Grumpy old man wants music.
December 11, 2010 11:51 AM   Subscribe

My 74-year old technophobe father has requested an "iPod" for Christmas. My mom needs help deciding which MP3 player to buy which he'll be able to operate easily.

My dad has a small collection of CDs (no more than 20 or so) that he listens to on an old Discman. He wants the iPod so he can stick it in his pocket and go out in the garden or work in the garage.

However, Dad is both technically-challenged and has poor eyesight. He has never really used a computer or any other digital devices. We're worried about him not being able to read the print on the screen, or becoming so frustrated when trying to play music that he won't use it.

I took my mom to Best Buy today to look at the available options and she's concerned that he would have a hard time working the controls on most of the players there. The salesperson and my brother are advocating the iPod Nano, which would be easier for my mom to load, but it is super small. Another option we were thinking of is the Sony Digital Walkman, because it seems like the controls are simpler to use (up and down arrows rather than a scroll wheel.)
The iPod Classic is way overkill. I had also suggested an older-gen iPod but my mom is not going to be comfortable buying something off eBay.

So - which MP3 player would you recommend in this case? Is there another option we're not considering?
posted by cabingirl to Shopping (23 answers total)
How about the Shuffle? He wouldn't have to worry about reading a screen, the buttons are very accessible and simple to use, and with his small collection, storage shouldn't be a problem. He wouldn't be able to access specific songs, but again, with a small collection, and for his purposes, that may not be an issue.
posted by litnerd at 11:56 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: don't underestimate him. I have an 81 year-old grandfather who had no issues at all finding and playing the tracks we uploaded to it within a day. this is the same person who, after twenty years, still doesn't want to deal with his VCR himself.

a great way to figure out if the nano's display is too small is to take him to best buy to look at one. or just give him a classic. the large display combined with album covers should do the trick.
posted by krautland at 12:15 PM on December 11, 2010

YEah, the Shuffle. No screen to (not be able to) read. He's not going to be putting music on and off the thing. Just load it up with all his music, tell him to plug it in every couple days, and there you go. He most likey does not care about order or playlists or such - just wants to be accompanied by some of his music.
posted by notsnot at 12:16 PM on December 11, 2010

The shuffle would be awful to someone who's used to listening to whole albums.

You can still pick up last-generation iPod Nanos on Amazon and various other places - they aren't as "omg awesome" as the new ones but they're easier to hold on to and possibly to use (that wheel mechanism is pretty tried-and-tested).
posted by dickasso at 12:35 PM on December 11, 2010

Response by poster: The shuffle would be awful to someone who's used to listening to whole albums.

Yea, I wasn't sure about the Shuffle either because he does listen to a whole CD at the time now. But it is very easy to use.
posted by cabingirl at 12:46 PM on December 11, 2010

Best answer: An iPod is actually perfect for this. Apple is very good at interface design, and the iPod is a great example of something that is very easy to use. I've used other music players and am always annoyed.

I wouldn't go with a Shuffle; if he ever wants to select what CD to listen to, the Shuffle will be cumbersome. He'll stop using it as a result.

You could consider the iPod Touch, which has a bigger screen. It's a bit intense for his purposes (like the Classic) but that is OK.

What is the problem with the Classic, just that it is too big, or that it is too expensive? If it's the former, that's not really a problem. If it's the latter, you might want to consider the Nano. I would also try a gaming shop in town - my local game shop sells old gameboys and iPods. THat might be better than trying eBay (although eBay would probably be fine, I understand if your mom isn't comfortable with it).

Be aware that you can change the font size on a Nano to large print.

I also agree with krautland's suggestion of taking him to the store and seeing if it will work for him.
posted by k8lin at 12:50 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't normally babysit my questions, but I'm visiting my parents this weekend so I want to be able to give Mom an answer before I leave.

What is the problem with the Classic, just that it is too big, or that it is too expensive?

A little bit of both. You and I know that it doesn't matter that it has way more capacity that he needs, but my mom would reject it for that reason.

We won't be able to get him to the store (Christmas = surprise, to Mom), but knowing that the Nano's font size can be adjusted is a plus.
posted by cabingirl at 1:06 PM on December 11, 2010

Best answer: What about an Apple Store refurbished (older generation) Nano?
posted by scody at 1:20 PM on December 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I just want to point out that eBay is not the only source for older models of iPods.

The Apple Store sells refurbished older models at discounted prices, and currently has previous generation Nanos available.
posted by needled at 1:22 PM on December 11, 2010

What about a 4 gig Zune? I don't have extensive experience with them, but a friend has one, and it seems to me that the large-font based interfaces would be a good fit for him.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:31 PM on December 11, 2010

Best answer: You can order via Apple Store and get it shipped pronto. I had ITouch, bigger and with videos, and listened to the music while walking in the woods. Switched back to IPod Nano, liked the smallness of it. I am 81.
posted by Postroad at 2:00 PM on December 11, 2010

Best answer: I'd get an older generation Nano and bump up the font size. I use the larger font size on mine and I find it very easy to read. Also, some of the Nanos (and most of the Zunes) have a built in FM radio, if he listens to the radio at all.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:00 PM on December 11, 2010

You could get an iPod Touch and create large-print graphics to use as the album art so that when he scrolls through he knows what he's looking at. Much more useful for his purposes than the actual art (I assume). One problem with this is that if he puts more stuff on it in the future, you'd have to create new art for it.
posted by rhizome at 2:11 PM on December 11, 2010

Best answer: Nthing an older gen iPod Nano. It's got more than enough space for what he needs, but still has buttons. I've got the new 6th gen one, and it's slick, but it's not nearly as user friendly. I miss my old one.
posted by Caravantea at 2:14 PM on December 11, 2010

4 GB Sansa Clip+ - this way you avoid the horror that is iTunes, just drag and drop, and the price is right, too. It sounds better than any iPod, too.
posted by rfs at 2:43 PM on December 11, 2010

I've got a Sansa Clip+, it's great for my purposes however the UI is fiddly and the text is probably too small for your average 74-year-old.
posted by dickasso at 3:10 PM on December 11, 2010

Rockbox, replacement firmware for the iPod and other players, allows the selection of larger fonts for some players.
posted by orthogonality at 3:33 PM on December 11, 2010

What about a completely shitty $5 generic plastic commodity MP3 player with no screen and three little buttons along the side that your thumb can tell apart because they're nearer one end than the other? The buttons on mine are stop/start, previous/volume-, next/volume+. It runs off a single rechargeable AAA battery and works just fine. I never have to look at it.
posted by flabdablet at 6:42 PM on December 11, 2010

Best answer: I got my mum a 16G refurbished unit and she loves it. I loaded it with her favourite greatest hits albums and she just keeps it on shuffle. If you make sure all his imported CDs have the correct artwork, then this will make it easier for him to keep track.

The big thing that helped my mum was a page of hand written instructions with simple diagrams. It can be a lot for an older person to take in in one sitting and it's good to have something to jog the memory or their liable to give up and just put it away.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:58 PM on December 11, 2010

After purchasing a Sansa Clip for my brother in order to avoid iTunes, I found that the player is fairly particular about reading certain types of ID3 tags. More often than I expected, it ignores most ID3 v.1 tags and some versions of ID3 v.2.
posted by Ian.I.Am at 7:52 PM on December 11, 2010

I would buy him the Classic, refurbished if cost is a concern. The Nano would be a second choice, because the display and the controls are smaller. Beware small controls! (My father can operate my iPod Classic just fine but glares somewhat suspiciously at the Nano because he thinks the controls are too small to operate.)

I would not buy a Sansa or other off-brand. Not because there's anything wrong with them from a hardware perspective but just because the tight software integration isn't there. Say what you will about Apple, they have the synching thing made absolutely brainless. Insert CD, rip CD to hard drive, sync collection to device. Dead easy. If you get anything else, particularly anything that requires music to be manually copied over, you are in all probability buying yourself a lifetime tech-support issue. Even if the Apple is more expensive, consider the value of your time. Any highschool kid these days knows how to work iTunes, and in a pinch you can always refer to the Genius Bar. This is not the case with other brands. Even if you wouldn't buy yourself the Apple, go with the market leader.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:46 PM on December 11, 2010

ipod, classic preferably. My technophobe uncle observed my cousin play with his some years ago, asked some questions, was invited to trz and was amazed how simple it was to use and how easy the display was to see. He then actually requested one for his birthday bud was very specific that the wanted the exact one. And he loves it and uses it all the time.

So challenge your mum and try to get her to see the broader picture here - this is supposed to be something your dad will get enjoyment out of, a gift and perhaps a treat. It is not about how much storage capacity he needs...but how much use he'll get out of the thing. An alternative would perhaps be more aligned to his perceived needs but if he can't/won't use it because it's too small and difficult to use (thus also not meeting his needs) the money is equally wasted!
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:44 AM on December 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I appreciate the personal anecdotes. I handed him my iPhone last night to look at pictures and he was swiping back and forth without any instruction. My mom was watching and I think we convinced her to just go ahead and get the Nano. I'll send her the link to the refurb models on the Apple Store too.
posted by cabingirl at 7:50 AM on December 12, 2010

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