Best On The Road Tablet For Grandma?
January 5, 2013 1:41 PM   Subscribe

I need to find a tablet and a good mobile data plan for my road-trippin' grandmother.

So my grandfather asks me a few months back if I knew what a good tablet would be for my grandmother, who wants to have something to use on their regular road trips. My grandparents are relatively young and highly ambulatory, making regular sojourns between Michigan and Oklahoma, Oklahoma and Texas, and driving around from place to place within whatever state they're in at the time.

Here's basically what I need.

1) She's not the savviest tech user. The simpler, the better. Which also means it needs to be reliable.

2) She needs the tablet for checking Facebook/browsing the Internet, maybe playing some simple games, some reading, etc. You know. Standard grandma tablet stuff. She's not going to try to put Ubuntu on this thing, so she won't really care if it's open-source or not.

3) Because they move around so much, mobile data is vitally important. It needs to be reliable and ideally a decent speed.

4) They're both retired and as such something toward the cheaper end of the spectrum would be ideal.

Based on these criteria and after months of research, I've got a few ideas:

Kindle Fire HD - I'm a big Amazon fan, and while I haven't had the pleasure of fiddling with a Fire I know their stuff tends to be relatively easy to use. The Kindle Fire HD (w/ads) is $199, fitting the low-cost aspect. I don't think the ads would bother her, because they certainly don't bother me on my basic Kindle e-reader. I'm not sure about the thing's web browser or other capabilities, but I know for game and multimedia apps it should be pretty solid. I've heard it has some performance issues, though, and the fact that it is so thoroughly integrated into Amazon might cause some problems.

Nook HD+: My other grandmother has a Nook tablet and she loves it. It's reasonably inexpensive, and it looks relatively easy to use. But I'm a little leery of investing in the Barnes & Noble ecosystem, since I'm not convinced it'll be around in a few years and it doesn't support other online stores. I also don't know much about its web browsing capability.

Google Nexus 7: This is the one all the tech blogs say is the best, and the price point is right. It'd be my first choice except it runs Android and I have some reservations about setting her up with that. I don't have a lot of experience with it, and knowing that it has more moving parts than your average tablet OS I might not be able to help her as much with it.

iPad/iPad mini: If money weren't an object I'd just tell her to get one of these and be done with it. But it is.

Now as far as the data plans, I'm at a bit of a loss. I don't really want to get them set up with a contract, but I also want to make sure they get a good deal on a quality network. NetZero is currently offering half off their mobile broadband devices, and has pretty OK data plans. That would be pretty simple and she could just use any of the WiFi-only tablets with it. But I don't know if I can get better data plans elsewhere, nor do I know if the Netzero network is any good.

So I pose it to the most knowledgeable and good-looking online community in existence - what should I recommend? If you need additional information I'll be happy to provide it.
posted by HostBryan to Technology (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do they have a mobile phone with data that they could tether to? If not, would this appeal to them?
posted by payoto at 1:50 PM on January 5, 2013

Look into refurb iPad + 3G models. Apple has an excellent and well deserved reputation for quality refurbished gear. It's not LTE but from your criteria it sounds like they won't be heavy streaming users, at least on the road.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:59 PM on January 5, 2013

The Kindle Fire HD would be a good choice, as the UI is aimed at the casual user. I have several non-techy relatives, some of whom wont even use computers, that carry their Fire's with them everywhere. I use my 5gb smartphone dataplan for mine ... It costs $52 monthly including unlimited voice calls and text messages. That would be my suggestion, unless they don't mind just finding hotspots ... which are everywhere these days.
posted by batikrose at 2:17 PM on January 5, 2013

If browsing internet is one of your criteria then definitely android. If she is tied up to amazon ecosystem then Kindle Fire HD, else I would just go to Nexus 7. And don't worry about her learning curve (not too sure if you have handled these tablets yourself), Android is pretty straight forward (and is low maintenance OS, because apps are cheaper or free compared to iOS) I recommend Nexus 7 because the OS update will come directly from google, may not be the case with Amazon or B & N.

I have Motorola Xoom (Verizon) and iPad. Both are used by DS (now age 4, using it since age 2) AND has a developmental disability. I did not have to teach him anything. He learned himself (in spite of his disability), so you think your grandma won't learn?
posted by zaxour at 3:21 PM on January 5, 2013

I love my iPad and can't advise on other tablets, but if you're looking to get an iPad on the cheap I'd suggest using refurb tracker to create an alert for refurbished iPads on the Apple website. Apple's refurbished page changes very quickly, and posted goods can vanish within hours as people snatch them up quickly.

Just the other day I created an alert for a macbook air with very specific requirements (13.3" screen size, 8GB RAM, 256GB hard drive, i7 processor, 2012 processor) thinking that it would take a while before this particular model would become available. Within two days, I received an email notification that it was on sale! I bought it for $250 off the normal price. It's worth a shot.
posted by melancholyplay at 3:47 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a rabid Nexus 7 fan (and Nook user) but I think the Kindle HD would be the best choice for your Grandma. While the Nexus and iPad are all well and great for what they are, the Kindle is basically designed with people like your Grandma in mind. Simple interface, everything just works together.

Having said that the Nook would have the advantage of the fact that your Grandma can go into an actual Barnes and Noble store and have someone who will stand there and explain everything to them in easy to understand terms. My 72 year old mother has thrown some weird queries at them and even had them help her set up an account here in the US so she can buy books when back home in Australia with ease and then explained how wifi works to her over and over again. So if you aren't there to help your Grandparents, the local Barnes and Noble stores will be. Which might make it worth taking a chance on the architecture.
posted by wwax at 7:04 PM on January 5, 2013

Have you looked at the Netzero coverage map? I don't really think that's a viable option for someone who wants to be travelling and still have access.
posted by gracedissolved at 7:19 PM on January 5, 2013

The Kindle HD is pretty nice. I played around with one at Christmastime. The ads only show up on the lock screen, not while you're actually using it (and for $15, you can get rid of them). It has a nice screen and good speakers for a tablet and is easy to use. I didn't like the web browser or email apps on there (they're serviceable, though), but the Facebook app was good. If your Grandma isn't going to do a lot of "productivity" type things, then it's a good buy. I'd recommend it over the Nexus 7 mainly because Amazon has much better customer service in case something goes wrong (I've heard a couple bad stories from friends who ordered the Nexus 7 straight from Google trying to get some things fixed, and ASUS isn't great in the service dept either).

But the iPad Mini really is the best.
posted by bluefly at 4:42 PM on January 6, 2013

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