Shopping for a budget laptop for seventy year old
October 25, 2020 11:37 PM   Subscribe

How do I sort though all the possibilities? My head swims when I read about all the options. Just when I think I have found "the one," I find that it is now unavailable, or has poor reviews. Should I even read the reviews? Fading vision, hearing loss, occasional issues with hand and arm strength factor in selection.

I think his needs are simple, but not easily shopped for. What he does NOT do: word processing, spreadsheets, work documents, games, video editing. What he DOES: internet browsing, simple photo editing, lots of photo storage and viewing, listening to music. He needs great screen clarity, easy on old eyes; good sound quality for low quality ears. Arthritic shoulders and hands make a lighter weight desirable. He needs a card slot or USB to connect a card reader. Favors Windows over Chrome due to visibility of address bar. Budget is $300 to $400.

The usual tech sites try to up sell, oversell, and leave me feeling like I am not savvy enough to know that I really need more bells and whistles. Tell me where and how to shop, or just tell me which f###ing one to get him. I am way to old for this! We do not have a teenage grandson to do this for us.
posted by woman to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
I always advise people confused about what to get to go to The Wirecutter. It’ll be hard to get good reviews on the things that matter most to a 70 year old, since people who review tech skew young. But that site is the best I know at breaking down what to buy.
posted by Pacrand at 12:27 AM on October 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

good sound quality for low quality ears

is unavailable from laptop speakers at any price, but very easily achieved from any laptop using even half-decent earbuds.

Also, I'm 58, not 70, but I'm sure I speak for a goodly proportion of elders when I say that the simple, predictable failure modes of wired earbuds with an ordinary audio plug make them an instant, no-brainer choice over anything Bluetooth-based.
posted by flabdablet at 2:13 AM on October 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

You may end up using accessibility features with what you decide upon. Users don’t need to be fully Deaf or totally blind to use them and have a less frustrating experience. Look up Microsoft Accessibility if you go with a PC. There is a Dictate function when it’s a tough day for using the keyboard. Apple is also robust with options. If you use Google, set up a Google Meet with the captions on. This is not a substitute for actual closed captioning but makes life a little easier if audio-only is faint, or hearing aids need a tuneup.
posted by childofTethys at 4:18 AM on October 26, 2020

The new iPad Air - it has keyboard and trackpad support, and you can use cards and stuff with a dongle due to the USB-C connector. Accessibility settings are top notch.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:16 AM on October 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Can't help with a brand recommendation, but to those who are I'd like suggest you make sure the letters on the keyboard are clear & easy to see with a high contrast. We spent $500 on a laptop for a parent, who never used it as she couldn't read the keys easily.

Most laptop built in speakers suck if you're harder of hearing as everything is muffled, you may want to look at some easy to plug in headphones or a speakers if they just want it to play music in the background.

Having said that the Wirecutter is what I'd have suggested you check out, as a not techy person they give very clear reviews.
posted by wwax at 6:00 AM on October 26, 2020

I'd also recommend an iPad. It excels at photos, music, and web browsing, and has a screen that's going to be way higher quality than a budget Windows laptop. The accessibility features are also very good.

The basic 10.2" iPad would probably suffice for his needs, but the new iPad Air is really nice as well. If he needs a keyboard, you can pair it with a Smart Keyboard cover (the Magic Keyboard is iPad Air & Pro-only, and probably overkill, plus it's expensive). For a budget option, a cheap Bluetooth keyboard and mouse will also work!

The Air is more expensive, but it also uses USB-C, which means you can get a cheap USB-C SD card reader and you're off to the races. Plus it's easier to plug in a digital camera.
posted by vitout at 6:33 AM on October 26, 2020

I bought my last computer, an HP, about 5 years ago. Here are some ideas.

1. SSD. I suppose all PCs have an SSD to boot off these days. Mine is 240GB and I worried it was not enough, but after 5 years there is still 124 GB free. We don't do movies, though.

2. USB ports. There should be enough on the back that all the permanent devices can be plugged in out of sight: monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, cable modem, WiFi router, speakers.

I have two backup drives as well: a MyPassport for active backup and the MyBook that was backup for the previous computer. They are currently plugged into USB ports on top of the box, partially because the MyPassport comes with a really short cable, and because I often leave the MyBook unattached.

3. Screen size. Goldie Locks size; not too big, not too small. Get an opinion from the user.

4. The computer box does not have a speaker. I have a set of USB-driven Creative speakers that I bought separately. There can be confusion about volume settings since it can be adjusted by the volume knob on the speaker, as a Windows setting, or as an program setting (e.g. YouTube).

5. What features are needed? Do you need a CD drive, or not? My HP has slots for a variety of mini storage media, e.g. SanDisk, on the front, hidden behind a moveable panel, and at the bottom where you can't read the labels unless you get down on the floor with a flashlight.

6. Form Type: mini-tower, or desktop box, or all-in-one.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:11 AM on October 26, 2020

The setup of a new computer can be pretty complicated and annoying. There are demands for user names, and passwords, and email addresses, etc, and it's hard to know what can be skipped and what can't. Do you have a Microsoft account? What is it? What's that password, etc. And, there are attempts to control what browser you use, to get you to set up and/or sign up for software you aren't interested in. Frankly, I think it's more confusing and has a higher risk of making a big mistake than in choosing the hardware.

Font size. About 15 years ago, my employer upgraded me to a new laptop with a much high pixel count on the screen. This had the effect of shrinking all the text to an unreadable mouseprint. I had to find and adjust font sizes all over the place before I had a computer I could use.

Anyone who is near-sighted may need a set of computer glasses so that a screen an arm's length away is in focus. A pair from the cheapest, on-line source will do.

On our computer, the admin account has my name on it. My wife uses a separate account which does not have a password, so it opens without having to enter a password. Windows 10 lets you set up a PIN, so now I only have to enter 4 digits, and not an 8-character, with at least on capital, with at least one lower case, with at least one non-alpha character password. If the log-on is an issue with your user, I would set him up with an account separate from the admin account with no password (if W10 will let you do that). Leave a written explanation of all user names and passwords for the computer, and also for whatever backup you've set up.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:34 AM on October 26, 2020

I agree that an ipad is the way to go on that budget. Inexpensive laptops are particularly hard to find right now due to increased demand from distance learning. A new laptop that retails for $300 - $400 will have some compromises to get to that price point. (Also worth noting that the Wirecutter typically recommends a Chromebook over a Windows machine at the sub $500 price point, and the recommended Windows machines are > $400).
posted by oceano at 9:46 AM on October 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have a refub ThinkPad and it's great. I found mine on MicroCenter, but there are lots of places you can look for them.
posted by kathrynm at 11:02 AM on October 26, 2020

I also recommend the iPad. My 70-ish parents fight over theirs to the point I've debated getting them a second. There's no way I would want to support a cheap-ish laptop at this point. I and they would much prefer an older gen iPad any day.

And for music get a Google Home Mini and teach him to ask it for whatever he wants to listen to on Spotify. Game changer for my mom.
posted by cgg at 11:14 AM on October 26, 2020

oh good grief, now WHICH Ipad? He needs a card slot and usb port and keyboard. Too many choices! Old people do not like too many choices! Oatmeal or cornflakes? I can choose between those. I use a Huawei laptop. I chose it for the features and the build quality I wanted. He wants to include price point as a factor. Cheap is his price point. Thank you for all the input. It has been somewhat helpful for an old cranky wife!
posted by woman at 5:54 PM on October 26, 2020

I would NOT recommend the iPad if you want a tablet. Having an elderly relative with a hearing loss, I would never consider buying them a tablet that won't run the Live Transcribe app, which means you need an Android device. (I've heard it can run on a Chromebook too, if you want an actual laptop) I have a friend with a hearing loss whose husband ran out and bought her an iPhone because he thought it would be "the best", and we have sat side by side and compared Live Transcribe with the apps available to her on the iPhone -- she has said that the apps for the iPhone are nowhere near as good, but unfortunately her husband bought a phone plan that requires the iPhone (or so she said, I'm not sure that's correct but I'm not going to get involved with what phone plan she has)

Here's a demo of someone showing how the live transcribe app works on a tablet

I tell my relative to pick something out from Costco. Great return policy, and pretty much anything they carry is going to be decent and run current apps, with no need to fuss to much about what the specs mean. And there are not very many choices, just go to Costco and pick something out that seems about the right size and about what you want to spend. They also have a great return policy. If you don't have a Costco membership I guess that advice won't work for you, but that's what I tell my relative to do.

If you have a little locally run computer store known for good customer service, that is another good place to shop, but of course I can't tell you if you have such a place around. There are not as many of them as there used to be, sadly.
posted by yohko at 10:26 PM on October 26, 2020

Under $400 you have a choice of the base line $329 ipad model (with 32 gig of storage space) or the $399 ipad mini. I think your spouse would prefer a larger screen size of the regular ipad over the more portable ipad mini. However, for someone who does a lot with video and photos I'd strongly recommend trying to get the next model up (with four times the storage space of the base model) on sale or at Costco. (I do believe that someone doing a lot of work with photos and videos will find the the entry level model a penny wise pound foolish device). I'd also get the lightning to SD card reader. I would also suggest holding off for now on the keyboard because a) I just spent all or most of your budget (if not more) b) the onscreen keyboard isn't ideal for lots of typing, but for small amounts is usually fine c) a keyboard might require making additional $$ changes to the set up. Oh and a case is probably a good idea too.
posted by oceano at 12:35 PM on October 27, 2020

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