advice on email for hopelessly tech ignorant Grandma
February 11, 2007 2:39 PM   Subscribe

are there any simply-email appliance(s) out there for grandma?

I've searched with all key words I could think of and have come up with very little. I've looked into webtv (msntv) a bit but even that seems a bit overkill - best so far though. one that could be see in person i.e. purchased at a retail store would be best. thanks!
posted by narakunate to Technology (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
did you try "email for senior citizens"?
posted by cda at 3:15 PM on February 11, 2007

- because here's one article I found by Googling that phrase.
posted by cda at 3:19 PM on February 11, 2007

A little noodling on Amazon revealed a couple of possibilities: 1, 2

This category of devices used to be a little more viable, but it's clearly on the way out.

Also, you've probably thought about this, but still: I'd be reluctant to set someone up with e-mail only. The web is just too prevalent. If one of her friends sends her a link to pictures of the grandkids, she's stuck.

An old iBook set up in simple mode would be about as easy and much more functional.
posted by adamrice at 3:31 PM on February 11, 2007

There used to be a model called the I-opener. They no longer sell it, but it may help you modify your searches.

It only offered e-mail and basic web functions. There was no storage on it and you couldn't open attachments that weren't photos because there was no real software on them. The company that sold them, sold them as a loss leader so you would sign up for monthly internet service (eventually got purchased by Earthlink). You may still find working models on E-bay, but there is no support for them.

We bought one for my grandmother, it worked great, but she eventually got frustrated with it's limitations (though, to be fair, it took something like 5 years). She finally broke down and got herself a Dell. The person who set it up created icons on the desktop and labeled them e-mail, weather, Amazon, etc. So now she can just point her mouse at what she wants to do. She finds the mouse tricky and we are thinking of getting her a touch pad, but other than, she has been very happy.
posted by blackkar at 3:34 PM on February 11, 2007

Get an old computer - $50
Install Ubuntu Linux - Free

Add shortcuts to the desktop for common websites and email, and then hide everything else so she can't screw things up.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:46 PM on February 11, 2007

Think small. A blackberry only needs to be plugged in to recharge every couple of days.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:21 PM on February 11, 2007

Sorry, Ironmouth, but there's a lot more to consider. Most cell phones are extremely unfriendly to senior users, even if the software is straightforward. The keys are too small, the display shows only tiny numbers and letters, even the higher ringer volume may be too low.

There's the Nokia 770, which solves adamrice's good point regarding full internet access. Nokia also has the best rep out there on usability. But then again, I have barely handled one, I can't say if you can lower the resolution so it displays larger fonts and graphics. And it may just bee too much.

I guess, besides Celery with its somewhat odd solution, there are no appliances specifically thought out for seniors. But I also think they might be around the corner - cell phones especially, but pretty soon computers too.

Maybe, for now, you are better off doing some retail shopping, as you say, to check out personally each of the very few alternatives pointed out here. Good luck!
posted by AnyGuelmann at 5:10 PM on February 11, 2007

There are two systems very much intended for senior citizens which actually rely upon faxing the e-mail message to the senior citizen, so they never have to deal with the computer at all. The faxes are color and output on an inkjet, making it a fine way to send pictures as well as text.

The "Presto" system is receive-only.

The "Celery" system is two-way -- Grandma can write a note to anyone on a list of addressees you set up online, send the note out over the system, and the system's operators then make it into an visual file and e-mail to the recipient.
posted by MattD at 5:11 PM on February 11, 2007

Use AnyGuelmann's link to Celery, I just repeated my link to HP's "Presto."
posted by MattD at 5:13 PM on February 11, 2007

Let me jump in here with a major caveat about giving a senior a computer for the purpose of web access.

An elderly member of my family got her first computer two years ago. She lives alone. She fell, almost immediately, for a Nigerian email scam.

She's not a dumb person, but these guys are hellaciously good salespeople. She has lost six figures worth of savings, and is about to get her house repossessed. It's an absolute nightmare, and it's all because she got a goddamn computer and had too much time on her hands.

Everyone in the family tried to help her out of it the minute it began; by the time we found out, she was already indoctrinated past the "If your family tries to talk you out of it, they just want you to be poor and miserable" point, and would not speak to us. Let me emphasize that before this happened, this woman would have been the last one you would have ever suspected to fall for something like this. Please do not assume "That couldn't happen to grandma."

Bottom line is, a computer is a powerful piece of machinery - infinitely more so when hooked up to the Internet. If you're not going to be around to offer guidance for issues large (the aforementioned horror story) and small (spyware, keyboard loggers, viruses, phishing), please do not get her a computer/Internet connection. (And if she lives far away from you, by herself, or some other attribute that would make her a prime target for the 419 scam, don't even get her an email appliance. Get her a nice box of stationery and a new fountain pen.)
posted by jbickers at 5:57 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Holy crap, jbickers, that's horrible.

I introduced my mother to email and the web via the AOL Gateway Connected Touchpad (images), which was a stripped down internet appliance that worked only with AOL. It worked well enough for about 2 years until we got her a used iMac (via eBay), which has performed beautifully ever since. She uses it for AOL email and Spider Solitaire, and that's about it.

So, I recommend going with the iMac and AOL. AOL is free for broadband users now, and $10/month for dialup, and they tend to wall off the spam and other fraudsters pretty well. In fact, the "walled garden" approach of AOL was the main selling point for me when I put my mom with AOL.
posted by intermod at 6:19 PM on February 11, 2007

On a Mac you can set up user accounts that are as restricted (and software-firewalled) as you like -- she could have access only to Mail, Firefox and a PDF/image viewer, for example.
posted by allterrainbrain at 6:27 PM on February 11, 2007

OS X is a fairly poor environment for people with bad vision.

Really? Did you know about option-apple-minus/option-apple-equals? Also, ctrl-option-apple-8 if the problem is a contrast problem.
posted by advil at 6:38 PM on February 11, 2007

thank you for all the suggestions. the appliance I'm looking for is most like what MattD linked to; she really does not want (or need) a computer. thank you all!
posted by narakunate at 6:38 PM on February 11, 2007

actually, AnyGuelmann's link is the ticket. thanks ;)
posted by narakunate at 6:40 PM on February 11, 2007

3com's Audrey was a great little device that was way ahead of it's time. Too bad you can't buy it in stores anymore. You can still get em on ebay for around 100 bucks though.
posted by bigmusic at 7:05 PM on February 11, 2007

Yikes, re. scamming.

But I can't help defending grandparents and the net here; it was a grandparent of mine who introduced me to it -- c. 1990.

Anyway, Nthing old iBook or similar well-set-up. Much easier if/when technical problems show up; I wouldn't care to walk somebody through using something I didn't.
posted by kmennie at 7:49 PM on February 11, 2007

I'd have to ditto the iMac but with Eudora instaed of Apple's Mail. The interface is much simpler. And by simpler I mean it really is simple. The buttons do what they are labled to do and there is a good interactive screen calld the Task Progress Window. My biggest gripe about Apple Mail is I am never sure if it actually sent the mail. Poor feedback from the UI.
posted by Gungho at 8:10 PM on February 11, 2007

I'm a grandmother and I resent your agism.
posted by bkiddo at 8:51 PM on February 11, 2007

I was coding before you were born!
posted by bkiddo at 8:51 PM on February 11, 2007

I have a legally blind aunt who is married to an 84 year old man and they have both figured out how to use MSNTV. They love it and they just use it for email; I know they don't use it for web at all. Just another point of view.
posted by MeetMegan at 6:08 PM on February 12, 2007

there is a good interactive screen calld the Task Progress Window. My biggest gripe about Apple Mail is I am never sure if it actually sent the mail. Poor feedback from the UI.

My mother, who has only recently using a computer and is almost 60, uses apple mail with no problem. It's simple enough. To see if it actually sent the mail she looks in her sent folder.

That makes much more sense to her than the "task progress window".
posted by justgary at 5:31 PM on February 13, 2007

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