Tuesday, June 2, 2015

AARP Enters into the Tablet Fray

Apparently, there must be a huge gap not covered by other tablet makers, that AARP (the retirement services group) feels must be filled.  So they introduced the RealPad.  Obviously, given the organization sponsoring it, the target market seems to be older people who feel slightly alienated by the technology, may have impaired vision, and who want someone to call when they have questions.  Some highlights of this are:
  • It comes pre-loaded with a shotgun of apps (including some AARP apps, of course) that probably cover the gamut of needs for most people (I find it interesting that they list many of the same apps twice under different names).
  • It comes pre-configured with large icons for people needing large, vision-friendly system.
  • Dozens of How-To videos are pre-loaded on the system.
  • It is only $149, great for seniors on a fixed income.
It sounds great, but what are the caveats that you should be aware of?  How does it stack up to the other stuff on the market?  What issues do I have with it, and might those be important to you?  In reviewing the information available on their web site, this is what I have from it.


  • To me, one big caveat is it is an Android tablet.  As I have posted before (and here), Android is not complete, fraught with insecurity, and almost entirely out of date from the moment you get it.
  • Indeed, it runs Android Kitkat 4.4, which as of today is already almost 2 years old.  AARP is not issuing updates to the Android OS for this tablet.
  • If you care at all about the hardware, it is severely limited for anything above and beyond what it comes with out of the box.
    • 16 GB of flash storage.  It does offer a Micro SD slot for additional storage, so that does help alleviate that issue.
    • Very low resolution cameras, so this is not something you would trust to use as a high quality camera.
    • The processor that runs everything is pretty low powered, so I expect it to perform slow.
    • The WiFi that it comes with is the standard that was replaced 2-3 years ago, the old "n" standard.  It does not have the new "ac" standard, and so will only operate at the slower speeds on WiFi.  This may be acceptable, especially for a $149 price tag.
  • There is a 1-year limited warranty.  There doesn't seem to be any way to extend that - I know many people enjoy the extended AppleCare warranty for 3 years.
  • It is not clear how many accessories fit this device.  It is manufactured by Zingarr, so you must do your research to see if some cases or other accessories may fit.

Why RealPad Instead of Real iPad?

The iPad, and indeed the Apple devices, are world-renowned top-notch devices that offer settings to help use the iPad for impaired customers.  When it comes to vision and hearing impairments, the "handicapped" people have spoken - they will only buy Apple.  And with good reason.  I don't think a pre-configuration of an Android tablet will convince very many people to get away from Apple, although the $149 price tag may for those who don't care about anything else.

Out of the box, an iPad would have to be set up to be accessible for the particular handicaps for the user.  I think the RealPad comes assuming a moderate visual impairment.  This may be good for someone without access to a local store, or a local expert able to help them configure the device - again, assuming they fit within the "bell curve" of the target market for this device.  But, I see this device, like any targeted at a "price-conscious" market, would be susceptible to any other low-price device that may come along in the future, promising some other nice feature.

Because of all this, I would say that the only reason you would go with RealPad over iPad, would be price.

Why RealPad Instead of Some Other Android Tablet?

Here, there is a slightly more compelling case made.  The fact that instructional videos come pre-installed, plus the pre-configured visual accessibility, 24/7 technical support phone line, and pre-installed apps, this for $149 is a much more appealing offering than many other Android tablets.  Still, I'd wager to say that the Amazon Kindle tablets probably have a better organization behind them in general, although I don't think they target this older, hard-of-seeing, tech-reticent market that AARP is going after here.

What Do I Recommend?

If you are dead set on an Android tablet (in spite of many reasons I give to avoid), and if you fall under this older generation of individuals who is somewhat tech-aware, not tech-savvy, and are looking for a lower-cost tablet, I think this may have some appeal.  Contact AARP, see if you can go somewhere and try it out, or ship it back within 30 days if you aren't satisfied.

For my clams, I'd rather get an Amazon Kindle Fire HD, which is actually $10 less (Kindle Fire HD 7").  Further, assuming I am of that market who is at or near retirement, certainly I would look forward to the challenge of figuring out something new.  That challenge alone keeps my brain sharp, and keeps me exploring, learning new things.  Even if the Kindle doesn't come "all set up" for what I would do, I would want to spend some time personalizing it.  But that's me.  Some people want a car with basic features, just to get from point A to point B.  The RealPad is a little nicer than that, but if you hate having a slow machine that takes a long time responding to your touches, I don't think you are going to like the RealPad.  Just going on the specs, it is about the same as the SkyPad I reviewed last year - and I don't think I've had the patience to turn that thing on more than 5 times in the past 9 months.

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