What Computer is Best for a Light Use Senior?

What Computer is Best for a Light Use Senior?Clients have a way of making me think differently. To help them make decisions, I need to understand their needs and desires. Advocating for my preferred computer choices helps no one.

This came up because the wife of an occasional client recently wrote to me. She has a nine-year-old XP machine that seems to have a failing power supply. A friend offered to swap power supplies for a reasonable fee, but she wonders if she should spend more money on it or simply get a new computer. If it were me, there would be no doubt: The old computer would be fixed with some spare parts and donated to a worthy person while I either bought or built a new one. That is not her.

Like most seniors, she uses a computer for email, occasional writing, and browsing on the Internet. She shares pictures and videos. She prepares agendas, announcements, and brochures for volunteer work. She likes her husband’s 23-inch monitor and tower computer, but is considering going to a laptop. She is concerned about a small keyboard (she might have been thinking about netbooks when she wrote that). She is thinking about carrying a computer on their next trip to Europe to record events.

Her first question: As long as she is looking at new computers, should she consider switching to a Mac? Since she is familiar with a PC and that is what her husband uses, this is an easy question to answer. Keep the house on a single standard. Stay with what you know unless there are significant advantages to changing. If they both had Macs and she wanted to update, I would tell her to stick with Apple. In addition to avoiding a new learning curve, the value of sticking to the same OS is that each computer can serve as a backup for the other. Her husband uses his computer for business, and would be distressed if it went down and he could not access his data or the Internet. Both of them do have external backup units, so in an emergency, either one could substitute for the other. Keep it simple.

Given her usage, I suggested that she consider a laptop rather than a desktop. She mentioned that she would like the freedom to use it in any part of the house, and if she can live with a 17-inch screen, that is the right way to go for her. She is not going to be opening the box, poking about, and adding hard drives or other accessories. She does not need the highest performance — and any reasonable modern laptop will far exceed her needs. She could still have an external large monitor and USB keyboard for home use, and normal laptop configuration for mobility. She could even use the HDMI function to expand her monitor onto their television. Further, I suggested she not pay for anything more powerful than an i3 CPU if she went with Intel. Rather than burden her with a bunch of specifications, I suggested that AMD would also work for her — just compare the prices for similar machines with different CPUs and stay in the same price category. That is, I advised her not to go for an entry-level laptop unless she test operates it long enough to make an intelligent choice. Other than mentioning the makers of CPUs, I did not recommend any manufacturer, but suggested she stay with name brands.

Then a potentially better solution hit me. Her husband is reasonably computer literate. Maybe the best choice for her is to purchase a desktop and configure it similarly to his and, at the same time, invest in a tablet for her mobile needs. Losing a tablet in Europe (or having it stolen) is painful, but certainly less painful than having a much more expensive laptop disappear with all the installed applications and personal data. Either one will attract thieves, but the tablet might be easier to protect and less of a tragedy to lose. A tablet is also much easier to carry, and she is a petite woman.

Why not simply rely on a tablet and forget the desktop? She could probably do everything she needs to do on it, but she is most comfortable working on a desktop with a large monitor. The tablet would give her mobility without compromising her ability to watch videos, etc. while on the move.

This last option is probably the most expensive one. Many seniors are on limited budgets and think hard about spending money for non-essentials. Sticking to a budget is a major consideration. I try to be sensitive to my clients’ needs and their resources, but since this woman and her husband are well enough off that they can take European vacations, I do not feel out of place suggesting higher priced solutions to her problems if they meet her needs.

The bottom line is that these suggestions are options; she needs to invest some time exploring them to find what is best for her. She would probably have preferred to have me quote a model, but that’s not something I feel comfortable doing, considering the variables involved.

And when she has decided on a replacement, what becomes of her old computer? I offered to give her a salvaged power supply that her husband could swap out (“Think how proud you will feel,” I wrote to him). Then it could be either saved as a secondary backup, or donated to a worthy person. XP is not that bad! A rejuvenated XP computer might have several years of useful life left. A lot of people would love to have her old computer as long as it is working reliably.

In such a situation, what sort of solution would you settle upon? Everyone has different needs and different desires when it comes to computers — seniors are no different. Let us know your thoughts on the matter in the comments below. Let’s discuss.

CC licensed Flickr image shared by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com