are easy to use but still have all the major functions a tablet should have. They have made technology truly accessible to everybody. And also useful to everyone – even seniors and the elderly.

No more typing on bulky keyboards and clicking the ‘mouse’ to give the computer any commands. Especially since some people with arthritis have difficulty operating a mouse. With the latest iPad or 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.

senior woman holding a tabletPin

Benefits of Using Tablets & iPads

Using tablets and iPads, instead of laptops 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 skill sets 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 delete programs and icons on a tablet accidentally. 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 connect with their loved ones instantly. 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 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 seniors. New skills are learned by watching videos about their hobbies or even downloading a new movie. These tasks, which 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 seniors.


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, seven days a week. Banking, shopping, learning, and 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.


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.

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 into 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 and not seeing. 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 it.

The overall sizes of tablets. The weight is an important consideration too. Also, remember that covers and add-ons, such as a senior-friendly computer keyboard, will add to the total weight.

3. Find a Tablet that is Simple to Use

Another very important thing to consider is how easy the User Interface (UI) is to use. Look for interfaces specially designed to make tablets easier for seniors to use, like the Birdsong tablets (a sponsor of this site).

The two leading operating systems available today are iOS (available on all mobile Apple products) and Android (available on 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 system before picking one. The next section compares these operating systems to help you decide.

elderly man holding a tabletPin

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 three 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 and 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


  • 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 and free apps are available in the Apple App Store. Apps available keeping in mind the special interest needs of the elderly
  • Apple approves all apps. So there is almost no chance of downloading a virus or an app designed to steal or corrupt your data
  • iOS is generally more secure and safer and protects your data more securely than other OS


  • Customization options are limited to the background color 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. Like iOS, the Android OS was made first for smartphones and then used for tablets. 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


  • A highly customizable system that 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
  • With other Android users, file sharing, such as photos or music, is much easier on Android than on iOS, thanks to different easy-to-use file-sharing apps.


  • 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 on 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 software designed to corrupt or steal your data. While anti-virus software is 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, making them unable to return to the previous screen.

Windows OS

The Windows 10 OS is the latest operating system for Windows tablets. Many companies, besides 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 its 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 browse the internet, play games, etc.

Pros and Cons of Windows OS for Seniors and Elderly


  • 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


  • 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 know what to expect from each of the three main types of tablet operating systems. Almost all 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 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.  While good, the newest entrant, Windows 10, is more suited for business applications than for casual browsing and light reading by seniors.

screen of a tablet computerPin

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 take pills
  • Listen to their favorite 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, laptops or tablets for seniors? Because they are lighter and easier to carry, tablets are a better choice for seniors than laptops. Most operate 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 three basic operating systems, each with plusses and minuses. Overall, iPads with Apple iOS are the easiest to use for seniors and the elderly. Yes, these tablets lack 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!

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Scott Grant, CSA®, SHSS®

Scott Grant, CSA®, SHSS®

With over 20 years of experience and certifications as a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)® and Senior Home Safety Specialist (SHSS)®, Scott Grant provides reliable recommendations to help seniors maintain independence through informed product and service choices for safe, comfortable living.

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4 thoughts on “Laptop or Tablet: Which is Best for a Senior’s Computer Needs?”

  1. Larry Laursen

    Very good article. It lays out the senior situation with computers very well. I do have a few things I would like to add. Now most of the Android devices are, by default, set to only download from Google Play. This reduces the chances of getting viruses. Yes, fully agree different vendors tweak the Android system. I teach classes on the use of Android smartphones and see this all the time. However, different versions of iOS have similar but less obvious differences. I.E. on iPhone X you swipe down from the upper right to get the control center whereas previous version you swipe up from the bottom.
    One problem with the tablet only approach is that many sites like Facebook limit what you can do on the mobile app. Some settings are only available by going to the browser on a computer.
    Windows 10 can be customized to operate like a tablet, but requires the initial set-up which can be troubling. Using the 2 in 1 laptops allows the total experience of both.

    • Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS®

      Hi Larry- thanks for the comment. Nice to have input on laptops and tablets from an expert. Appreciate your contribution! –Scott

  2. Richard

    I have been asked to help choose a surprise 70th birthday present for a neighbour who is completely non technical. I think they were thinking about an ipad but I was wondering about a chrome book for ease of typing things when required. Am I over thinking it? they are not too concerned about cost so maybe I should be looking at an IPad.

    I’d appreciate any thoughts

    • Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS®

      Hi Richard – I think I would go with the iPad because it can be simpler to operate. The senior can access the functions, apps, and, games by touching the icons which will be simpler than trying to find them in a menu or click with a mouse. I recommend putting the icons they will use on the home screen just to keep everything easy to find. Any other opinions out there?

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