cheap alternative to monitor and tower and keyboard and wires and then and then and then...
April 15, 2006 9:04 PM   Subscribe

[Relatively] cheap alternative to PC? My parents are moving...

My parents are moving to smaller quarters, and have no room for their pc. I'm looking for a fairly cheap alternative that will A) allow them to still have email and web browsing abilities, B) be relatively small. Something without a monitor; perhaps a deck that can plug into an existing television, and C) not break the bank.

DSL or dialup is fine, cable is probably too rich both in bandwidth and price.

Bonus points for ease of use [simple GUI] and maybe the ability to play Solitaire?

One more thing- anything that has an intuitive input device other than a mouse gets you even more bonus points. [mom has a degenerative disease, and has trouble with mousing]

Any suggestions / solutions are welcome.

posted by exlotuseater to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
A used laptop seems like the obvious solution, but I'm not sure what "inexpensive" is. There's MSN TV (née WebTV), but it's dumbed down enough that it might get annoying to someone who is accustomed to a PC.

As for connectivity, it differs by geography, of course, but around here DSL and cable are pretty much identical in bandwidth and price.

Windows and OS X both have accessibility features designed to help people who have trouble using the usual interfaces to use a computer.

There's a handy analog interface to solitaire they might be able to use for that requirement.
posted by mendel at 9:20 PM on April 15, 2006

I think we need to know what "break the bank" means, exactly.

A (used) laptop really seems like the obvious solution. Maybe with a UBS trackball to help with your mom's mousing issues?
posted by mr_roboto at 9:33 PM on April 15, 2006

Yeah, what's your ceiling on total cost? And are you going to handle support calls or would you rather get a box with an on-site warranty?

The aforementioned laptop + trackball is probably the right route, but there's also building your own with a Shuttle barebone system, a CPU, some memory, and a flatscreen monitor. That would probably come in at about the same cost as a used laptop.
posted by dw at 9:43 PM on April 15, 2006

A used laptop?
posted by delmoi at 10:02 PM on April 15, 2006

I'd never buy a used laptop. I think I'd rather buy a used car.
posted by oaf at 11:58 PM on April 15, 2006

UBS=USB, of course. I guess SBU, BSU, SUB, and BUS would work, to.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:09 AM on April 16, 2006

Too. And, yeah, oaf is right. Used laptops are a little sketchy. But so are stand-alone boxes that you plug into a TV. It all depends on your budget, though....
posted by mr_roboto at 12:10 AM on April 16, 2006

I think MSN TV is the only way to go here. It fits the exact requirements you list, including a (relatively) intuitive UI, $200 startup cost and decent monthly fee (with dial-up packages available as an option) and offers full web access, email, IM, photo sharing and its own unique remote control.

No monitor required, and you'll be able to play whatever web games you care to find. Yahoo! has tons, for starters.

Just wanted to second mendel's idea.
posted by disillusioned at 1:33 AM on April 16, 2006

Also, as far as track ball solutions go, Microsoft used to make a big trackball for kids called the EZ-Ball. It's big and heavy with two huge buttons that are far away from each other. For seniors who have fine motor control problems, it's the best thing I've seen. Unfortunately, Microsoft stopped making them and substitutes aren't cheap [more stuff here] but they do work well. I don't know anything about MSN TV but I've been helping little old ladies buy laptops lately and you can get one dropped at your doorstep for about $450/$500. If you set it up with the accessibility features (high contrast screen colors, big fonts, one click program opening) or even attach it to their TV it will do all the stuff and save you/them the space of a DVD player and CD player.

You might want to look in their region and see if there is an Adaptive Technology or Assistive Technology center near them which would have way more ideas and local soursing options.
posted by jessamyn at 6:16 AM on April 16, 2006

If you're willing to build a machine, you can put together a tiny, virtually silent low-powered PC using a mini-itx board (see here - some of the projects linked on the right-hand side are genius. I especially like the picture-frame PC). You could pair it up with wireless broadband, and a wireless keyboard & trackball (or a keyboard with a built-in laptop style touchpad).

A touch-screen tablet PC might be even better in terms of the size/alternative input method, but unfortunately they're not cheap.
posted by boosh at 6:36 AM on April 16, 2006

What dw said, except that, in lieu of the flatscreen monitor, why not just get a video card with a TV-out?
posted by box at 6:39 AM on April 16, 2006

I'd lean away from using a TV instead of a monitor for anything other than watching DVDs or video files, just because the screen resolution and viewing position doesn't translate well for comfortable use without a whole lot of tweaking. If you don't want to risk a used laptop (and yes, hand-me-downs from friends are usually better than buying old models sight unseen) then Dell has refurbs or unfulfilled orders from around $400.

I've just brought back a chunky old Toshiba laptop to be a web/email machine for my parents. Being able to stow it when it's not in use is a big advantage from their perspective.
posted by holgate at 8:25 AM on April 16, 2006

The Mac Mini meets most of those criteria. Even the mouse might be helpful since there's only one button....
posted by Arthur Dent at 10:52 AM on April 16, 2006

What dw said, except that, in lieu of the flatscreen monitor, why not just get a video card with a TV-out?

Because very few computer applications are usable at TV resolution without, as holgate says, extensive tweaking. MSN TV (WebTV) is optimized for this, and at $200 competes pretty well with the cost of a video card.
posted by scarabic at 3:43 PM on April 16, 2006

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