AARP’s RealPad–Yes? No? Maybe?

This afternoon at AARP’s Ideas@50+ conference in San Diego, we were able to test AARP’s just announced “RealPad” tablet, a low-cost tablet customized for technophobic seniors. By the time we got home, it was already being denounced by Internet commentators.

aarp-tablet-front-croppedHere’s the bad news they all pounced on: While it is cheaply priced at $189, if you shop around you can find a tablet with similar specs for the same or even less money.

Here’s the good news they all ignored: It comes with free 24/7 live operator tech support, which AARP promises us is provided by an American customer service company.

It has three other features that make it worth considering:

  • A clean and comprehensible interface with large icons.
  • Built-in video tutorials and easy-to-follow documentation. We did not see either, so we can’t verify this, but their claim is that they can get nearly anyone up and running just by watching the videos, which offer step-by-step instructions.
  • The “RealQuickFix” button that can diagnose and fix most tablet problems with just one fix. The tablet will also automatically scan and alert if untrusted software is present.

Per AARP, here are the formal specs:

  • $189 retail price, which includes one year complimentary AARP membership
  • 7.85” screen size
  • 1024 x 768 screen resolution
  • 1.2GHz Intel® AtomTM Z2520 processor
  • 2.0MP front-facing and 5.0MP rear-facing cameras
  • 16GB memory (which they said was expandable)
  • Connectivity – WiFi, Bluetooth (thus, you can connect a real keyboard)
  • Operating System: Android KitKat 4.4

From our own brief test, the RealPad is relatively lightweight (about 14 oz.), but it does have a tiny, side-mounted on/off button that may be difficult for some users to manipulate. Another potential challenge: While the icons and interface text can be increased in size, font sizes in applications remain static, so users may still find many pieces of text difficult to read.* Although it does not come with a stylus, it is supposed to accept hand-writing input, once you download the appropriate app from the Google Play Store. *UPDATE: We double-checked with AARP. When you use the built-in Chrome browser, you can increase the text size on webpages that allow font adjustment.

While cheerleading how user-friendly the RealPad is, even AARP executive Jennifer Taylor admits, “It does take a little time to get used to touchscreen basics.” Someone who has never used any kind of touch device before won’t find all the touching and swiping immediately intuitive, but as Taylor says, the 24/7 phone support is ready to talk users through. She hints that a future version may be capable of alerting users that they’re holding the device the wrong way or are placing their fingers in incorrect positions.

Also for the future, AARP hopes to develop downloadable information customized to the user. Since AARP partnered with Intel to develop the RealPad, we can’t help but wonder if this innocuous little device that the tech cognoscenti are scoffing at might become integral to Intel’s consumer health initiatives, through applications like EMRs, diagnostics and health monitoring, as well as by collecting as much health data as privacy advocates will tolerate.

Right now, you can pre-order the RealPad online, although it won’t ship until mid-October, when it will also be available at Walmart stores.

All that said, if like the snarky commentariat, you are still tempted to sneer at this device, remember those words: 24/7 live tech support. Giving one to a tech-challenged family member may be the best gift you ever give yourself…

UPDATE: Reader Linda (below) expressed her disappointment in the RealPad’s sound quality. We contacted Jennifer Taylor,  Vice President for Corporate Relations & Business Development at AARP, and she replied:

“We are so sorry that you heard a tinny sound coming from your stereo speakers.  We can help fix this for you.  We encourage you to please call the RealPad FREE 24/7 Customer Service Line to speak with one of our trained professionals at 1-866-716-9881. They would be happy to show you how to tailor the tablet’s volume levels to meet your personal needs.  If you are still not satisfied to your liking, we would be more than happy to send you a new tablet or issue you a refund.  We do hope you are enjoying your RealPad.”

Linda, we hope your RealPad issue is quickly resolved!