A tablet can be an amazing tool for seniors, offering everything from games and videos to voice calls via Zoom. However, the most popular models — namely, Amazon Fires and Apple iPads — aren't the most user-friendly devices. For elders who aren't particularly tech-savvy, it's easy to get confused by things like app stores, passwords and Wi-Fi.
Enter GrandPad, a tablet designed for simplicity above all else. It's not a powerhouse, but it does do certain things very well. As such, it's a great pick for the grandparent set. There's just one problem that's hard to overlook. Here's my GrandPad review.
That problem is cost, and it may prove prohibitive for many buyers. Here are the three main options for purchasing a GrandPad:
From GrandPad proper: $89 per month, or $780 annually (which amortizes out to $65/month). That price includes both the tablet and cellular service (see below), along with full-coverage insurance: You get a free replacement in case of loss, theft or breakage.
From Amazon: $398 for the tablet; $59 per month for service (or $599 annually). Pro tip: At this writing, Amazon offers refurbished GrandPad tablets for $200 — in "excellent" condition, according to the product page. Although there's only a 90-day warranty, everything else appears to be the same (including subscription costs).
From Consumer Cellular: $299 for the tablet, $40 per month for service. Insurance is optional and costs extra. Support comes from Consumer Cellular, not GrandPad.
Let me focus on the Amazon option, then circle back to overall purchase recommendations. At $398, the GrandPad might seem a little steep relative to some tablets (especially the aforementioned Amazon Fire), but that price isn't outrageous given certain specs: The 8-inch screen runs at an impressively high resolution — everything looks razor-sharp — and the package comes with a very convenient wireless charging dock/stand. There's also built-in 4G LTE connectivity that eliminates the need for Wi-Fi (another potential source of complication for seniors).
But that subscription fee, yikes. The $59 "Amazon rate," billed by GrandPad, funds not only the aforementioned 4G service, but also access to GrandPad's exceptional 24/7 live customer support. Even so, that's a significant cost, especially for someone already paying for phone service; I suspect many seniors would struggle to afford it.
The GrandPad tablet: Does the experience justify the cost?
Let's talk about what the GrandPad can and cannot do, because that might also dictate whether it's a good fit. For starters, the setup experience is one of the best I've seen for any consumer product, starting with the friendly, large-print guides that greet you upon opening the box. All you do is plug in the charging dock/stand, place the tablet on it, then wait for a greeting to appear. You don't have to press so much as a power button to get started; it's just dock-and-go.
In fact, the screen stays on until you flip closed the preinstalled cover (which can also serve as a stand). That could result in the battery dying unexpectedly, but it also eliminates the confusion of the screen going dark due to inactivity, the need to press the power button to wake it again, the whole swipe-to-unlock thing, etc. Needless to say, when the tablet's not in use, the cover should be closed, or it should return to the dock so it stays charged.
The included stylus may prove helpful for seniors who struggle with touchscreens, but it doesn't do much beyond offering another way to tap buttons. (There's no art or doodling app, for instance.) Plus, it's not magnetic, so it doesn't snap onto the tablet or dock. It could easily get misplaced.
The GrandPad comes preloaded with about 15 apps, all represented by oversize, clearly labeled icons: Internet, Call, Email, Photos, Radio, Games and so on. They're admirably easy to use, with intuitive buttons for making selections, raising/lowering volume, returning to a previous screen and so on. Navigation is as easy as it gets; you can't really get lost in the GrandPad's interface by, say, accidentally swiping into a strange menu. The screen itself stays fixed in landscape orientation so there's no confusion about which way to hold the device.
Indeed, the simplicity here is unparalleled; I never thought my iPad was complicated until I tried the GrandPad. Tap Radio, for example, and you get a choice of preset stations ranging from news to classical to sports to oldies. The Music app, meanwhile, is home to categories like 1950s, Big Band, Jazz and Latin. (For audio, the GrandPad includes two front-facing speakers that sound, well, just OK, but there's also a headphone jack. There is not, however, a Bluetooth option for pairing with an external speaker or wireless headphones.)
The Games app includes 20 classics — Bridge, Hearts, Hangman, Solitaire and so on — all similarly easy to use. Two of them, checkers and chess, can be played in real time against friends or family members via app or PC. However, though you can toggle the sound on or off for most games, you can't adjust the volume. Some of them, like Slots, are really loud.
I don't think I've ever seen a simpler Zoom app: You just type in the meeting code and you're connected. If you receive a Zoom link via email, that'll work too. (Interestingly, that's the only kind of email link the GrandPad supports — the better to protect against phishing, viruses and the like.)
Another app, Moods, contains preloaded looping videos of puppies, beaches, a fireplace, an aquarium and other scenes. Articles offers curated general-interest stories (but no upsetting daily news, thankfully) from various sources, and the Toolbox app provides a magnifying glass, a flashlight and a calculator.
Finally, there's Help, which displays a photo of the GrandPad customer service rep assigned to you and your device, and an icon you can tap to call him or her directly. That's pretty amazing, though keep in mind that if you purchase your tablet from Consumer Cellular, the Help app might be a little different (because support comes from the carrier instead). For what it's worth, I spoke with two different GrandPad support reps; both were friendly and helpful.
According to one of them, most of these tablets are purchased for someone by a family member, and that person usually becomes the account admin. Using the GrandPad mobile app or web portal, the admin can adjust various settings, play the aforementioned games and add people to the family network. These "approved" contacts become available for calls, email, photo sharing and games. This this easy communication with a private circle is another big part of the GrandPad's appeal.
OK, now for what the GrandPad can't do, at least out of the box: e-books, audiobooks, streaming video (Netflix, YouTube, etc.) or internet browsing beyond the "walled garden" of included sites. In fact, the entire internet experience is extremely limited — which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Again, the idea here is to provide a simple, unintimidating device for the most tech-challenged users.
That said, the account admin can open things up a bit. It's possible to manually add websites, including social networks like Facebook and Twitter. You can also add YouTube, though GrandPad will impose a data cap at a certain point (the amount of data wasn't specified) unless you're connected to a Wi-Fi network. Wait, if the tablet can do Wi-Fi, why are you forced to pay as much as $59 monthly for data? Shouldn't that be optional?
It should, and while GrandPad would argue that the cellular data option makes life easier, there will absolutely be cases where Wi-Fi would be a better option. (Inside an assisted-living facility, for example, where signal strength might be poor, or in rural areas.) Yes, it requires an initial setup step to get the tablet connected, but that step is usually pretty easy. (Choose a network, enter the password, done.) Anyone acting as admin — that is, setting up the tablet for a parent or grandparent — is likely to have at least some experience with Wi-Fi.
I have to believe GrandPad could offer a much cheaper subscription option that would still include support and other perks but forego the cellular plan. Unfortunately, there's no such option at present.
If you're shopping for a tablet to give a senior, are there cheaper or better ways to go? An iPad 10th-generation starts at $449 with Wi-Fi only, $599 with a 5G cellular option (and much more affordable service plans available from various carriers). It has a larger, sharper screen and is far more versatile — but it's also more challenging to learn and use, especially for someone with limited capabilities. Apple does include a number of useful accessibility features, including larger fonts, touch accommodations (for those with motor-skill issues), voice controls and so on. However, there's no wireless charging option and no baked-in tech support.
The Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus shares more similarities with the GrandPad, with its 8-inch screen and optional wireless charging dock ($50). The tablet itself costs just $150, and it's often on sale for less. However, it doesn't have a cellular option, so it's Wi-Fi or bust. But the real challenge here is the user interface, which isn't one I'd describe as senior-friendly. The Fire HD 8 Plus is a very capable tablet, no question, suitable for games, video calls, streaming video and lots more, but the learning curve is steeper and the customer support nowhere near GrandPad's.
Should you buy a GrandPad? If so, from where?
I absolutely love the idea of a senior-friendly tablet, one that's easy to use and designed to combat loneliness, and I think GrandPad's execution is unrivaled. What I don't love is the price. The company needs to figure out a way to lower the cost of the tablet itself and offer a subscription that's more affordable.
Consumer Cellular comes closest: $299 for the tablet itself (a price that can be paid in monthly installments of $12) and $40 per month for 4G service. Although customer support will be provided by Consumer Cellular and not GrandPad, the former has long scored top marks in that department. There's also a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you've got a risk-free month to try things out.
On the other hand, if you can share the cost with a couple of family members, $89 per month might seem fairly reasonable given that it includes a great tablet and live tech support from someone who's not you. Indeed, if you've ever felt the frustration of trying to help an elder from afar, GrandPad might seem like an outright bargain.